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Gods and

Demons
of the
Himlayas

Texts by Erberto Lo Bue


Erberto Lo Bue is Associate Professor at the University of Bologna,
where he has taught history of Indian and Central Asian art as
well as classical Tibetan at the Department of Linguistic and
Oriental Studies, and where he is responsible for the course of
Indology. Since 1972 he has carried out field work in Nepal, India
and Tibet. He obtained his PhD in Tibetan Studies at the School
of Oriental and African Studies (University of London) in 1981
with a thesis on Himalayan sculpture. Most of his over 180 publications are related to Tibetan, Newar and Indian religious art. He
is a member of the International Association for Tibetan Studies
and of the International Association for Ladakh Studies, of the
editorial board of The Tibet Journal, and of the School of Doctorate
in Eurasian Studies at the University of Turin, where he was also
member of the acquisition committee at the Museum of Oriental
Art, as well as Guest Researcher at the Department of Court
History, Palace Museum, Beijing.
Dynasties mentioned in the catalogue:
Kushna dynasty, India (30 375)
Gupta dynasty, India (319 6th century)
Lcchavi dynasty, Nepal (c. 300 879)
Pla dynasty, India (750 1174)
Sena dynasty, India (1070 1230)
Malla dynasty, Nepal (c. 1200 1769)
Yuan dynasty, China (1279 1368)
Ming dynasty, China (1368 1644)
Qing dynasty, China (1644 1911)

Indra and Indrn


Indra is the king of the Hindu gods and as such his distinctive attributes
are the crown, a horizontal third eye in contrast with Shivas vertical
one on the forehead and the thunderbolt (vajra), from which he
derives one of his main epithets, Vajrapni, which was later adopted
by Buddhists to name one of their most important Bodhisattvas. The
thunderbolt, here resting on the lotus flower by the gods left shoulder, is
a typical weapon in the pantheons of Indo-European-speaking people,
including Greeks and Romans, and in that respect Indra, in his capacity as
king of the gods, lord of the firmament and personification of the atmosphere, is related to both Zeus and Jupiter.

Nepal, 14th century


Copper, gilded and set with stones
19 cm (7 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection
acquired 1988

14

19 (7 )

Indra, here suitably seated in the posture of royal ease, is especially


venerated in the Nepal Valley, where rainfalls during the monsoon season
allow for more than one yearly harvest of rice, and is the object of a
very important festival held in September, when households display
images of the god, who in Nepal has maintained an important position that
he lost in India in the course of time. Indra, who is generally portrayed
on his own,1 is accompanied here by his consort, Indrn, a mother
goddess personifying the gods energy and active power (shakt).
The statue was cast in copper by the lost-wax process and fire-gilded by
Newar artists under the Malla dynasty, whose rulers, of Indian origin,
introduced the artistic idiom current in India under the Pla and Sena
dynasties into the Nepal Valley, although the representation of Indra
in this posture is typically Nepalese and may be regarded as a local
invention.2 The heliotrope, or bloodstone, set in the Indras single-crested
crown, possibly modelled on those worn by kings of the Lcchavi dynasty3,
is a symbol of courage and wisdom.

Cf. Pratapaditya Pal, The Arts of Nepal,


part I, Sculpture, Brill, Leiden/Kln, 1974, fig.
42, Art of Nepal, Los Angeles County Museum of
Art - University of California Press, Berkeley
- Los Angeles - London 1985, p. 119, fig.
S43, and Himalayas. An Aesthetic Adventure,
The Art Institute of Chicago - University of
California Press - Mapin Publishing, Chicago
- Berkeley - Ahmedabad 2003, p. 44, fig. 116.
2
Cf. Pratapaditya Pal, Art of Nepal, ibidem.
3
Mary Shepherd Slusser, Nepal Mandala.
A Cultural Study of the Kathmandu Valley,
Princeton University Press, Princeton 1982,
vol. I, p. 267.

Lakshm
Lakshm is the Hindu goddess of fortune, wealth, prosperity, here
conveyed by her wide hips, and beauty, in which case she is known as
Shr. She is the senior consort of Vishnu, to whose proper left she is
generally portrayed: independent sculptures of Lakshm are rare. The
Devmahtmya in the Mrkandeva-Purna contends that all forms of
goddesses (Dev) have evolved from a supreme Mahlakshm, who thus
becomes the basis for the worship of the principle of female energy
(shakt). Although hardly any temples are devoted to Lakshm, her
worship is observed all over India and images such as this one were
commissioned by the faithful to be placed either in their private shrines
or in shrines dedicated to other deities. Lakshm is usually depicted
with two arms, often holding a lotus, though here she holds two other
attributes of hers: a citrus fruit (mahlunga) with her right hand and a
bowl with the left.

Himachal, c. 7th-8th century


Brass
27.3 cm (10 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection
acquired 1960s

78

27.3 (10 )

As pointed out by Donald Stadtner, the small lion at the rear of the
base is associated with Lakshm especially in Kashmir and Himachal,
where it appears in early representations of the goddess in spite of
the fact that such vehicle is normally associated with Shivas consort
, being an adaptation from the iconography of Nana, a fertility deity
widely worshipped in northwest India during the Kushna period.
Lakshm is accompanied here by two female attendants who might
have been holding fly-whisks (chaur).1
On the basis of comparable examples cast in brass and bronze, Donald
Stadtner suggested that this image was fashioned in the 7th or 8th
century in the Himachal area, pointing out both the shape of the ear
ornaments, as found in images from Kashmir, Himachal and beyond,2
and the presence of a flower above the ear.3 The long garland falling
below the knees is a feature of Kashmirian sculpture that spread as far
as Ladk.4

Cf. example Ramesh Gupte, Iconography


of the Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, D. B.
Taraporevala Sons & Co., Bombay 1972, p. 56.
2
Cf. Pratapaditya Pal, Himalayas. An
Aesthetic Adventure, The Art Institute of
Chicago - University of California Press
- Mapin Publishing, Chicago - Berkeley Ahmedabad 2003, pp. 106-107, No. 63.
3
Cf. ibidem as well as pp. 108-109, No. 64, pp.
118-119, No. 72, and pp. 124-125, Nos. 76-77.
4
Cf. ibid., pp. 108-109, No. 64, with the huge
statues of standing Bodhisattvas found at
several sites in Ladak.

Pshupati
Shiva, the third member of the Hindu Trinity is represented here in two
addorsed figures sharing four heads. The front image represents him
as Pshupati, Lord of Animals, pashu meaning beast and soul and
referring actually to human beings as well as to cattle, though in the
context of the Pshupata sect the term pashu is related also to psha,
meaning fetters, with reference to the bondage of human existence and,
presumably, also bestiality. The rear figure portrays either Lakulsha, Shivas
revered and deified guru of the Pshupata sect, or else perhaps Yama,
the Vedic personification of death. Both figures wear tiaras, earrings,
necklaces, armlets and bracelets, the sacred thread of the Brahmanical
tradition, a dhot and a long garland reaching down almost to the ankles
according to a Kashmiri tradition that spread to Ladk. Lakulshas
short dhot is covered by an animal skin such as those used by some
yogins.
The cult of Shiva in his different forms was very popular in Kashmir
and still is in the Himalayas, where an important state sanctuary is
devoted to Pshupati at Deopatan, in the Nepal Valley. In his capacity
as herdsman and pastor, Pshupati holds a trident, which is one of his
main attributes here mounted on a bent wooden staff in his right
hand, while he grabs and holds a goat, or a gazelle, in his left hand,
according to an iconography originating in the Kushana period;1 indeed
the Pshupata sect may be traced to the 2nd century BC.2 Pshupati is
associated with the gazelle in a legend telling that Shiva, tired with the
gods adulation in Varanasi, disguised himself as a gazelle and moved
to a wood in the Nepal Valley.3 The club is an attribute shared by both
Yama and Lakulsha, and the Pshupata sect regard Pshupati as a
ghora, namely fierce, manifestation of Shiva.

Kashmir, c. 7th century


Copper alloy
21 cm (8 in)
Provenance:
Christian Humann (Pan-Asian Collection)
European Private Collection
acquired 1993
Published:
Pratapaditya Pal, Bronzes of Kashmir
New York 1975, pp. 56-57, No. 4a, b.

21 (8 )

Pshupati represents a syncretic form of a pastoral god and protector


of animals with Shiva, and that is how he is viewed by the Nepalese,
who believe that first of all there was nothing in Nepal except
Pashupatinth, whose beginning and end none can know or tell.4 The
followers of Pshupati may have introduced his worship into Nepal at an
early age, so that in India that god has been often thought of as Nepalese,
but this image shows that such is not the case and that Pshupati
was popular in Kashmir, too. The iconography of Pashupathi, just like
Krshnas, should be related to a pan-Indian pastoral world preceding
the invasions of Indo-Aryan-speaking people that introduced a pantheon
of restless deities akin to the Greek and Roman ones into India. That is
one reason, besides the position of his ears and the shape of his horns,
why the animal held by Pshupati in this image ought to be understood
as a he-goat rather than a gazelle.

1
Cf. Pratapaditya Pal, Bronzes of Kashmir,
Graz 1975, pp. 16 and 56-57, No. 4a, b.
2
Cf. Mary Shepherd Slusser, Nepal Mandala.
A Cultural Study of the Kathmandu Valley,
Princeton 1982, vol. I, p. 226.
3
ibidem
4
ibidem

Shiva
This repouss copper face of the Hindu god Shiva used to cover a
similar face of the god carved in stone and representing his one-headed
phallic manifestation, Ekamukhalinga, linga meaning literally mark,
but being used also as an indicator of gender or sex, especially with
reference to the male sexual organ, particularly Shivas. Gilded copper
sheathing is commonly used to cover and protect sacred images as
well as shrine doors or windows in the Nepal Valley, as exemplified by
a remarkable four-headed gilded copper linga cover described and
illustrated by Pratapaditya Pal.1
Pshupati (Lord of Animals; see catalogue No. 3) as embodied in
Shivas phallic manifestation and as a personification of the universe
is worshipped in the state sanctuary at Deopatan, an ancient religious
site near the Bagmati river, in the Nepal Valley, and a privileged place
for cremation, since it is a subtributary of the Ganges, the holiest river
of the Hindus. Images of Shiva in his phallic form have been placed
near the Bagmati from at least the 4th century onwards. The sanctuary
is a very important pilgrimage place, especially on the occasion of
the yearly spring festival of Pshupati, when thousands of devotees
including Pshupata yogins reach it from India and Nepal, where, in his
capacity as protector of the king, Pshupati was a national god.

Nepal, 10th-11th century


Copper, repouss and gilded
37 cm (14 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection
acquired 1980s

10-11

37 (14 )

Shivas terrible and destructive wrath besides his powerful will of creation
abide in his linga, and the followers of the Pshupata sect regard
Pshupati as a ghora, namely fierce, manifestation of Shiva, whose
wrath is believed to reside in his phallus.
The pouting of the fleshy lips in one of the two covers seems to reflect
an aesthetic idiom that might be placed between the 6th-9th century
plaques of Shiva and his consort published by Pratapaditya Pal,2 and
the 17th century Chaturmukhalinga mentioned above.

10

Cf. Pratapaditya Pal, Himalayas. An


Aesthetic Adventure, The Art Institute of
Chicago - University of California Press
- Mapin Publishing, Chicago - Berkeley Ahmedabad 2003, pp. 73-74, No. 42.
2
Ibid. pp. 96-97, Nos. 53-55.

Shiva
See catalogue No. 4.

Nepal, 10th-11th century


Copper, repouss and gilded
31.5 cm (12 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection
acquired 1980s

10-11

31.5 (12 )

12

Bhirava
The most popular aspect of Shiva as Destroyer of evil and ignorance
in Nepal is Bhirava (Fierce), in his manifold wrathful manifestations,
amounting to sixty-four according to classical texts. His most wellknown representation as a mask is probably the Sveta Bhirava
(White Bhirava) made of gilded copper repouss with polychrome
paint in 1795 and placed at the entrance of the ancient royal palace in
Kathmandu. On some evenings during the festival devoted to Indra, the
king of the gods (see catalogue No. 1), devotees drink consecrated rice
beer through a pipe placed in Bhiravas mouth believing that it will
bring them good fortune.1 The hole in the middle of the mouth of this
particular mask, topped by Shivas head, was meant to be used for the
same purpose.2

Nepal, 16th century


Copper, repouss gilded and painted
44 cm (17 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection
acquired early 1990s

16

44 (17 )

Bhiravas iconography, characterized by an angry mien, rolling eyes


bulging out in fury, fanged mouth open in a prolonged shout, flaming
hair, beard, moustache, eyebrows and eyes, the god wearing a crown of
snakes and human skulls as well as a snake necklace and snake earrings,
provided the basis for the representations of the wrathful guardians of
the dharma in the Buddhist pantheon transmitted from India to Tibet,
notably of Mahkla, which is also another name for Shiva.

