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The Mahasiddha Virupa

Mahasiddha Virupa, 15th century, Museum no. IS.12-2010

Mahasiddha Virupa, China, 1403-1426. Gilt bronze. Museum no. IS.12-2010.

This figure represents the Mahasiddha, or great yogic adept Virupa, who lived during the 9th century in north India. Such figures lived alone or with a consort and became renowned for their unconventional lifestyles. They were revered in Tibet as enlightened beings and often feature in Tibetan lineages as the teachers of Tibetans who journeyed to India to receive Buddhist initiation.

This Virupa is one of the largest and most spectacular surviving works belonging to a group of images produced at the Chinese court during the early 15th century. Close contacts at this time between the Emperor Yongle (ruled 1403-1424), who was himself a Buddhist, and Tibetan religious leaders, led to frequent diplomatic and religious exchanges. Visiting Tibetans received similar (although usually much smaller) images, which were intended to mark and cement such newly made alliances.

The gilt-bronze figure depicts Virupa seated on an antelope skin, with his right leg bent at the knee and resting on the ground with the sole of his foot turned upward. His left knee is raised with foot flat on the ground. He has a curly beard and moustache, with seperate hair curls in the manner of a Buddha.

His right arm is bent, his right hand held with palm upwards at chest level. A hole in the palm indicates where a missing skull drinking cup was located, a feature seen on other Virupa images. The left arm is
raised, bent at the elbow and the fist clenched in the gesture of holding an object (now missing). This arm shows signs of having been broken and replaced from the elbow to the hand.

Purchased with support from The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation

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