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Railing Pillar With a Female Figure (yakshi) Standing Under an Ashoka Tree (Shalabhanjika)

2nd century CE

India, Uttar Pradesh, Mathura area

Red sandstone

H. 32 1/8 x W. 7 5/8 x D. 6 in. (81.6 x 19.4 x 15.3 cm)

Asia Society, New York: Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, 1979.1


John D. Rockefeller 3rd, New York, NY; acquired from Isidor Kahane, Dobbs Ferry, NY, June 1967.

The Asia Society, New York, NY, bequest of John D. Rockefeller 3rd, New York, NY, 1979.

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The bejeweled and voluptuous female figure decorating this railing pillar stands on a pile of rocks and kicks the base of a tree with her left foot. This pose reflects the ancient belief that when a young woman touched a tree, her fecundity was transferred to the tree, causing it to blossom. This figure's round breasts, wide hips and lack of clothes also testify to her auspicious and fertile nature. She decorates a pillar that was once part of a circular railing used to create a sacred space around a monument, such as a stupa. It is not certain, however, whether this railing was from a Buddhist, Hindu, or Jain site. The railing pillar is decorated on the front with the yakshi figure described above and on the back with three stylized lotus blossoms. Each side of the pillar has three convex-lens-shaped openings to receive railing beams; the openings are directly across from each other on either side, indicating that the pillar supported horizontal beams rather than the angled ones of a stair railing. The figure is presented in three-quarter view, her proper right leg supporting her weight, her left leg flexed at the knee; she rests her back against the trunk of the tree which rises at the left edge of the composition. The yakshi wears only a necklace, earrings, bracelets, and anklets; an elaborate girdle encircles her waist and garlands (?) surround her ankles. Her hair falls in an elaborate bun at the back of her head. She holds an undulating object--now damaged--with both hands, possibly a lotus stalk.