14

Cf. Mary Shepherd Slusser, Nepal Mandala.


A Cultural Study of the Kathmandu Valley,
Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1982,
vol. I, p. 237, and vol. II, fig. 364.
2
Cf. the miniature Bhairava shrine and the
clay Bhairava head published by Pratapaditya
Pal, Art of Nepal, Berkeley, Los Angeles and
London: Los Angeles County Museum of Art
and University of California Press, 1985, p.
131, figs S59 and S60.

Shkyamuni
The historical Buddha (Awakened or Enlightened) Shkyamuni
(Wise or Powerful of the Shkya clan which he belonged to) lived
and preached in northern India around half a millenium before Christ.
According to his legendary biography, written after the beginning of
the common era, he was the son of a king, in spite of the fact that the
Shkya clan was organized in a small oligarchic republic, occupying a
territory including a southern strip of present day Nepal, where Shkyamuni
was born. As a child he received the name of Sarvarthasiddha, but he
was also known as Siddhartha, with the hereditary title of Gutama,
and with the epithets of Bhagavan (Lord), Bodhisattva (Being vowed
to Awakening or Enlightenment) and Mahbodhisattva (Great Bodhisattva),
besides Shkyamuni. Only at the beginning of the Common Era did his
followers start to represent him with anthropomorphic features and no
longer solely through symbols referring to the main events in his life.

Kashmir, 7th century


Copper alloy with silver inlay
29.3 cm (11 in)
Provenance:
American Private Collection

29.3 (11 )

After reaching Enlightenment, Shkyamuni started to preach his


doctrine, delivering his first sermon in the Deer Park at Srnth, near
Varanasi, and established the religious order flourishing to this day
thanks to the many schools into which it branched out throughout Asia
in the over 2500 years of its history. This image hints at that very sermon
and that is why Shkyamuni is portrayed in a meditation (dhyna)
posture (sana) displaying the gesture (mudr) of setting the wheel
(chakra) of his doctrine (dharma) into motion. In an Indian context that
gesture is related to the notion of the ideal universal monarch who,
according to a traditional Hindu and Buddhist conception, revolves
the wheel of the law (chakravartin). Indeed here Shkyamuni sits on
a throne supported by two couples of addorsed lions an animal to
which Shkyamunis voice is compared portrayed in a heraldic style
of Iranian origin, and by two male nature spirits (yaksha) standing on lotuses
an ancient symbol of purity and fertility and belonging to the early
pantheon of the Indian subcontinent.
The sculptor has rendered the folds of Shkyamunis garment with
pleats, ultimately of Greek and Roman origin, which are characteristic
of the aesthetics of the Gandhara kingdom, corresponding to present-day
eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly the Swat Valley, one
of the areas where the Great Bodhisattva started to be represented
in his anthropomorphic features. The flames of Shkyamunis aura
represent the irradiation of his doctrine throughout the whole universe
as symbolized by the combined sun and moon crescent at the sides
of his head, and emerging from the shoulders of several Kashmirian
images of the Buddha.1 Shkyamuni is flanked by two Bodhisattvas, in
a composition that is reminiscent of later copper-alloy images from the
Swat Valley:2 possibly Matreya, to his proper right, holding a ritual jug, and
Avalokitsvhara, to his proper left, holding the stem of a lotus flower. The
eyes and small protuberances between the eyebrows of Shkyamuni and
his assistants are silver-inlaid.

16

1
Cf. Pratapaditya Pal, Bronzes of Kashmir,
Graz 1975, pp. 41 and 45, n. 12.
2
Cf. ibid., pp. 198-199, fig. 75, and Ulrich
von Schroeder, Indo-Tibetan Bronzes, Visual
Dharma Publications, Hong Kong 1981, pp.
96-97, fig. 12E.

Shkyamuni
Shkyamuni was born at Lumbin, in present-day Nepal, where Buddhism
spread from an early period, and images of him were fashioned at least
from the times of the Lcchavi, a dynasty of Indian origin. Its kings ruled
the Nepal Valley as its inhabitants have traditionally called it before and
after the existence of Kathmandu, which previous to the 13th century
corresponded to little more than a couple of hamlets from the 4th
century, when the Gupta dynasty ruled northern India, until 879, when
the Pla dynasty ruled northeast India, and were obviously exposed to
the influence of Indian aesthetics.
The images of Shkyamuni fashioned during the Gupta period personify
an ideal of serenity, introspection and harmony. The Great Bodhisattva
was portrayed with a benevolent expression, sometimes smiling, the
eyes looking towards the faithful with a reassuring look, consistently
with the doctrines of the Buddhist schools of Great Vehicle (Mahyna),
which emphasized the importance of the compassion. This statue reflects
the Indian aesthetics that were introduced into the Nepal Valley during
Lcchavi dynasty and persisted after its end, and which are characterized
by a delicacy and grace rendered through the smoothness of surfaces
and contours. Shkyamuni offers the boon of his doctrine to the faithful
with his right hand while holding up the hem of the upper part of his
robe with the left, according to an iconography that was common in the
Nepal Valley, as exemplified by a contemporary statue found along the
right bank of the Bagmati river in the sanctuary of Pshupati as well
as by two later stone images, one standing behind the stupa of
Svayambhntha, the other in its nearby museum.

Nepal, 11th-12th century


Painted clay
80 cm (31 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection
acquired early 1990s
Published:
Buddhist Art; sculpture and paintings
from India, Nepal and Tibet, London
1999, pp. 10-11, fig. 4.

11-12

80 (31 )

During her long researches in the Nepal Valley, Mary Shepherd Slusser
came across several unbaked clay statues modelled around a wood
and iron armature, including this one,1 and later sculptures of the
same type had started turning up in private and public collections in
the West. Slusser points out that the earliest references to important
statues fashioned in clay in the Nepal Valley date from 573 and that
even such a simple material can be highly appreciated also in religious
terms. In this case Shkyamunis monastic robe was fashioned with
coarse cloth plastered on both sides with a wash of fine clay. Images such
as this one are obviously fragile, although they are actually designed
as permanent installations: once modelled and secured to the wall of
a shrine by means of iron rods attached to their armature, they were
not meant to be moved, which accounts for the conditions of those that
were removed from their original locations.2
It should be pointed out that Newar sculptors used the same medium
in southwest Tibet, as recorded in local historical sources which, in
connection with events occurring before the end of the 15th century,
mention that seven Newar artists fashioned statues in clay (so that
they might not be stolen!) at the monastery founded in 1387 at Shkar,
the first important Tibetan town on the route from the Nepal Valley to
south and central Tibet.3

18

This image was later published in Buddhist


Art; sculpture and paintings from India, Nepal
and Tibet, Anna Maria Rossi and Fabio Rossi,
London 1999, pp. 10-11, fig. 4.
2
Mary Shepherd Slusser, Dry Lacquer
or Clay? Preliminary Notes on a Neglected
Nepalese Sculptural Medium, Contributions to
Nepalese Studies, XXIII/1 (January 1996), pp.
11-33, passim.
3
As may be inferred from Karl-Heinz
Everding, Some notes on the history of the
principality of La stod lHo in the period of
the 12th to the 14th century, paper delivered
on the 19th June 1995 at 7th Seminar of
the International Association for Tibetan
Studies, Leibnitz.

Shkyamuni
The main image in this painted scroll portrays Shkyamuni flanked by
two Bodhisattvas, Avalokitshvara to his proper right and Maitreya to
his left, both standing in three-quarter profile and wearing a thin and
transparent garment covering the lower portion of the body (dhot) over
short underwear. By the 12th century this kind of dressing, of Indian origin,
had become fashionable not only in the Nepal Valley,1 but also in central
Asia, where it is generally believed to have lasted until the 14th century,
although in Ladk it lingered for half a century longer.
The vogue of reproducing the various artistic idioms of India, the Nepal
Valley, Khotan and China in Tibet is documented in Tibetan historical
sources and inscriptions, for instance at the 11th century monastery of
Iwng anciently Yemar in southwest Tibet, where images of Shkyamuni
and of a Bodhisattva in the same style as those found in this scroll were
painted by a Tibetan artist deliberately in Indian style. In the 20th century
those wall paintings were photographed by Fosco Maraini and studied
by Giuseppe Tucci, who attributed the Bodhisattva figure to the 12th century,
and eventually destroyed following the Cultural Revolution.2

Tibet, c. 1050-1100
Distemper on cloth
47 x 32 cm (18 x 12 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection
acquired 1987
Published:
Amy Heller, Indian Style, Kashmir Style:
Aesthetics of Choice in Eleventh-Century
Tibet, Orientations, 32/10 (2001), pp. 2021, fig. 13.
Pratapaditya Pal, Himalayas: An Aesthetic
Adventure, Chicago 2003, pp. 174-175,
fig. 114.

1050-1100

47 x 32 (18 x 12 )

The two figures sitting at the height of Shkyamunis head have not
yet been identified, but the text of the Tibetan inscription at the back
of the scroll mentions at least two Tibetan monks: a translator of the
G clan (Gos Lo-tsa-ba) and possibly Dharma Lotr (Dharma Blogros).
The latter, who translated at least one Indian text into Tibetan at the time of
Rin-chen-bzang-po (958-1055),3 is mentioned in the inscription has having
made great confession rituals for obtaining prosperity.4 The former is
an epithet applying to three different scholars, the most famous being
Zhnnupl (gZhon-nu-dpal, 1392- 1481), the author of the Blue Annals,
another being Zhnnuzhp (gZhon-nu-zhabs, a contemporary of the
Bengalese scholar Vanaratna, first half of the 15th century) and a third
one being Tanak Khukpa Lhts (rTa-nag Khug-pa Lhas-btsas).
Tanak Khukpa Lhts lived at the time of the great Indian scholar tisha
(982-1054) resided in Tibet (1042-1054) and was his chief disciple in the
southwest Tibet,5 as well as a disciple of the famous eccentric scholar
Drokm Shkya Yesh (Brog-mi Shkya-yeshes 992-1072),6 who spent
several years in India and translated the Hevajra-tantra.7 Both tisha and
Drokm are portrayed in a composition devoted to the goddess Tr, stylistically
close to this painting and dated to c. 1100, where the pentad of the cosmic
Buddha (cf. catalogue No. 31) is found on the upper register instead of
the lower one, as in this case; both paintings are surrounded by highly
stylized lotus petal having an almost rectangular form.8
It is conceivable that the two figures at the sides of Shkyamunis head
in this painted scroll may portray respectively G Lotsawa Tanak Khukpa
Lhts and Dharma Lotr, who belonged to the same 11th-century cultural
milieu described above, which was influenced by Indian aesthetics under
the Pla and Sena dynasties, as betrayed by the prominent jaws of the
figures painted in three quarter profile9 and by the foliate roundels of
the scroll-work behind Shkyamuni, a motif of Bengalese though
ultimately Hellenistic origin that lived on in the Nepal Valley10 as part
of the Indian aesthetic heritage and was also adopted in Tibet.

20

Cf. Pratapaditya Pal, Art of Nepal, Berkeley


- Los Angeles County Museum of Art University of California Press, Los Angeles
- London 1985, p. 60, No. P7, and David
Jackson, The Nepalese Legacy in Tibetan
Painting, Rubin Museum of Art, New York
2010, p. 101, fig. 6.3.
2
Cf. Giuseppe Tucci, Indo-Tibetica. IV. Gyantse
ed i suoi monasteri, Reale Accademia dItalia,
Roma 1941, part I, p. 137, and part III, figs 44-46
and 51-53, and Tibet, Nagel, Ginevra 1975,
pp. 129 and 215, fig. 124, and Erberto Lo
Bue, Tibet. Templi scomparsi fotografati da
Fosco Maraini, Ananke, Torino 1998, pp. 7576, 89, pl. 72, 91-93, pls 74-76, and 102-104,
pls 86-88.
3
Cf. Tadeusz Skorupski (ed.), A Catalogue
of the sTog Palace Kanjur, The International
Institute for Buddhist Studies, Tokyo 1985, p.
248, No. 455, and Goerge Roerich (ed.), The
Blue Annals, Motilal Banarsidass, Varanasi Delhi 1976, p. 732.

