Asian art

Buddhist Deity: Vasudhara

Buddhist Deity: Vasudhara

Buddhist deity, Vasudhara is a female bodhisattva of wealth, prosperity, and abundance. Vasudhara is a Sanskrit word and it means the stream of gems, literally. Even though Vasudhara is worship in the Southeastern Buddhist countries, her popularity is in peaks in Nepal. She has strong followers among the Buddhist Newars of Kathmandu valley. Therefore she is a central figure in Newar Buddhism. Sometimes she is related to Hindu goddess Lakshmi.

Legends behind Vasudhara

There are various legends associated with Buddhist deity, Vasudhara. Some of them are:

As mentioned in the text "The Inquiry of the Layman Sucandra", Sucandra approaches the Buddha Shakyamuni with the request to know the way to obtain large amounts of gold, grain, silver, and gems in order to feed his large family and engage in acts of charity with the surplus fortune. In response to his inquiry, the Buddha bestowed Sucandra with an incantation and religious ritual of Bodhisattva Vasundhara. After following the steps taught by the Buddha, Sucandra began to prosper. As Sucandra was in the path of success, the monk Ananda asked the Buddha how he had obtained this fortune so quickly. The Buddha then instruct Ananda to practice the Vasudhara Dharani and share the knowledge with others as well.

The writings of Taranatha, a prominent Tibetan monk, and scholar, also describes the legends of Vasudhara's generosity. As he writes, the Bodhisattva Vasudhara granted the monk Buddhajnana three hundred pearl necklaces every day. It was also mentioned that the monk Buddhajnana was also blessed with a steady stream of buyers to purchase these necklaces. With this kind of blessing, the monk Buddhajnana was stepping up in the steps of success. Along with the success in his business, he was able to invest his fortune into the monastery by supporting his fellow monks and students, purchasing votive Buddha statues and ritual objects, and making generous donations to the monastery. Since he used his fortune for the betterment of the society, the Bodhisattva Vasundhara continued to bestow these gifts on Buddhajnana for the rest of his life.

Iconography of Vasundhara in Buddhist art

In Buddhist art, Vasudhara can easily be identified as a Bodhisattva by the elaborate headdress and extensive amount of jewelry she wears. Both in the sculptures and paintings, her body tone is painted with the golden hue. Vasudhara is typically seated on a lotus flower base in the lalitasana posture with one foot tucked in towards her and other hanging out of the flower base but resting on a small treasure. In some of the Buddhist arts, Vasundhara is also depicted in a standing position. In this posture, Vasudhara has a full vase which represents abundance underneath each foot.

Even though there is a consistency in Buddhist art, the number of arms may vary. The arms of Vasudhara may be depicted from two to six in even number. The two armed iconography are most common in Tibetan art and Indian arts while six armed representation is commonly found in Nepalese art. In Tibetan art, Vasudhara is portrayed along with other Buddhist deities.

Vasudhara in Nepali and Tibetan Buddhism

Among the Buddhist Newars of Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, Vasudhara is a common household Buddhist deity because the images of Vasudhara are small in size, typically 18 cm or smaller. Her popularity in the Kathmandu Valley is mainly due to the predominance of agriculture and trade essential to the economy of the country. Since she is Bodhisattva of abundance and prosperity, the Newars believed that worshipping the Buddhist deity will generally result in good fortune.

Even though Vasudhara is popular in Tibet, she doesn't take an important role as she does in Nepalese Buddhism. In Tibet, the worship of Vasudhara is limited to lay people. This is because Tibetan monastic life regards Vasudhara as a benefactor of the laity and primarily engages in the worship of the Buddhist deity Tara for all their needs. This does not mean that the monks disregard Vasudhara completely. They do perform rites and rituals to Vasudhara with the request of the patron.

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