3869

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Rare Sri Lankan Standing Brass Image of the Buddhist Protector Upulvan (Vishnu)

Kandy region, Sri Lanka
18th-19th century

height: 30.8cm, weight: 1,858g

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Provenance

UK art market

This unusual and rare cast brass image is of Upulvan, the guardian deity of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The cult of Upulvan started during Sri Lanka’s medieval period and later the deity became identified with the Hindu god Vishnu. According to local tradition, the Lord Buddha entrusted Upulvan with the guardianship of Sri Lanka and its Buddhist creed.

The deity has the standing posture of Vishnu, and elements of his attire and headdress also follow that of Vishnu as depicted in South India – however, there are plenty of central Sri Lankan (Kandyan) elements too, such as the crown with its three points which follows that of the crown of the Kandyan kings, and the tiered, round dais with its engraved lotus petal scrollwork.

Curiously, the image’s hands have been cast back to front – the palms face outwards in tradition religious Sri Lankan style but each thumb thus is on the wrong side of the palm! Whether this was done by design or was an oversight on the part of the caster is not known.

The image is in fine condition without damage or repairs. The image itself has been cast as one piece. The rounded platform has been cast separately.

References

Seneviratna, A., Gateway to Kandy: Ancient Monuments in the Central Hills of Sri Lanka, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 1998.

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