Shkyamuni
Detail
Tibet, c. 1050-1100
Distemper on cloth
47 x 32 cm (18 x 12 in)

1050-1100

47 x 32 (18 x 12 )

Cf. Amy Heller, Indian Style, Kashmir Style:


Aesthetics of Choice in Eleventh -Century
Tibet, Orientations, 32/10 (December
2001), pp. 20 and 23, and in Pratapaditya Pal,
Himalayas. An Aesthetic Adventure, op. cit., p.
290, where the author suggests that the name
rDar-ma-gror-te (rDar-ma-gror-to in my
own reading as reported in the inscription,
containing several spelling mistakes may
correspond to Dharma Blo-gros.
5
Cf. Giuseppe Tucci, Tibetan Painted Scrolls,
Rinsen Book Co., Kyoto 1980, p.413, as pointed
out by Amy Heller.
6
Cf. Goerge Roerich (ed.), op. cit., pp. 167,
208-209 and 826.
7
As reported by the colophons of Tibetan
Buddhist canonical collections and in
relevant literature: see for example Goerge
Roerich (ed.), op. cit., p. 207, and David
Snellgrove and Hugh Richardson, A Cultural
History of Tibet, Shambhala, Boulder 1995,
pp. 115 and 139.
8
Pratapaditya Pal, Himalayas. An Aesthetic
Adventure, op. cit., pp. 178-179, fig. 116.
9
See for example Pratapaditya Pal, The Arts
of Nepal, part II, Painting, Brill, Leiden/Kln,
1978, fig. 31.
10
See for example Pratapaditya Pal, Art of
Nepal, op. cit., p. 65, No. P14.

23

10 Shkyamuni
Shkyamuni is portrayed here in the gesture of touching the Earth with
his right hand in order to summon her to bear witness to the Enlightenment, namely his vision of the Wheel of Existences, that he achieved at
Bodhgay, while the left one is still in the attitude of meditation. The
Earth-touching gesture symbolizes Shkyamunis victory over Death
(Mra) as well as the dominion of his doctrine over the world. Buddhists
extended the same gesture to Akshobhya, the cosmic Buddha of the east.

Tibet, c.1300
Copper alloy with copper inlay and
traces of gilding
48 cm (19 in)

This statue was cast by the lost-wax process, following a technique


which the Newar artists of the Nepal Valley derived from India and in
which they have been particularly skilled. Stylistically this image may
be related to the Newar artistic production commissioned by Tibetan
monasteries in south and central Tibet, but the aesthetics current in
India under the Pla and Sena dynasties are betrayed by the taste for
inlay work, in this case the copper strings of pearls along the hems
decorated with a scrolled motif bordering Shkyamunis fine robe.

1300

48 (19)

Provenance:
European Private Collection
acquired early 1990s

Tibetan chronicles, ecclesiastical histories, eulogies and hagiographies


of the more famous abbots of the monasteries in south and southwest
Tibet indicate that the flow of Newar artists into the Land of Snows was
uninterrupted. They imply or state that the style of the Nepal Valley
predominated in Tibetan painting from the 10th until the mid-15th
century and that in sculpture it continued well after that. There was no
important Tibetan monastery which, at the moment of its foundation
or renovation, was not embellished with statues or paintings by Newar
artists. Indeed Newar sculptors have played an important role in the
Land of Snows until the present century as a consequence of the
reconstruction of several monasteries after their destruction during
the Cultural Revolution.
During the period of political and cultural predominance of the monastery
of Sakya, in southwest Tibet, teams of Newar artists were invited by
the abbots of the monasteries belonging to that order and Tibetan
artists continued to be influenced by the aesthetics of the Nepal Valley.
Large statues of Newar origin found in the main temple of the monastic
fortress of Sakya are partially visible in a group of statues published
by Giuseppe Tucci and reproduced by Ulrich von Schroeder, whereas
Newar images of the best style abound in another temple in the same
monastery. More statues are extant in other monasteries also in central
Tibet.1 The weight of the Newar artistic influence in southwest Tibet at
the close of the 13th century may be exemplified by a fine stone image
of Mahkla bearing a Tibetan inscription mentioning the famous
prince-abbot of Sakya, Pakpa (Phags-pa, 1235-1280), as well as a date
equivalent to 1292 and the name of the artist, a Tibetan sculptor.2
Three prongs along the base of the statue show that the main image
once sat either on a throne or else on the traditional solar disc resting
on a lotus flower.

24

Cf. Giuseppe Tucci, Tibetan Painted


Scrolls, Rinsen Book Co., Kyoto 1980, pp.
173-76, fig. 3-16, and p. 277, and Ulrich
von Schroeder, Indo-Tibetan Bronzes, Visual
Dharma Publications, Hong Kong 1981, p.
464, and Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, vol. II,
Tibet and China, Visual Dharma Publications,
Hong Kong 2001, p. 917, figs XV-3 and 4, and
pp. 948-957, figs. XV-9 and X, and 225-228.
2
Cf. Heather Stoddard, A Stone Sculpture
of mGur mGon-po, Mahkla of the Tent,
Dated 1292, Oriental Art (New Series),
XXXI/3 (autumn 1985), pp. 278-282, and
Gilles Bguin, Art sotrique de lHimlaya.
La donation Lionel Fournier, ditions de la
Runion des Muses Nationaux, Paris 1990,
pp. 50-56, figs 21-22.

11 Shkyamunis Miracles
Buddhists have always believed in a plurality of Buddhas having lived
before Shkyamunis time and to appear in the future, but it was only
during the first centuries of the common era that they started to conceive of several Buddhas coexisting in various parts of the universe at
the same time. To the latter category belongs a set of five cosmic or
transcendent Buddhas, generically known with the epithet of Jina in
Sanskrit and Gylw (rGyal-ba) in Tibetan, meaning Victor. To each
cosmic Buddha corresponds not only a specific position in the space,
family, symbol, gesture, colour and vehicle, but also a particular type of
wisdom, of evil to defeat and of corresponding component of personality.
The Buddha occupying the central position in the universe is Vairchana
(Resplendent), seated on a lion throne at the centre in the foreground
of this painting and displaying the gesture of setting in motion the Wheel
of the Doctrine, the symbol of the Tathgata family to which he belongs.
To that Buddha correspond respectively pure and absolute wisdom, the
evil of stupidity which the former is supposed to counter, and form as
a component of personality. To Vairchanas proper right there was the
Buddha Amitbha (catalogue No. 13) and to his left sits Amoghasiddhi
(Infallibile Success), the Buddha presiding over the north quarter of the
universe and belonging to the Karma family, displaying the gesture of
absence of fear and reassurance towards the faithful surrounding him.
To him corresponds active wisdom, which is meant to counter the evil of
envy born out of the component of personality of our impulses.
In this composition an inscription on the basis of his throne seems
to give a special importance to the earliest Buddha in the pentad,
namely Akshobhya (catalogue No. 12). To the latters proper right sits
Ratnasmbhava (Jewel-Born), who presides the south quarter of the
universe and belongs to the Jewel family, and is regularly shown in the
gesture of affording spiritual riches to the devotees surrounding him
with his right hand. To that Buddha corresponds discriminating wisdom,
which must oppose the evil of desire born out of the component of
personality of our feelings.
Two murals depicting the pentad of the cosmic Buddhas occupy the
main walls in as many chapels on the ground floor of the monastery
of Zhal, in southwest Tibet, whose rulers were direct vassals of the
Yuan emperors. In the ancient vestibule of that monastery two other
murals were painted in Chinese style at the beginning following a visit
of the prince of Zhal to the emperor ljeit Temr, who sponsored the
enlargement and renovation of the monastery after the prince of Zhal
went to visit him in 1306 in order to obtain titles and rights, at a time
when high-ranking members of the Tibetan clergy spent long periods
at the Yuan court, where they were heavily exposed to Chinese taste.
In the composition taken here into consideration the Chinese idiom is
apparent in the rendering of the trees and clouds occupying the background of the composition.
The use of paintings on cotton applied to walls in 1423 is documented in
the assembly hall of the main monastic building at Gyants, the capital
of an important southwest Tibetan kingdom, as reported in the history

26

Eastern Tibet, 14th century


Distemper on cotton
172 x 241 cm (67 x 95 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection

14

172 x 241 (67 x 95)

Shkyamunis Miracles
Detail
Eastern Tibet, 14th century
Distemper on cotton
172 x 241 cm (67 x 95 in)

14

172 x 241 (67 x 95 )

of its rulers, having close family connections with the bordering principalities of Sakya and Zhal.1
The three inscriptions, partly defaced or incomplete, extant on the
painting are related to three miraculous deeds out of the fifteen performed
during as many days by Shkyamuni at Shrvast. The one on the
lowest margin of the painting refers to the second day, when king
Udryana made great offerings to the Buddha, who turned his head to
the right and to the left, making two mountains emerge on each side,
one covered with lush grass to feed animals, the other with special
food to satisfy humans. Then Shkyamuni taught the dharma according
to each individuals ability and many freed their minds by listening.
The inscription on Akshobhyas throne relates the miracle performed
by Shkyamuni on the fifth day, when king Brahmadatta of Varanasi
prepared various offerings for him. From the smiling face of the Buddha
shone a golden light that filled the entire world, reaching all living beings
and purifying the defilements of the three poisons: desire, hatred and
ignorance. All beings became peaceful in body and mind, and those
assembled rejoiced greatly. What is left of the inscription to the proper
left of Ratnasmbhavas throne refers to the miracle performed by
Shkyamuni on the sixth day, when the Lcchavi people made offerings
to him. The Buddha let the people who were there see into each others
mind, and each understood the others good and bad thoughts. All
experienced great faith and, after Shkyamuni taught the dharma,
many attained great understanding and some the spirit of Enlightenment, while an immeasurable number secured a future rebirth as a
human or god, the only kinds of existence affording the possibility of
learning the dharma, and achieving Enlightenment and Buddhahood.2
The days in which Shkyamuni performed the miracles at Shrvast
correspond to the first fifteen days in the first month of the Buddhist
calendar adopted in Tibet and it is likely that this painting was commissioned on the occasion of the celebrations for a New Year, the fifteenth
day being celebrated as the Day of Miracles.

Cf. Jigs-med-grags-pa, rGyal-rtse chos-rgyal-gyi rnam-par-thar-pa dad-pai lo-thog


dngos-grubkyi char-bebs, Bod-ljongs Mi-dmangs
dPe-skrun-khang, Lhasa 1987, pp. 78-80,
where the Tibetan term used in this connection is ras-bris.
2
Thanks are due to Adriano Fabbroni for
transliterating the three inscriptions and to
Dr. Giuseppe Baroetto for his suggestions
concerning their interpretation.

29

12 Akshobhya
The representation of the cosmic Buddha of the east, Akshobhya, was
modelled upon the iconography of Shkyamuni as portrayed at the
very moment of Enlightenment at Bodhgay, significantly east of the
regions where the Buddha started to be portrayed in India. Touching
the goddess Earth with his right hand, he called Her to witness his
imperturbability in front of the assault of the demon Mr (Death),
of the latters beautiful daughters and of the terrifying host of demons
that tried to distract him during his final vigil of meditation before
Enlightenment. It is with reference to the condition of serene beatitude
that Shkyamuni reached in spite of those temptations and distractions
that this epiphany of his was called Akshobhya, meaning Imperturbable.
Later the followers of Buddhist esoteric schools (Vajrayna, meaning
Vajra Vehicle) endowed this epiphany of Shkyamuni with their most
important emblem, the vajra originally the thunderbolt sceptre of
the king of Hindu gods, Indra , which they interpreted as a symbol
of adamantine purity, indestructibility and perfection of the Buddhist
doctrine.

Tibet, 15th century


Copper, fire-gilded and painted, insert
with turquoise
34.5 cm (13 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection
acquired early 1990s

15

34.5 (13 )

It is that very emblem, held in Akshobhyas right hand, that differentiates


this Buddha from Shkyamuni, otherwise identical in iconography and
in turn loaded with esoteric symbolism by the followers of Vajrayna,
who called both his posture and the seat upon which they supposed
Siddhartha to be sitting at the time of his Enlightenment at Bodhgay
with the name of vajrsana. The importance of Akshobhya, whose
emblem is used in esoteric rituals and sacred dances in its own right,
is reflected in the high number of tantric deities belonging to his family,
including tutelary deities with Buddha rank such as Hevajra. To this
Buddha corresponds mirror-like wisdom, which is supposed to counter
the evil of anger, whereas the corresponding component of personality
is conscience.
The original meaning implicit in the robe, made of patches stitched
together, which Shkyamuni chose to wear when he founded his mendicant
order clashes with its sumptuous rendering as a brocade inset with
turquoise. The style of the statue, even in the features of the Buddhas
face, is Newar and may be related to the activity of artists from the
Nepal Valley for Tibetan patrons during the Malla dynasty.
The names of Newar artists working in Tibet were sometimes recorded by
Tibetan sources and the history of the kings of Gyants reports under
a year corresponding to 1421 that of a Newar incarnated artist, Jaya
Teja,1 who together with his assistants fashioned, with the dance
of his fingers, the gilded copper statues of Majushr and Avalokitshvara
standing at the sides of the big statue of Mahmuni in the central
chapel of the main monastic building of Gyants, as well as the gilded
copper curtain behind it, decorating its top with stupas, images of Buddhas,
symbolic animals, religious invocations and ornaments. We also know
the names of two in a team of six Newar artist that worked in the
monastery of Ngor Evam, founded in 1429 by the Sakya master Knga
Zangp (Kun-dga-bzang-po, 1382-1456), in southwest Tibet: Vanguli and
Akherja. On their way from the Nepal Valley to Ngor, those artists
accepted to work in temples at Shkar, Chud and also Sakya.2 Knga

30

Cf. Jigs-med-grags-pa, rGyal-rtse


chos-rgyal-gyi rnam-par-thar-pa dad-pai
lo-thog dngos-grubkyi char-bebs, p. 175
of the MS kept at Is. I.A.O. in Rome. Cf. a
recent edtion of the same text (Bod-ljongs
Mi-dmangs dPe-skrun-khang, Lhasa 1987,
p. 73) reading wrongly Ba po for Bal po,
meaning Newar.
2
Cf. Giuseppe Tucci, Tibetan Painted
Scrolls, Rinsen Book Co., Kyoto 1980, p. 277,
and Tibet: Land of Snows, London, 1967, p.
100, with David Jackson, A History of Tibetan
Painting: The Great Tibetan Painters and Their
Traditions, Wien: Verlag der sterreichischen
Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien 1996,
pp. 82 and 87, n. 183.
3
Alfonsa Ferrari, Luciano Petech and
Hughs Richardson (eds), Mkyen brtses
Guide to the Holy Places of Central Tibet, Is. M.E.O.,
Roma 1958, p. 147, n. 475.

