Displayed in the South and Southeast Asian galleries at a height equivalent to its original elevation is the large sandstone image of two elegantly adorned women standing back to back (addorsed). The women in their voluptuousness exemplify the traditional Indian ideal of feminine beauty, which is closely linked with natural abundance. Each holds the branch of a fruit-bearing or flowering tree, suggesting a type of tree nymph of Indian poetry--a beautiful woman who can make trees or flowers bloom by a mere touch of her hand or foot. The addorsed dryads originally served as a bracket between two gateway lintels of the Great Stupa at Sanchi, and thus would have been seen by worshippers on both sides of the gateway. Built in the 2nd century B.C. on the site of an even earlier stupa, Sanchi is one of the most important early Buddhist sites in India. Its four gateways - added in the early first century A.D, and 30 feet in height - still stand today. Also in LACMA's collection is a small gray stone Votive Stupa which is a miniature devotional version of the large stupas, or reliquary mounds, which were often surrounded by elaborate railings and gateways. Buddhism was founded in the 5th century B.C. Images of the Buddha (Enlightened One), such as LACMA's large gray stone example from Pakistan, were (and continue to be) created across Asia. The inclusion of the beautiful tree nymphs and other nature spirits in Buddhist art represents the assimilation of popular village and folk divinities into the higher religion in order to broaden its appeal and attract converts. LACMA's collection of South and Southeast Asian art spans many centuries and represents several religious and artistic traditions. Dr. Stephen Markel, The Harry and Yvonne Lenart Curator and Department Head of South and Southeast Asian Art, (2009)More...
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