In Search of Dvarapala

Mysteries are just facts waiting to be discovered.  Since research is as exciting to me as sports are to some of my friends, I love a mystery.  Taking a hiatus from family research, I was trying to come up with a project.  The one that came to mind was  staring me in the face, literally.  It combined Indian history, religion and art.  Perfect, I said to myself.

Over 30 years ago I stumbled on two wonderful little statues in a small antique store.  They were a bit pricey for my recently out of law school budget.  Fortune smiled on me.   I was the only customer who fell for these unusual pieces.  Months later, I returned to the shop. Both statues were still there.  They were discounted and I took the plunge.

I was told the statues had been salvaged when a Hindu temple was destroyed.  They were supposedly purchased by an interior decorator who traded them to the antique dealer as partial repayment on a loan.  I took them home, tried to research them, gave up and put them where I can enjoy them!

The most interesting of these statues (don’t tell the other one) is pictured below:

It is a wonderful carving but other than the dealer’s story, I had no real understanding of his significance.  Technically, he is a “wood & polychrome” statue, meaning only that he is painted in a variety of colors.  It is obvious he has been repeatedly repainted, suggesting only that he is not new and, perhaps, that he was designed more for utilitarian, than artistic, purposes.

A lot has changed in 30 years.  I realized with the internet I should renew my search.  I began by searching terms including Hindu statue, guardian, Hindu art and Indian art.  Eventually I came across the term “Dvarapala” [1] meaning guardian deity, door guardian or wrathful deity. Dvarapala is associated with the temples, shrines  and monasteries of Buddhism, Taoism and Hindu religions.  They are found in such countries as India, Burma, Tibet, Malaysia, Japan, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and China.  These guardians have played a significant religious role throughout much of the world for over a thousand years.

Initially the images of Dvarapala I found on the internet were massive stone or bronze sculptures of ferocious warriors.  Ultimately I came upon a reference to more benign sculptures and continued my quest. Finally, I googled “Dvarapala, 1800s” and discovered this wonderful late 1800s statue, also identified as “wood polychrome”.  The Jaipaul family donated it, with other Indian and Tibetan sculptures, to the Allentown Art Museum, [2] in 2000:

While certainly of finer quality than my own statue, the similarities satisfy me that my home and family are well protected by a Dvarapala.  I promise to treat it with the respect it deserves as a representative of a deity not my own.

__________________________

[1]  In Buddhism “Dharmapala” identifies a wrathful  protector who, similar to the Dvarapala, often guards a monastery or other religious building.

[2]  Allentown, Pennsylvania

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3 responses to “In Search of Dvarapala

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