Akshobhya
Back
Tibet, 15th century
Copper, fire-gilded and painted,
insert with turquoise
34.5 cm (13 in)

15

34.5 (13 )

Zangp patronized Newar artists at Ngor Evam intensively, availing


himself of Newar sculptors to fashion several gilded statues of the
Buddha in the great assembly-hall of that monastery.3
During the 15th century also the newly-founded Ghelk order, whose
leaders later appointed Dalai Lamas by their Mongol rulers were
to control most of Tibet from the mid-17th century until 1950, had
started using the services of Newar artists. The 1st Dalai Lama resorted
to Newar sculptors to set up two important images in the monastery
of Tashilhnpo, which he founded in 1447 near Shigatse, in southwest
Tibet: a twenty-five cubit statue of the Bodhisattva Maitreya and one of
the goddess White Tr.4 In connection with the erection of the gilded
repouss copper image of Maitreya mention is made of a Newar artist
known as Vishvakarm the name of the great architect of the universe
in Indian mythology from Narthang, in the same region.5

110. Loden Sherap Dagyab, Tibetan Religious


Art, Otto Harrassowitz: Wiesbaden, 1977,
part I, p. 36, George Roerich, Tibetan Paintings,
Gian Publishing House, Delhi 1925, p. 52, and
Ulrich von Schroeder, Indo-Tibetan Bronzes,
Visual Dharma Publications, Hong Kong 1981,
pp. 394, 412 and 414.
5
For different versions of these occurrences
cf. the biography of the 1st Dalai Lama as
reported in the Phags-pa Jig-rten-dbangphyug-gi rnam-sprul rim-byon-gyi khrungsrabs deb-ther nor-bui phreng-ba, Dharamsala,
vol. 1, n. d., pp. 266-268, Charles Bell, The
Religion of Tibet, Oxford University Press,
Oxford 1970, p. 105, Roberto Vitali, Early Temples of
Central Tibet, Serindia, London 1990, p. 136,
n. 66, and David Jackson, A History of Tibetan
Painting, op. cit., p. 101, n.238.

33

13 Amitbha
Amitbha (Infinite Light), the cosmic Buddha presiding over the west
quarter of the universe, evolved in Buddhist religion and iconography after
Akshobhya and before Vairchana. He holds his hands in the gesture
of meditation. He belongs to the Lotus family and to him corresponds
the non-discriminating wisdom of indifferentiated identity, which must
counter malignity, whereas his corresponding component of personality
is perception.
In this image Amitbha wears a crown and princely ornaments, the
former being made of three isosceles triangular elements, one frontal
and the others lateral, with their bases close to each other, resting on a
band with a double string of pearls. Such crown is similar to that worn
by a statue of Vajrasattva found by Giuseppe Tucci at Kyangpu, in south
Tibet where the Kashmirian scholar Shkyashribhadra arrived in 1204
, and regarded by him as Indian,1 and to those worn by the eight Great
Bodhisattva statues standing in the chapel devoted to the Buddhas of the
Three Times in the ancient temple of Nyethang, in central Tibet, where
the Indian scholar tisha (982-1054) used to teach. Tucci regarded those
images as very ancient, though later than those in the 11th century
monastery of Iwng anciently Yemar in south Tibet, whose iconographic programme is followed in the chapel at Nyethang,2 and they
might not be later than 1205, the year of the foundation of the nearby
monastery, which was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.

Tibet, c.13th century


Copper alloy with traces of gilding
18.5 cm (7 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection
acquired 1980s

13

18.5 (7 )

This statue must be related not only to the presence in Tibet of


masters such as tisha and Shkyashrbhadra, but also to its
cultural environment as represented by Indian religious images and
illuminated texts from India, which accounts for the continuous
influence played by Indian aesthetics, sometimes through their Newar
interpretation, on Tibetan artists and patrons especially from the 11th
to the 14th century.

34

Giuseppe, Tucci, Indo-Tibetica. IV. Gyantse


ed i suoi monasteri, Reale Accademia dItalia,
Roma,1941, part I, p. 100, and part III, fig.
13. The image was republished by Ulrich
von Schroeder, who misplaces it at Samada,
regards it as west Tibetan and dates it as
11th-12th century (Indo-Tibetan Bronzes,
Visual Dharma Publications, Hong Kong
1981, pp. 174-175, fig. 31G).
2
Giuseppe Tucci, A Lhasa e oltre. Diario della
spedizione nel Tibet MCMXLVIII, La Libreria
dello Stato, Roma 1952, p. 62.

14 Vajradhtu mndala
The iconographic development of the mndala from its simplest form
of a central plan, with deities arranged symmetrically in it, into the
elaborate fivefold scheme of later Buddhism, a highly ornate palace
with one or more inner courtyards, four decorated gateways opening
on each side of the walls and a corresponding group of five Buddhas
one in the centre and one for each direction of the compass has
not yet been the object of a thorough and conclusive study.
This mndala represents the Adamantine Sphere (Vajradhtu) in which
the pentad of the cosmic Buddhas was arranged by Indian tantric
schools. The essential features of the Vajradhtu depicted here fit
with Buddhaguhyas Dharmamandala-stra description of the mndala
as a central palace with ornaments and symbols occupied by a Lord
with his circle, and protected by a belt of vajras and a fire ditch.1
The Vajradhtu mndala falls into the general pattern described in
the Dharmamandalastra also in relation to the fivefold scheme of the
Buddhas with their individual characteristics, families, gestures and
colours, corresponding to the five Wisdoms.Their colours, white, red,
yellow, green and blue, correspond respectively to Vairchana, Amitbha,
Ratnasmbhava, Amoghasiddhi and Akshobhya (see catalogues Nos.
12, 13 and 31), who are easily recognizable in the inner palace, surrounded
by a belt of vajras, which protects also the abodes of the three main
cosmic Buddhas: Vairchana, Akshobhya and Amitbha.

Tibet,11th century
Distemper on cotton
125 x 125 cm (49 x 49 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection
acquired 1980s
Published:
Steven Kossak and Jane Casey Singer,
and Robert Bruce Gardner, Sacred
Visions. Early Paintings from Central
Tibet, The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
New York 1998, p. 28, fig. 13.

11

125 x 125 (49 x 49 )

Each cosmic Buddha, except the central one, is surrounded by four


of the Sixteen Vajra Bodhisattvas. The corners of the inner palace are
occupied by four goddesses, Tr being recognizable in the lower right
one. In the long passage between the walls of the inner and outer palaces
there are four groups of four more Vajra Bodhisattvas, each group being
separated by a goddess of offering placed at the corners of the
passage.2 Four guardians occupy the outside doors, which are topped
by decorated arches showing the early Buddhist aniconic symbolism
of the Wheel of the Doctrine flanked by a couple of deer, referring to
Shkyamunis first sermon at Srnth.
A group of five a figure hardly accidental in the iconographic context
of this mndala men involved in the ritual of consecration of the
painting an officiating lama and four donors is portrayed in the
bottom left corner outside the external ditch of flames here extending
beyond the border of the panting in the colours of the five cosmic
Buddhas, the chief donor holding appropriately a huge vajra in his right
hand. The staring eyes of some of their portraits, particularly those of
the two donors at the front extending out of their sockets as in the
traditional Indian depiction of threequarter figures are reminiscent
of those found in a wall painting in the monastery of Iwang, anciently
Yemar, founded in the 11th century in southwest Tibet, some of which
were painted in Indian style.3
That the main donor might have been a local ruler or chieftain is
suggested by the presence of the seven emblems of the ideal universal
monarch (chakravartin) of the Indian tradition in the opposite corner: a
minister, here apparently replaced by a monarch, a general, here portrayed with

36

Cf. Erberto Lo Bue (ed.), The Dharmamandala-stra by Buddhaguhya, in Gherardo


Gnoli and Lionello Lanciotti (eds), Orientalia
Iosephi Tucci Memoriae Dicata, Is. M. E. O.,
Roma 1987, p. 797.
2
Cf. David Snellgrove, Indo-Tibetan Buddhism.
Indian Buddhists and Their Tibetan Successors,
Shambhala, Boston 1987, vol. I, pp. 209-212.
3
Cf. Pratapaditya Pal, Himalayas. An
Aesthetic Adventure, The Art Institute of
Chicago - University of California Press
- Mapin Publishing, Chicago - Berkeley Ahmedabad 2003, p. 177, with Erberto Lo
Blue, Tibet. Templi scomparsi fotografati da
Fosco Maraini, Anake, Torino 1998, pp. 77
and 108, pl. 92

Vajradhtu mndala
Detail
Tibet,11th century
Distemper on cotton
125 x 125 cm (49 x 49 in)

11

125 x 125 (49 x 49 )

a prominent jaw found also in 11th century Indian figures, a queen, a


horse, the wish-fulfilling jem, an elephant and the wheel or disc of the
law. Oddly the outmost sections of the vajra belt and of the circular
ditch of fire seem to be missing from the four sides of the composition,
in whose external corners there ought to be four goddesses of offerings,
adding to those placed at the corners between the walls of the two
palaces, to make up a group of eight.4
This mndala represents possibly the earliest extant painted rendition
of Buddhist symbolism and Indian conceptions, as well as aesthetics,
proposed by the tantras describing the various mndalas, and imposed
by the iconography and iconometric rules laid down in the Sanskrit
texts translated into Tibetan, especially in the 8th-9th and 11th-14th
centuries, and included in the Buddhist canon found in most monasteries of geo-cultural Tibet.

Cf. David Snellgrove, op. cit., pp.


210-212.

39

15 Buddhakapla mndala
Mndalas such as this one are drawn according to a general iconographic
pattern that was codified by the Indian master Buddhaguhya during
the second half of the 8th century. In his detailed verse treatise known
as Dharmamandala-stra, the Indian scholar defines the inner part of
the mndala as a divine palace (vimna, a term referring also to the
shrine portion of a temple) with four gates opening in its walls and
surmounted by decorated arches, obviously represented as vertical
in threedimensional mndalas, but tilted in their three-dimensional
representations such as this one.
After clarifying that mndalas may be cast in gold and silver, carved in
shell, stone, horn and wood, painted on cotton, modelled in mud and
clay, as well as made with coloured powders, the Dharmamandala-stra
lists and describes in detail the essential elements of the conventionalized
mndala as follows:
The mndala of relative self-nature
is twofold: the receptacle and its contents.
The receptacle is both the basis and the heavenly palace.
As for the basis, it is taught (as) the mndala (which arises) from the (five) elements.
The palace may be envisaged as substance and as abode for the divinities.
The palace is eightfold in its substance:
shape, colour, construction,
timber (work), decorations, enclosure (as) laid down, ornaments and peripheral areas.
As for the shape, it is fourfold:
The outside, the inside, the entrances and the basis.
The outside shape is intended as a stupa, a citadel,
A royal residence and a pavilion (on) a mountain top.
The inner shape is decided in conformity with the various tantras,
By the (Buddha) Families and their functions.
As for the entrances, they have lower and upper (parts):
The lower ones consist of the actual entrance and the gateway;
The upper ones are built in a way which is as beautiful as possible (with)
mounting steps, (round like) elephants backs, and so forth.
As for the shape of the basis, it is boundless
And level to infinity.
As for the colours, they are many,
Appearing according to the ways which different tantras envisage them
As being manifest in application to
The Families, the Wisdoms and their Functions.
As for the construction, walls and summit,
The foundations must be extended inside; and,
For the outside, the five kinds of precious stone are arranged in layers.
While their walls must be built in conformity with the foundations,
On the outer side, at the top, they should be surmounted by a projecting edge.
The door openings shall conform to what is taught above.
The four outer sides of the gateways
Consist in each case of four pillars
Supporting the ends of eight beams, which are the basis of the trana.
The bases of the posts and their capitals should be made properly.
As for the decorations, desirable things and cloth hangings,
Because of their beautiful shapes, pleasant sounds, sweet fragrance,
Delicious taste and pleasing nature,
The goddesses delight in them.

