Historical Context

Based on various accounts it can be determined that the Nepalese female figurine is an example of a Yakshi. Yakshis are loosely known as female deities of wealth and prosperity with their male counterpart, Yaksha.[1] The worship of such deities began as local folk spirits in rural areas of India where the people worshipped spirits who represent trees, rivers, mountains, etc. It was believed that benevolent spirits would bring food, health, fertility and offspring, and good harvests.[2]Nonetheless, it is not exactly clear when the worships of both Yakshis and Yakshas began, but it is known that the worshippers of these deities were subsumed into Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain religions. For instance, in the Hindu religion the Yaksha became Kubera, the lord of wealth, and Yakshis attendant spirits to separate gods.[3] This explains why it is common to view examples of Yakshas in and around banks in areas of India.

Although the representation of Yakshis and Yakshas are popular in India, due to its obvious religious component, areas that also practiced Buddhism or other religions also incorporated Yakshas and Yakshis into their worship and art. Given the fact that the worship of these deities has lasted since antiquity, there are many kinds of appearances of a Yaksha or Yakshi, both malevolent or benevolent depending on each specific narrative’s context. For instance, some may have a beard, as seen in Figure 1, while others may possess armor as seen in Figure 2.[4] Notice also that many different mediums were also used in Yaksha depiction, meaning that the view of each representation also differs in this respect as well; nonetheless, in general terms for Himalayan art Yakshas reflect their roots of nature spirits and are usually displayed as naked pot-bellied dwarfish creatures.[5] In comparison with the Nepalese female figurine, many of these descriptions hold true. Although the face is rubbed away, it is possible the eyes could have been carved to be larger to look like a Yakshi. Additionally, the full bodied and curvaceous form of the figurine also meets the Yakshi description along with its decorative necklace/sash and slight angling of hips and head.[6] As a result, based on this classification of the artifact as a Yakshi, it most likely would have been placed on a shrine, or near the east and north tornas (gates) to stupas (Buddhist shrines), or serve as a devotional object in a Yaksha festival.[7]

In further comparison of the figurine with other examples of Yakshas in the Himalayan region, it matches quite well with Figures 3, 4, & 5. Figures 3 & 4 display an Indian wooden figure of a Yaksha from the 18th/19th century.[8] Figure 5 is a 10th century Nepali Yaksha that is wooden with traces of paint.[9]Both of these wooden sculptures resemble the artifact as in the medium used, flecked with old paint, body structure, stance, etc. that aid in supporting the evidence that the figurine is indeed an example of a Yakshi. Moreover, the resemblance of the wood and patina from Figure 3 and the artifact are even more similar. This can provide evidence for the period in which the artifact can be dated to as the similarity seen in the patina can only be a result of similar exposure and age. Based on the date from the artifact represented in Figure 3 this would mean that the Nepalese female figurine is most likely from the end of the Malla period (13th-18th century) in Nepal. Consequently, most wooden carvings that have survived come from this period similar to the artifact come from the Kathmandu valley where master wood crafters have been passing down their wood carving knowledge from generations to generations.[10]In Kathmandu there are still ancient and cultural master wood carvers practicing their work from their ancestors.[11]This is further evidence for the date and location to explain the figurine’s origins as the research that suggests where and why this figurine came to be is concurrent with the provenance of the artifact as well.

To conclude, the Nepalese female figurine is an example of a Yakshi, a female nature deity that was incorporated into many of the prominent religions of the Himalayan region. This is based on the figurine’s similarity to Yakshi descriptions and comparisons to known Yakshi wooden statues from the area. Moreover, based on its similarity to other figures, it is supported that the artifact is most likely from the end of the Malla period in Nepal where master wood carvers still reside in the area of which the female figurine is provenanced from.

 

 

[1] Team, LHI. “Yakshis: The Silent Guardians.” Live History India: Stories that Make India. Live History India, June 25, 2019. https://www.livehistoryindia.com/snapshort-histories/2017/07/24/yakshis-....

[2] Team, LHI. “Yakshis: The Silent Guardians.”

[3] Team, LHI. “Yakshis: The Silent Guardians.”

[4] “The Yaksha Appearance.” Himalayan Buddhist Art - Art Bouddhiste de l'Himalaya, April 13, 2019. https://himalayanbuddhistart.wordpress.com/2018/12/22/the-yaksha-appeara....

[5] “The Yaksha Appearance.”.

[6] “The Yaksha Appearance.”

[7] Losty, J. P., et al. "Indian subcontinent." Grove Art Online. 2003; Accessed 3 Dec. 2019. https://doi.org/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.T040113

[8] “An Indian Wooden Figure of a Yaksha - Jun 29, 2019: Ancient Resource Auctions in CA.” LiveAuctioneers. Accessed December 3, 2019. https://www.liveauctioneers.com/en-gb/item/72358482_an-indian-wooden-fig....

[9] “The Yaksha Appearance.”.

[10] “History Of Wood Carving.” R.S. Wood Craft. Accessed December 3, 2019. http://rswoodcraft.com/history-of-wood-carving.

[11] “History Of Wood Carving.” R.S. Wood Craft.