40

Tibet, 14th century


distemper on cotton
63.5 x 54.4 cm (25 x 21 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection, acquired
1980s
Published:
Jane Casey Singer, Tibetan Painted
Mandalas, London 1993.

14

63.5 x 54.4 (25 x 21 )

Buddhakapla mndala
Detail
Tibet, 14th century
distemper on cotton
63.5 x 54.4 cm (25 x 21 in)

14

63.5 x 54.4 (25 x 21 )

Cf. Erberto Lo Bue (ed.), The Dharmamandala-stra by Buddhaguhya, in


Gherardo Gnoli and Lionello Lanciotti (eds),
Orientalia Iosephi Tucci Memoriae Dicata,
Is. M. E. O., Roma 1987, pp. 795-797 and
801. Buddhaguhyas text was translated
under the direction and supervision of David
Snellgrove.
2
Jane Casey Singer, Tibetan Painted
Mandalas, Anna Maria Rossi & Fabio Rossi,
London 1993.
3
Marie-Thrse de Mallmann, Introduction
liconographie du tntrisme bouddhique,
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique,
Paris 1975, pp. 52-53, 183 and 186-187.
4
Cf. Leonard van der Kuijp, Some Indian
and Sri Lankan Buddhist paitas in Mustang
during the 15th century, paper delivered
on19th June 1995 at the 7th Seminar of
the International Association for Tibetan
Studies, Lebnitz. For the dates and paintings
of the Jo-nang sku-bum see Roberto Vitali,
Early Temples of Central Tibet, Serindia, London,
1990, pp. 128-129, pl. 83 and fig.16.
5
Giuseppe Tucci, Tibetan Painted Scrolls,
Rinsen Book Co., Kyoto 1980, vol. I, pp. 191
and 193, fig. 56.
6
Ibid. pp. 183-185.

The enclosure consists of the circumference of vajras.


As for the ditch, it as an outer circle of a pit of fire.
As for the ornaments, they are fivefold:
Ornaments above and ornaments below,
Summit ornaments and wall ornaments, and door ornaments.
Their symbolism is to be understood according to the circumstance.1
The lotus (corolla) and (vajra) cross are the symbols of the (five Buddha) Families.

In addition to the features mentioned above, along the ditch of fire of


this mndala there are the eight cemeteries of the Indian tantric tradition,
where yogins used to meditate to test their concentration. The Lord of
this mndala has been identified as Buddhakapla,2 namely the deified
skull (kapla) of the Buddha, which tantric texts regard as a manifestation
of the tutelary deity Hruka/Hvajra, actually describing its colour as
black.3 The god, having a fierce appearance and wearing tantric
accoutrements of Shaiva origin in spite of his Buddha rank, holds
a flaying knife and a bowl obtained from a human skull in his main
hands, and a small drum shaped like an hourglass and a ritual club
in his upper hands. He dances united with his consort, Chitrasen,
trampling a corpse on a sun disc supported by a pink lotus flower, and
is surrounded by four kaplas resting on as many pink lotus flowers,
thus making a total of five kaplas with his own personification, in
conformity with the fivefold Buddha scheme that has been mentioned
above (see catalogue Nos. 14 and 31). Buddhakapla, symbolizing
method and compassion, and Chitrasen, symbolizing wisdom and
emptiness, are surrounded by twenty-four goddesses, the last four
performing the role of doorkeepers.
A succession of teachers and disciples, both lay and belonging to religious
orders, as well as deities making up the lineage (parampar) of the
uninterrupted transmission of teachings related to Buddhakapla are
portrayed in the outer circle of the mndala and in the upper and lower
registers of the painting, Buddhakapla occupying the central position in
the upper one and Ganesha occupying the central position in the lower
one. The emphasis on the latter god, which like many other Hindu gods
was absorbed into the Buddhist pantheon in India from an early period
and is particularly popular in Nepal, may be related to a Newar cultural
environment, just like the idiom of this painted scroll.
During the first half of the 14th century one Newar Majushr helped
Shrap Gyltsn, from Dlp (Dol-po-pa Shes-rab-rgyal-mtshan,
1292-1361), in the planning of the mandalas painted in the Great Stupa
of Jonng, in southwest Tibet, probably founded in 1330 and certainly
completed well before 1354,4 some of whose original wall paintings
reflect the Newar manner.5 Paintings in a clearly Newar manner were
seen by Giuseppe Tucci in the late 14th century monumental stupa of
Gyang, near Lhatse an important centre on the main route connecting
the Nepal Valley to the monastery of Saskya and to Lhasa , which
was the home of most of the many painters that worked in the Great
Stupa of Gyants between 1427 and 1439.6

43

16 Bodhisattva
The Buddhist schools of the Great Vehicle (Mahyna) exalted the figure
and role of the Bodhisattva, viewing him not just as an Enlightened
Being vowed to Buddhahood, but also as a hero who, moved by compassion, renounces temporarily nirvana in order to help human beings
on the path towards Enlightenment and the liberation from any form
of existence, hence from suffering. The heroic dimension of the
Bodhisattva in that role, assigned to him in India from around the 1st
century, was taken into account in the translation of the term bodhisattva
into Tibetan (byang-chub-sems-dpa), where the last syllable is the root
of a word meaning hero.

Tibet, 9th century


Fire-gilded copper alloy with pigments
110 cm (43 in)

The heroic and athletic dimension of this statue derives from such
Indian ideal, which found its unequalled expression in the figures of
crowned and adorned Bodhisattvas wearing princely garments painted
at Ajant in the 5th century. In spite of stylistic differences, the same
ideal is apparent also in this figure, which is not treated in a naturalistic
way, but reflects an idea of perfect and spiritual nature which is beyond
the human one. Muscles and joints are hardly portrayed, and the
elements of the body flow into each other in a kind of idealized naturalism,
or super-naturalism, in conformity with an ideal of perfection found
also in Indian treatises of medicine and astrology, which explain that a
body has to be regarded as perfect when there is cohesion and uniformity
among all its parts.

110 (43 )

Provenance:
European Private Collection
acquired 1987
Published:
Pratapaditya Pal, Himalayas: An Aesthetic
Adventure, Chicago 2003, p. 169, fig. 108.

On the basis of the hypothesis that a vajra (cf. catalogue No. 1) might
have been standing vertically on the images right hand, whose palm
actually shows a small cavity formed by a circular raised edge meant
to accommodate an object, it has been suggested that this statue may
represent Vajrasattva,1 a name applying to the manifestations of a Buddha
or of a Bodhisattva according to the texts describing that figure. The
left hand of this image holds the stem of what might have been a lotus
flower, a symbol that is typical of the Bodhisattva Avalokitshvara, and
which is also found in six-handed manifestations of Vajrasattva.2 However,
in the iconography of the two-handed Vajrasattva, the vajra ought to be
paired with a bell, which is also absent in this image.
The figure is portrayed in a stately manner, with a slight sway to the
torso, and in spite of its unique style it may have been fashioned by a
Newar artist, possibly in Tibet, where Newars established themselves
and worked for Tibetan Buddhists since at least the 7th century. Also
the dating of this statue is problematic, since it cannot rest on purely
stylistic grounds, given its uniqueness, but ought to be related to the
early period in which Buddhism flourished in Tibet. Indeed it is conceivable that this statue dates to the rule of Rlpachn (Ral-pa-can),
the last Tibetan emperor who protected Buddhism before the fall of the
Tibetan empire, in 842, and who invited Newar sculptors and artists
to contribute to the construction of his personal temple at Ushangdo,
near Lhasa.3

44

Cf. Pratapaditya Pal, part I, Sculpture and


The Arts of Nepal, Brill, Leiden/Kln, 1974,
fig. 42, Art of Nepal, Los Angeles County
Museum of Art - University of California Press,
Berkeley - Los Angeles - London 1985, p.
119, fig. S43, and Himalayas. An Aesthetic
Adventure, The Art Institute of Chicago University of California Press - Mapin Publishing,
Chicago - Berkeley - Ahmedabad 2003, p.
169, fig. 108.
2
Cf. Marie-Thrse de Mallmann, Introduction
liconographie du tntrisme bouddhique,
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique,
Paris 1975, p. 420.
3
Cf. Rolf Stein (ed.), Une chronique ancienne
de bSam-yas: sBa-bzed, Bibliothque de
lInstitut des Hautes tudes chinoises, Paris
1961, p. 72.4, and La civilisation tibtaine, le
Sycomore - lAsiathque, Paris 1962, p. 245,
and Per Srensen (ed.), The Mirror Illuminating
the Royal Genealogies. An Annotated Translation of the XIVth Century Tibetan Chronicle:
rGyal-rabs gsalbai me-long, Harrassowitz,
Wiesbaden 1994, pp. 413-414.

17 Samantabhadra
In Mahyna Buddhism Samantabhadra (Universally Good) is one of
the eight Great Bodhisattvas, among whom he figures in an 8th century
stone mandala carved in a temple at Ellora, in India. Just like Vajrasattva,
in the course of time (cf. catalogue No.16) Samantabhadra came to be
regarded by the schools of Vajrayna Buddhism as a primeval Buddha
above the cosmic Buddhas (catalogue No. 31) and in that capacity he
has been worshipped in Tibet by the followers of the ancient (rNying-ma)
tradition of tantric teachings introduced by the Indian lay master
Padmasmbhava during the second half of the 8th century. Samantabhadra
as a Buddha is invoked at the outset of texts belonging to the Tibetan
collection of the Bard Thdrl (Bar-do thos-grol), dealing with after-death
and introduced into Tibet by the same master.

China, 18th century


Gilt bronze
18.5 cm (7 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection

18

18.5 (7 )

In this manifestation as a Bodhisattva, Samantabhadra holds the stems


of two utpala lotuses supporting jewels and sits on an elephant,1 a symbol
of royal power and wisdom, whose four feet are supported by as many
of the open-headed lotus flowers. According to the Lotus of the Good
Law (Saddharma-pundarka), one of the earliest Mahyna sutras,
Samantabhadra is meant to preach that very text to the beings of the
last times, after mounting an elephant. The Lotus of the Good Law
amounts to twenty-eight chapters composed largely in verse and was
first translated into Chinese in the 3rd century, becoming extremely
popular in China, where a mountain is consecrated to Samantabhadra,
and in Japan.
Stylistically this statue must be related to the production of images
under the Manchu dynasty of the Qing, which reduced Tibet to the state
of protectorate in 1720 after Tibetans had requested its help to get rid
of the Dzungar Mongols, who had occupied their country after being
called there by a Tibetan faction wishing to chase away the Qoshot
Mongols, whose rulers had received the title of kings of Tibet from the
5th Dalai Lama after helping him to overcome his Tibetan enemies. In
spite of such strifes, the relationship between the imperial court and
the Tibetan clergy during the Qing rule was excellent, reaching a peak
under the emperor Qianlong (1736-1796), in whose times this statue
was most likely cast and fire-gilded.

46

Cf. Marie-Thrse de, Mallmann, Introduction liconographie du tntrisme bouddhique, Centre National de la Recherche
Scientifique, Paris 1975, pp. 333-334.

18 Majushr and Maitreya


The Bodhisattvas Maitreya (Loving Kindness) and Manjushr (Gentle
Glory) are included among Shkyamunis eight heart-sons by the
schools of Mahyna Buddhism. The theme of this painting should be
related to the conversations held by the two Bodhisattvas according to
Mahyna texts such as the Saddharma-pundarka sutra (cf. catalogue
No. 17), in which Majushr, regarded as almost equal to Shkyamuni
because of his wisdom, takes the role of teacher by answering different
questions raised by the future Buddha Maitreya. The theme has been
depicted in geo-cultural Tibet, for instance in the 11th century murals
at Dratang, southern Tibet, and Zhal,1 southwest Tibet, as well as in
the 15th century caves at Sspola, Ladk, until today, as illustrated in a
fine scroll painted at the monastery of Gandn, central Tibet, and kept
at the Rubin Museum of Art, New York, in which Avalokitshvara and
Vajrapni are portrayed at the feet of Maitreya and Majushr in conversation.
The commission of this painting, carbon-dated to c. 1050,2 has been
tentatively attributed to the great scholar tisha (982-1054),3 the retired
provost of the monastic university of Vikramashla, in northeast India,
who resided from 1042 until his death first in western Tibet, where
he had been invited by the rulers of the Gugh kingdom, and then in
central Tibet, where he was invited by his chief Tibetan pupil, Dromtn
(Bromston, 1008-1064), who estalished a Buddhist order and monastery
there. During his stay in Tibet tisha had a vision of Maitreya and
Majushr in conversation, while the Bodhisattva Vajrapni protected
them from obstacles and minor gods took notes of what was said.
The scholar drew a sketch of his vision and sent it with a message to
Vikramashla, asking to have his vision painted along with two more
images. The three images were painted by a pndita especially called
from Bengal and were sent to tisha in Nyetng.4
The setting of the conversation might be the Tushita Heaven, where all
Bodhisattvas destined to reach full enlightenment in their next life
dwell for a time according to Mahyna views, and where Maitreya is
waiting for the moment he will descend to earth as the next Buddha
after Shkyamuni. Majushr, who may be recognized from the red
book to the proper left of his head, sits in a relaxed posture on a seat,
whereas Maitreya, with his headgear topped by what was probably a
small golden stupa of which the square base is still recognizable, sits
in the good (bhadra) posture on a throne, in his capacity as future
Buddha. Both Bodhisattvas wear fine striped dhots and red meditation
straps, and their seats are supported by lotus flowers. Behind the
bejewelled stem of a red lotus rising between the two Bodhisattvas,
and enclosing offerings and ritual objects, there is a stupa which is
supported by a throne whose base may be seen near Maitreyas right
elbow and to which the offerings are presumably addressed.
The blue figure to Maitreyas proper left may be Vajrapni portrayed
in an unsual gesture which might correspond to tishas vision. To
Vajrapnis left there seems to be Ganesha (cf. catalogue No. 14) and
below the latter, to the proper left of the throne, Gruda with a companion. It is likely that a corresponding group of figures, perhaps headed
by Avalokitshvara, was painted to Majushrs proper right in the no

48

India, 11th century


Distemper on cotton
135.2 x 94 cm (53 x 37 in)
Provenance:
English Private Collection
Published:
Pratapaditya Pal, Fragmentary Cloth
Paintings from Early Pagan and Their
Relations with Indo-Tibetan Traditions,
in Donald M. Stadner (ed.) The Art of
Burma. New Studies, Mumbai 1999, pp.
87-88, fig. 6.
Jane Casey Singer, Tibetan Thangkas.
Buddhist Paintings from the 11th to the
18th Century, London 2001, No. 1.
Steven Kossak, Painted Images of
Enlightenment. Early Tibetan Thankas,
1050-1450, Mumbai 2010, pp. 48-53,
fig. 35.

11

135.2 x 94 (53 x 37 )

Cf. Steven Kossak, Painted Images of


Enlightenment. Early Tibetan Thankas, 10501450, Marg Publications, Mumbai 2010, p.
51, fig. 35, and 53.
2
1000+45 (age y BP) and AD 975-1164
(calib. age).
3
Pratapaditya Pal, Fragmentary Cloth
Paintings from Early Pagan and Their
Relations with Indo- Tibetan Traditions, in
Donald M. Stadner (ed.) The Art of Burma.
New Studies, Marg, Mumbai 1999, pp. 87-88,
nn. 12 and 13.
4
Cf. David P. Jackson (with contributions by
Christian Luczanits), Mirror of the Buddha.
Early Portraits from Tibet, Rubin Museum of
Art, New York 2011, p. 75.

Majushr and Maitreya


Detail
India, 11th century
Distemper on cotton
135.2 x 94 cm (53 x 37 in)

11

135.2 x 94 (53 x 37 )

longer extant section of the painting. A host of minor deities is depicted


around the scene. The presence of a seam across the cloth is not so
surprising for such a large surface. Paintings on cotton pieces seamed
together horizontally in order to form larger surfaces to be applied to
walls have been used in Ladk. The features of the Bodhisattvas reflect
the aesthetics current in northeast India under the Pla dynasty and
may be further related to similar figures painted at Dratng5 and Zhal,
with prominent jaws and noses having well defined nostrils, which
could be found also in some statues in the temple of Yemar, in southwest Tibet.

Cf. Roberto Vitali, Early Temples of Central


Tibet, Serindia, London 1990, p. 93 and pl. 50.

51

19 Majushr Yamntaka
Yamntaka (Yamas Destructor or Yamas Enemy, Yama meaning
Death as personified by a Vedic god absorbed into the Buddhist pantheon)
is a wrathful assistant of the Bodhisattva Majushr, of whom he came
to be regarded as a manifestation. Yamntaka (Tib. gShin-rje-byed) is
often confused with Vajrabhairava (Tib. rDo-rje-`jigsbyed), a tutelary
deity with Buddha rank characterized by a bull or a buffalo head as his
main head, in spite of the fact that the main tantric texts describing the
former do not mention an animal head in connection with him.1 Here
the identification of the deity is confirmed by the inscription in Sanskrit
transliterated into Tibetan and reading Noble Majushr Yamntaka
on the prong underneath the right foot of the image meant to secure it
to its stand,2 which was probably represented by buffalo lying on a sun
supported by a lotus. Several manifestations of Yamntaka evolved in
the course of time from the simplest one, with one head, two hands
and two legs, to the triumphal ones, having up to six faces, six hands
and six feet3.
The image portrayed here shows a triumphal manifestation of the god,
who was also known in the Nepal Valley, whose sculptors may have
fashioned this statue in Tibet during the 11th century. Since the first
half of the 7th century Newar craftsmen brought many skills to Tibet,
especially that of metalwork, and, after an interlude following the
collapse of the Tibetan empire, they were active again from the 11th
century, their idiom being adopted also by Tibetan artists, who often
copied their Newar models. The similarity of a group of 11th century
western Tibetan metal images produced at the royal workshops of Toling
with statues fashioned in the Nepal Valley was pointed out by the
Tibetan scholar and connoisseur Pma Karpo (Padma-dkar-po 1526
1592).4 From Tibetan sources we also learn that around 996 or shortly
afterwards the kings of western Tibet employed the Newar sculptor
Ashvadharma, in collaboration with a Kashmirian artist, to fashion the
c. 2.40 metre-high gilded silver statue with throne and halo of Majushr
for a temple in the monastery of Kojarnath, where the same sculptors
made six more statues.5
Newar art was highly thought of all over Tibet and in some instances
its idiom combined with the Tibetan one to an extent that a single and
undistinguishable style was created. That amalgamation was encouraged
by the great mobility of both artists and art objects. This phenomenon
cannot be understood in solely artistic terms: to appreciate it one must
take into account the overall economic, social, cultural and religious
interaction which has marked the relationship between Tibetans and
Newars until this day, of which religious art is one aspect.
Yamntakas five heads wear tiaras bearing the images of the five cosmic
Buddhas, while the upper one corresponds to Majushrs. Only few of
the gods attributes are extant: the disc of the law and the hilt of his
sword in two of the right hands, and a vajra in the upper left hand.

52

Tibet, c. 1000 AD
Copper alloy with gilding and pigment
37 cm (14 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection
acquired 1987
Published:
Pratapaditya Pal, Himalayas: An Aesthetic
Adventure, Chicago 2003, p. 172, fig. 112.

1000

37 (14 )

Cf. Marie-Thrse de Mallmann, Introduction


liconographie du tntrisme bouddhique,
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique,
Paris 1975, p. 469.
2
Pratapaditya Pal with the collaboration of
Amy Heller, Oskar von Hinber and Gautama
Vajracharya, Himalayas. An Aesthetic Adventure,
The Art Institute of Chicago - University
of California Press - Mapin Publishing,
Chicago - Berkeley Ahmedabad 2003, p.
290, n. 112.
3
Cf. Franco Ricca and Erberto Lo Bue, The
Great Stupa of Gyantse. A Complete Tibetan
Pantheon of the Fifteenth Century, Serindia,
London 1993, p. 167, pl. 52, and p. 300, with
Marie-Thrse de Mallmann, op. cit., pp. 465
and 467.
4
Padma-dkar-po, Li-ma brtag-pai rab-byed
smra-dod-pai kha-rgyan, Collected Works,
Darjeeling, 1973 repr., vol. 1, pp. 301-302.
5
Cf. Giuseppe Tucci, Santi e briganti nel
Tibet ignoto, Hoepli, Milano 1937, p. 40 and
fig. between pp. 44 and 45 (see also one of
the figs. between pp. 48 and 49 for a detail of
the throne), Tibetan Painted Scrolls, Rinsen
Book Co., Kyoto 1980, vol. I, pp. 274 and 684,
n. 72, and Preliminary Report on Two Scientific
Expeditions to Nepal, Is. M. E. O., Roma 1956,
pp. 61-62.

20 Shdakshara Avalokitshvara
Avalokitshvara (the Lord Looking Down with compassion towards
sentient beings) is the spiritual son of the cosmic Buddha Amitbha
(catalogue No. 13), who is portrayed above the Bodhisattvas tall chignon
in this image. Avalokitshvara holds a lotus flower, the emblem of his
Buddha family, with his upper right hand, while in the corresponding
left he holds the rosary, an attribute derived from the Hindu god Shiva
in his capacity as Yogshvara (Lord of Yoga), upon whom Buddhists
modelled also the name Avalokitshvara. In fact Avalokitshvara is
also known as Padmapni, meaning Hand with Lotus, the name of an
earlier Bodhisattva from whom he presumably evolved as a particular
manifestation.
The very name of this Bodhisattva may have contributed to the success
which his cult enjoyed in the Nepal Valley along with the royal cult of
Shiva at least since the time of king Narendradeva, who spent several
years in exile in Tibet before returning to his country, where he ruled
from about 643 to 679. According to Newar historical sources,
Narendradeva initiated the chariot festival of Lokshvara at Bungamati
in the Nepal Valley. It is likely that the Nepalese king was a devotee of
Avalokitshvara before he went into exile to Tibet and that he initiated
his host, the emperor (Songtsn Gamp Srong-brtsan-sgam-po, ruled
c. 581?-641 and 646-649), to the cult of that Bodhisattva.
According to Tibetan historical sources, Avalokitshvara became
Songtsn Gamps tutelary deity and the emperor ordered Newar
sculptors to fashion an image of that Bodhisattva for the Trlnang
(Phrul-snang, later Jokhang) temple at Rasa (later Lhasa). Eventually
Songtsn Gamp himself came to be regarded as a manifestation of
Avalokitshvara and, according to traditional accounts, was absorbed
into the statues heart at the time of his passing away.
Over nine hundred years later the Dalai Lamas also came to be
regarded as manifestations of the same Bodhisattva and the Red Hill
upon which they had their palace built and upon which a chapel
devoted to Avalokitshvara had been apparently erected in Songtsn
Gamp times was called Ptala, the name of a mythical mountain
in southern India where Avalokitshvara dwells according to Buddhist
tradition. In that way the triumph of the Dalai Lamas religious order
over rival Tibetan orders, and against the lay kingdoms of southwest
and eastern Tibet, was sealed and warranted by a powerful religious
myth tying up with the recollection of the glorious past of the Tibetan
empire. It should be added that, according to the Buddhist version of
a Tibetan myth, the progenitors of the Tibetan people were a female
demon dwelling in a cave and a male disciple or else an emanation of
the Bodhisattva Avalokitshvara, who manifested himself to her in the
guise of ape. No wonder that Avalokitshvara became the most popular
Bodhisattva in Tibet, its protector par excellence and one of its very
symbols.
In his four-armed manifestation, Avalokitshvara is known under the
epithet of Shdakshara with reference to the four syllables making up
the famous invocation by which he was addressed since at least the 6th

54

Tibet, 13th-14th century


Brass with silver and copper inlay,
turquoise and pigment
44.4 cm (17 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection
acquired 1998

13-14
()
44.4 (17 )

century in India and which is personified as the goddess Shadakhar: om


mani padme hm. That invocation is characterized by a feminine vocative,
padme, and is addressed to her of the jewelled lotus (not lotus in the
jewel as still commonly held), where her refers to Avalokitshvaras
knowledge (vidy, feminine in Sanskrit) as personified by the Bodhisattvas
female counterpart, the goddess Tr. Such invocation, as personified
by the very iconography of this image, is therefore actually directed to
the Bodhisattvas wisdom, as symbolized by Tr, which in a tantric
context was understood as the female coefficient of Avalokitshvara,
who represents instead the means and compassion corresponding to
the male coefficient.
It is in this particular manifestation that the compassionate Avalokitshvara
appears in the Judgement of the Dead included in the Bard Thdrl
(Bar-do thos-grol, Liberation through hearing), a body of teachings
introduced into Tibet during the second half of the 8th century and
often known under the nickname of Tibetan Book of the Dead. So it
is conceivable that this image, like others, was commissioned on the
occasion of the demise of some important person.
The statue belongs to a group of images cast in brass by the lost-wax
process, and wearing similar garments and jewellery. Although such
images have often been attributed to west Tibet, their stylistic
features are not found in Kashmirian, Ladakhi or western Tibetan
statues, whether in clay or metal, found in Buddhist shrines of Indian
or western Tibet. Indeed tall hairstyles with turbans may be noticed,
for example, in the representation of some Bodhisattvas in south and
southwest Tibet, for instance in the wall paintings at the monastery of
Dratng and in statues in the monastery of Kyangpu, no longer extant.
An interesting technical feature of this group of images is that they
often have a rather thin cast.
The highly ornate vegetable motif branching out from the stem of the
huge lotus flower supporting the moon disc upon which the Bodhisattva
sits, and enclosing animals and human figures one wearing apparently
a Tibetan garment , represents the Indian ever-growing creeper of
prosperity known as kalpalat, teeming with treasures that human
beings yearn to obtain.

56

21 Mahkla
Mahkla (literally Great Black or Great Time) is a Hindu deity integrated
in the Indian Buddhist tantric pantheon where it performs the role of
guardian of the doctrine (Dharmapla). Like many other tantric deities he
originates from the god Shiva, one of whose aspects is known indeed
as Mahkla, to be understood in the sense of Absolute Time, pervading
all things and having no limit.
Mahkla is painted at the centre of this scroll in his manifestation
known in Tibetan as Zhingkyng Toptrok Wangp (Zhing-skyong-stobsphrog-dbang-po), holding a flaming sword and a spear in his upper
hands, and a knife for flaying and a bowl made from a human skull
filled with the blood and fat of the enemies of the dharma symbolically
slain by him in his lower hands. Standing in a martial posture, he
tramples two demons (Tib. bgegs) and is surrounded by four deified
female practioners of tantric yoga with the role of messengers (phonya-moi cha-lugs-can), black though actually emanating the colours
of the cosmic families of the four cosmic Buddhas presiding over the
directions of the universe: Singga Lingm (Sing-ga-gling-ma), yellow,
Yumchn Gyungm (Yum-chen-gyung-mo), blue-black, Sinmo Chenmo
(Srin-mo-chenmo), red, and Ldz Tummo (Las-mdzad-gtum-mo),
green, according to an iconography found in other painted scrolls,1 in
some of which also the Indian master Ngrjuna is portrayed.2

Tibet, 17th-18th century


Distemper on cotton
77 x 60 cm (30 x 23 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection

17 -18

77 x 60 (30 x 23 )

Ngrjuna, recognizable from his canopy of snakes (Ng) and from


the basket containing Buddhist scriptures, sits here to the proper right
of Chakrasmvara, the tutelary deity painted above Mahkala. His
identification is confirmed by an inscription, though his iconography,
just like his character, is often confused with that of the more famous
non-tantric scholar Ngrjuna, who lived in the 2nd-3rd century, well
before the tantric Ngrjuna who is meant to be portrayed here. Another
inscription identifies the figure sitting to Chakrasmvaras proper left
as the Tibetan physician Da Zhnn (Zla-od-gzhon-nu), better known
as Gampopa (sGam-po-pa, 1079-1153), Milarepas main disciple, who
was responsible for transforming his masters lay tradition into a monastic
one. The figure sitting next to him is identified by another inscription as the
Great Pndita (Sa-skya Pan-chen, namely Kun-dga-rgyal-mtshan, 11821251) of the monastery of Sakya, whose religious school had a special
interest in the Smvara tradition of teachings as well as in the guardian
deity Pjara Mahkla, who became its favoured protector and who is
portrayed below the main image. In spite of the presence of an inscription
(Ngag-dbang Chos-kyi-dbang-phyug), the figure sitting to Ngrjunas
proper right is more difficult to identify: that name is partially shared
by Tibetan masters living at different periods, from Milreps teacher,
Marp, to the 7th Jebtsundamba Khutughtu (1850-1868), one being the
abbot of a monastery in southeast Kham who lived from 1606 to 1652.
This scroll, painted on a black background, was probably meant to be
housed in the chapel of the wrathful protecting deities guarding a monastery.

58

See for example Giuseppe Tucci, Tibetan


Painted Scrolls, Istituto Poligrafico dello
Stato, Roma 1949, pp. 589-590, n.169, pl.
201, and Gilles Bguin, Les peintures du
bouddhisme tibtain, Runion des Muses
Nationaux, Paris 1995, pp. 277-278, n. 182,
pl. MA 6009.
2
Cf. Giuseppe Tucci, op. cit., who describes
inaccurately Ngrjuna as one Buddha,
and a painted scroll formerly in Fosco
Marainis collection.

22 Mahkla
Ntha Mahkla (Great Black Lord) is a Buddhist version of the Hindu
god Shiva (cf. catalogue No. 21) in the latters manifestation as Kla
Bhirava (Black Terrible), from whom this Buddhist protector of the
dharma (Dharmapla) has borrowed most of his attributes: the coronet
of skulls; the long necklace made of human heads freshly severed; the
bowl fashioned from a human skull (kapla), overflowing with the blood
and fat of his enemies and held in one of the main hands; the rosary, of
skulls in the Buddhist tantric iconography of this deity, and the trident,
here missing, in the upper hands; and the ritual two-headed drum and
the lasso, also missing, in the lower hands.1 Wearing a tiger skin and
holding the curved knife used for flaying, the god shows his fangs while
shouting in order to frighten the enemies of the doctrine. His beard,
moustache, eyebrows and hair are flaming, and two snakes are visible
in the latter. In his martial posture, Ntha Mahkla tramples the
Hindu elephant-headed god Ganesha (or Gnapati), Shivas son, here
offering a full kapla to the Dharmapla, thus betraying the competing
and ambiguous attitude of Buddhists towards Hindu deities, shown
sometimes as protectors and sometimes as enemies of the Buddhist
dharma (cf. catalogue Nos. 15, 18 and 24).

China or Tibet, 18th century


Lacquered and gilded wood, with gesso
and pigment
54 cm (21 in)
Provenance:
formerly in the collection of The JB
Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky,
gift of the Museum Collectors, 1971.
European Private Collection
acquired 1999

18

54 (21 )

Wooden statues, sometimes lacquered, may be found in Buddhist


monasteries of geo-cultural Tibet as far as Ladk. They are usually
made with precious wood, such as sandalwood, but they hardly ever afford
the quality of modelling, obtained through the application of gesso over
the wooden surface, that may be observed in this image, rare also
because of the relative fragility of its material. Stylistically this statue
may be related to the production of Buddhist images in Tibetan style
under the Ming and Qing dynasties in China.

60

Cf. the examples illustrated by Lokesh


Chandra, Buddhist Iconography, International Academy of Indian Culture and Aditya
Prakashan, New Delhi 1991, pp. 112, fig 149,
and 139, fig. 258.

23 Hayagrva
Hayagrva (Horse-Headed, literally Horse-Necked) is originally
a Hindu deity, the demon of fever and assistant of Yama, the god of
death,1 but Buddhists turned him into an assistant of the Bodhisattva
Avalokitshvara, who holds an important place in Buddhist worship in
the Nepal Valley. Hayagrva is described as being small, with three
bulging eyes, obvious fangs and frowning eyebrows, wearing a tiger
skin garment, here reaching his ankles, as well as snake ear-rings,
necklace, armlets, bracelets, anklets and sacred Brahmanical thread
across his chest, and holding a lotus flower in his right hand and a
club in the left one, both attributes having been lost in this image. As an
attendant of Avalokitshvara he belongs to the lotus family, which is presided
by Amitbha, the Buddha of the western direction (catalogue No. 13).

Nepal, 8th century


Copper with traces of gilding
9.5 cm (3 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection
acquired 1970s

9.5 (3 )

In Nepal Hayagrva is usually represented as an attendant deity with his


human head surmounted by a horse one. Statues portraying this god
on his own are rare, the best-known one being a wooden image kept
in the Bhdgaon Museum, and originally they must have been related
to images of Avalokitshvara in his various manifestations.2 Newar
artists from the Nepal Valley fashioned statues of Avalokitshvara with
Hayagrva in Tibet during the first half of the 7th century under the
emperor Songtsen Gamp,3 who adopted Avalokitshvara as his
tutelary deity at the time he hosted the exiled Nepalese ruler
Narendradeva (see catalogue No. 20). The latter resided in Bhdgaon,
was a devotee of that Bodhisattva and initiated a chariot festival in
honour of Avalokitshvara in the Nepal Valley, where this statuette
was cast in copper and fire-gilded presumably towards the end of the
Lcchavi dynasty (c. 300 c.879).

62

Ernst Waldschmidt & Rose Leonore, Nepal.


Art Treasures from the Himalayas, Oxford &
IBH Publishing Co., Calcutta - Bombay - New
Delhi 1969, p. 140, pl. 55.
2
See for example Pratapaditya Pal, Art of
Nepal, Los Angeles County Museum of Art University of California Press , Berkeley - Los
Angeles - London 1985, pp. 139, fig. S68, and
214, fig. P18.
3
Cf. Erberto Lo Bue, Newar Artistic Influence
in Tibet and China between the 7th and the
15th Century in Elena Rossi Filibeck (ed.),
proceedings of the seminar Arte tibetana
tra passato e presente (University of Rome,
2010), Rivista di Studi Orientali (special issue
in the press), p. 35.

24 chala
chala (Mountain, literally Immobile in the sense of Immovable) is
one of the most strenuous defenders of the Buddhist doctrine and is
also known under other names, such as Chandamahrshana. He belongs
to the families of the cosmic Buddhas Akshobhya and Vairchana as
well as to the group of the ten Krodha (Furious) protectors of the
mndala, and he is always shown with a wrathful aspect and a martial
posture. This tantric deity is recognizable from his squint and his weapons:
the sword, which he brandishes with his right hand in order to frighten
Brahmanical gods and demigods, and the rope, here ending with half
a vajra, which the god holds in the left hand at the height of his heart,
displaying the gesture of warning with his forefingher extended, in order
to guide sentient beings. chala tramples the Hindu gods shana, the
guardian of the northeast direction, and Ganesha (see also catalogue
No. 22), also known as Vighna (Obstacle), as explained by a legend
whereby the elephant-headed god tried to prevent a Buddhist pndita
from attaining perfection by putting unsurmountable aspects in his
way, only to be defeated by Vighnntaka (Destroyer of Obstacles), the
Krodha of the northern direction with whom chala is often associated.1

Tibet, 13th century


copper alloy
26.5 cm (10 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection
acquired 1987

13

26.5 (10 )

The iconography of this deity is related to the Kdampa (bKa-gdams-pa,


Bound by the Word of the Buddha) tradition established in Tibet during
the first half of the 11th century by the main Tibetan disciple of the Indian
scholar tisha (cf. catalogue No. 18), who was invited by the rulers
of western Tibet to re-establish Buddhism in their kingdom. tishas
praise to chala describes the latter as wearing tiger and snake
ornaments, as illustrated here by the band fastening his chignon as
well as by his bracelets and anklets, his canines putting an end to birth
and death, thus delivering sentient beings from the condition of suffering.2
His finely pleated scarf as well as the shape of the petals of the lotus
supporting the sun disc upon which the god stands betray the influence
of Indian aesthetics at the time of the Pla and Sena dynasties as
transmitted from India to Tibet via the Nepal Valley, where brass, an
alloy of copper and zinc, has been traditionally used along with pure
copper to fashion religious images.
This statue may have been commissioned and cast within a Kdampa
environment in central Tibet, or more likely in the more powerful and
wealthier principality of the sophisticated Sakya order, which established its cultural hegemony in southwest Tibet after its abbots submitted to Mongol authority in the middle of the 13th century and later
became the representatives of the Yuan dynasty in most of Tibet, to the
detriment of other Tibetan religious orders and principalities. The role
played by Newar artists in Tibet and even at the Yuan court can hardly
be overestimated and in some cases it is difficult to determine whether
sculptures which are obviously Newar were cast in Tibet or transported
there from the Nepal Valley.3 That style, which for convenience sake has
been sometimes called Tibeto-Newar, coexisted alongside idioms
which may be characterized as typically Tibetan and Newar.

64

Cf. Marie-Thrse de, Mallmann, Introduction


liconographie du tntrisme bouddhique,
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris 1975, pp. 83-84, 166 and 447,
Amy Heller, Arte tibetana. Lo sviluppo della
spiritualit e dellarte in Tibet dal 600 al 2000
d. C., Jaca Book, Milano 1999, p. 147, pl. 78,
and Alice Getty, Ganesa. A Monograph on the
Elephant-Faced God, Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi 1971, p. 43.
2
Cf. Amy Heller, op. cit., p. 147.
3
Pratapaditya Pal, The Art of Tibet, The Asia
Society, New York 1969, p. 33

25 Vaishrvana
The great guardian king of the north, Vaishrvana (Offspring of the
Famous One) is the lord of the Yakshas, the ancient pan-Indian deities
from whom he originates, and represents the Buddhist version of
Kuvera, the Vedic king of wealth and son of the sage Vishravas, from
whom he derives his name. Wearing armour and boots, he sits on a
lion, holding a banner of victory and the head of a mongoose vomiting
jewels, and keeps his mouth shut not to let out his poisonous breath.
After embracing Buddhism, Vaishrvana, devoted himself to make up
for peoples lack of spiritual and material wealth.
Vaishrvana, unlike most figures of the Buddhist pantheon, reached
Tibet via China through Central Asia, where Indian communities had
established themselves, in the iconography that had developed in those
areas. His armour and headgear may be related to the Sassanid period1
and spread to the towns of the Silk Road, like Khotan, whose rulers
regarded themselves as Vaishrvanas descendants, but the lion-headed
shoulder plates of his armour, only the left one being visible here, represent
a feature of Hellenistic origin that reached Central Asia through Iran.
Vaishrvanas retinue of eight horsemen, surrounding him in this
sculpure, is generally fashioned in Central Asian style.

Tibet, 14th century


Stone with pigment
26.5 cm (10 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection
acquired 1991

14

26.5 ((10 )

Since Vaishrvana is a symbol of power, wealth and bravery, one of the


princes of Zhal, who had been granted titles, rights and funds for the
extension of his monastery from the Yuan emperor, was regarded as a
manifestation of that god, whose image along with his retinue of horsemen was depicted on a wall at the entrance of the monastery of Zhal,
and it is conceivable that even this stone relief, rare also because of
the material in which it was fashioned, was commissioned to serve a
religious as well as political purpose.2

66

Cf. Giuseppe Tucci, Opera Minora, Is. M.E.O.,


Roma 1971, part I, p. 357, and Iran et
Tibet, in Commmoration Cyrus. Actes du
congrs de Shiraz 1971 et autres tudes, I,
Hommage universel, E. J. Brill - Bibliothque
Pahlavi, Leiden - Thran-Lige 1974, pp.
301-302.
2
Cf. David Seyfort Ruegg (ed.), The Life of
Bu ston Rin po che. With the Tibetan Text of the
Buston rNam thar, Is. M. E. O., Roma 1966, p.
89 and f. 14a, with the genealogies of Zhal as
translated by Giuseppe Tucci, Tibetan Painted
Scrolls, Rinsen Book Co., Kyoto 1980, vol.
I, p. 660.

26 Pehar
Pehar is one of the few gods of central Asian origin, in this case
Turkic-Mongol, which were included in the Tibetan pantheon, probably after
Tibetans conquered the areas in which he was worshipped. According
to Tibetan tradition he was tamed along with other central Asian deities by
the supernatural powers of the Indian master Padmasmbhava, who
had been invited to Tibet to cooperate in the construction of the first
Buddhist monastery, Smye, established in Tibet during the second
half of the 8th century, and who entrusted Pehar with the custody of
its treasury. Later Pehar decided to establish himself in a monastery
east of Lhasa, but he clashed with its abbot, who shut him in a box and
had it thrown into the Kyichu river. The box was rescued a few miles
downstream and, as soon as it was opened, Pehar flew to the nearby
monastery of Nchung in the guise of a white dove, and alighted on a
tree, around which a temple was built. Since the 17th century this god
has manifested himself by taking possession of mediums regarded as
state oracles by the Ghelk religious order and continues to play such
a role at the Dalai Lamas headquarters in Dharamsala, India.

Tibet, 18th century


Distemper on cotton
98.5 x 66.5 cm (38 x 26 in)
Published:
Jeanne De Guardiola Callanan and
Carlton C. Rochell, Jr., (eds), Icons of
Devotion, New York 2004, fig. 32.

18

98.5 x 66.5 (38 x 26 )

One of Pehars characteristics is that, having not yet left the phenomenal
world, he manifests himself thanks to the medianic power of human
oracles, but in this painting the god is conjured up through the representation
of his emblems and offerings to him. Two of Pehars most prominent
attributes are a wide-brimmed hat, echoed by the huge and heavy
one worn by his medium during the trance, and the mirror, a symbol of
all-seeingness, worn at the height of the navel. According to one of the
Nyingma (Ancient) Tibetan Buddhist traditions rooted in Padmasambhavas
tantric teachings, there are five different manifestations of Pehar in his
capacity as a king protecting the world, each representing respectively
body, speech, mind, quality in the sense of virtue, and activity or action
(karma). The King of Qualities, his fourth manifestation, rides a black
horse such as the one painted in this scroll. However, not all the other
attributes of the King of Qualities are visible in this painting, whereas
a form of Pehar as the King of Karma or Actions is shown as riding a
horse.1
Paintings such as this one, where peaceful and wrathful attributes of and
offerings to a deity are represented, are known as gyntsk (rgyan-tshogs),
literally meaning assembly of ornaments in the sense of attributes,
and are often kept in the special chapel housing the Dharmaplas
protecting a monastery and its congregation. The absence of a deity
and the allusion to it through emblems confer a special power to the
image, giving the devotee a feeling that is the awesome equivalent of
what early Buddhists must have experienced in front of the first aniconic
images of Shkyamuni, in which the presence of the Buddha was conjured
up by powerful symbols through his very absence.

68

Cf. Ren de Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Oracles


and Demons of Tibet, Akademische Druck u. Verlagsanstalt, Graz 1975, pp. 111, 114,
130, and Lokesh Chandra, Buddhist Iconography,
International Academy of Indian Culture and
Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi 1991, p. 201,
fig. 505.

27 Vajrayogin
Vajrayogin is a goddess, or possibly a deified female practitioner of tantric
yoga, attached to the cycle of Hevajra, a tutelary deity with Buddha rank,
who is represented to her proper right in the upper corner of the central
section in this painted scroll. In tantric texts Vajrayogin is described
as naked, with opulent breasts, in the bloom of her youth in spite of her
horrible look, either with one leg straight and the other bent, or with one
foot raised while the other tramples a corpse.1 The latter iconography
corresponds to her representation in this painting and in a famous 13th
century one showing the Mahsiddha Virpa preventing the sun from
setting, where the goddess is represented above the scene.2 Performing a
ritual dance on the corpse of an enemy of the dharma, Vajrayogin wears
a diadem of skulls and a garland of severed human heads, holds a bowl
fashioned from a human skull in her left hand, and brandishes a ritual
flaying knife in her right, while holding the magic staff characteristic of
tantric deities, particularly those of the cycle of Hevajra, against her left
shoulder.

Tibet, 14th century


Distemper on cotton
63 x 49 cm (24 x 19 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection
acquired 1991

14

63 x 49 (24 x 19 )

Tantric yoga practitioners resorted to such paraphernalia, loaded with


esoteric symbolism, in the charnel grounds and cemeteries where they
tested their ability to concentrate and meditate while practising particular
forms of esoteric yoga and liturgy, including the use of mandalas and
mantras as well as ritual intercourse. The latter was conceived as the
union of means and compassion represented by the male element
with wisdom and emptiness represented by the female element,
as illustrated by the tutelary deities surrounding Vajrayogin in this
painting: Klacakra in the corner opposite Hevajra; and Smvara, in an
unusual three-headed manifestation with ten instead of six hands,
and Vajrabhirava in the lower corners. Tantric adepts believed that
such practices would allow them to reach Buddhahood within a single
lifetime, in spite of the fact that they appeared to be in contrast with the
monastic discipline and doctrines taught by Shkyamuni.
In the central part of the composition Vajrayogin is surrounded also by
twenty-two Yogins in her same posture, whereas the outer section of the
painting houses a number of practitioners, both lay and monks, as well as
deities related to her tradition. The primordial Buddha Vajradhara is painted
in the upper left corner of the painting, whereas in its lower right corner a
monk is shown performing a ceremony near a group of five wrathful deities.
The style in which the figures of the masters are portrayed, at three
quarters, with the monks outer garments wrapped all around their
bodies, is found notably in 12th to 14th century paintings associated with
the monastery of Taklung (see catalogue No. 28), but found also in other
religious orders, reflecting an idiom lasting in central Tibet for over three
centuries and extending to other Tibetan regions. Through the presence of
the religious order of Drigng in western Tibet, the same style of painting
reached Ladk, where an example may be seen in the Translators Chapel
at the site of Alchi, which from the 13th century was taken over by that
order. Like Taklung, the monastery of Drigng belongs to the Kgy
tradition (see catalogue No. 28) of Tilopa, Nropa, Marp and Milrep
who cherished the teachings of the Hevajra-tantra above all , to which
most of the figures portrayed in the outer section of this painting seem
to belong.
70

Cf. Marie-Thrse de Mallmann, Introduction


liconographie du tntrisme bouddhique,
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique,
Paris 1975, p. 432.
2
Cf. Pratapaditya Pal, Himalayas. An Aesthetic
Adventure, The Art Institute of Chicago - University of California Press - Mapin Publishing,
Chicago - Berkeley - Ahmedabad 2003, pp.
198-199, pl. 129.

28 Trashipl
This image belongs to a corpus of paintings studied thoroughly by David
Jackson and related to the monastery of Taklung, in central Tibet,
founded in 1185 by the master it portrays, Trashipl (bKra-shis-dpal,
1142-1210).1 The Taklung order belongs, like that of Trashipls master,
Pakmotrup Dorj Gylp (Phag-mo-gru-pa rDor-rje-gyal-po), to the
tradition known as Kgy (bKa-brgyud, an abbreviation standing for
bKa-babs bzhii brgyud-pa, meaning Lineage of the Four Commands
with reference to four important tantric deities, rather than merely
Oral Tradition, as often held). Pakmotrup, who had established his
own order, is portrayed here above Trashipl at the centre of the upper
register of the composition. To Pakmotrups proper right one may
recognize the primordial Buddha, Vajradhara, followed by Tilopa and
Nropa, the Indian masters of the Kagy tradition, whereas to Pakmotrups
proper left one may see their Tibetan successors, Marp (Mar-pa,
1012-1096), Milrp (Mi-la-ras-pa, 1040-1123) and Gampopa (sGam-po-pa,
1079-1153), who transformed the Kgy lay tradition into a monastic
school. Both Pakmotrup and Tashipl are portrayed again facing each
in the side margins of the painting, the latter recognizable from his
characteristic flat hat, just above two of the Great Guardian Kings of
the directions, the other two being placed respectively below Nropa
and Gampopa.

Tibet, late 13th early 14th century


Distemper on cotton
60 x 51 cm (23 x 20 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection, acquired
1980s
Published:
Jane Casey Singer and Philip Denwood
(eds), Tibetan Art. Towards a definition of
style, London 1997, pp. 62-63, pl. 44.
David Jackson, with Christian Luczanits,
Mirror of the Buddha: Early Portraits
from Tibet, New York 2011, pp. 120, fig.
4.12, and 153, fig. 5.19.

1314

60 x 51 (23 x 20 )

In 1273 an unsuccessful candidate to the abbotship of Taklung left the


monastery taking along sacred objects that had been given to him by
the previous abbot and returned to his native region, in eastern Tibet,
where three years later he established the monastery of Riwoche.
The dedicatory inscription in verses written in the lower section of the
stupa drawn on the back of the painting mentions two donors, one of
whom might be the long-haired layman portrayed in the lower left corner of
the composition, wearing a dark-blue long-sleeved inner robe, facing
a stupa and surrounded by several ritual objects. David Jackson has
dated the painting to about the early 14th or mid-14th century and
suggested that the donor belonged to a family ruling the Riwoche
region,2 where this portrait might have been painted after the central
Tibetan style flourishing at Taklung was introduced into eastern Tibet
thanks to the religious objects, which must have included paintings,
brought there in 1273. Amy Heller has dated the painting to the 13th
century, pointing out that the donor, the ruler Snam Dorj (Tib. bSodnams-rdo-rje), belonged to the Akhar (Tib. A-mkhar) family, which was
related to and protected Pakmotrups disciple Jiktn Gnp (Tib. Jig-rtenmgon-po, 1143-1217), the founder of the monastery of Drigng3.
Three memorial stupas, the roof of Phakmotrupas grass hut and the
buildings of the monastery of Taklung are painted below the main image.

72

David Jackson, with Christian Luczanits,


Mirror of the Buddha. Early Portraits from Tibet,
Rubin Museum of Art, New York 2011, pp. 105131, fig. 4.12, and 153, fig. 5.19.
2
Cf. ibid., pp. 106 and 119.
3
Report dated 26th April 2010 and kindly
provided by Anna Maria Rossi. Cf. Pratapaditya
Pal with the collaboration of Amy Heller,
Oskar von Hinber and Gautama Vajracharya,
Himalayas. An Aesthetic Adventure, The Art
Institute of Chicago - University of California
Press - Mapin Publishing, Chicago - Berkeley
Ahmedabad 2003, p. 291, n. 127, where
Amy Heller discusses the inscription written
on the reverse of another painting commissioned by the same donor.

Trashipl
Tibet, early to mid-14th century
Detail (back)
Pigments on cotton
60 x 51 cm (23 x 20 in)

1314

60 x 51 (23 x 20 )

75

29 Chwang Gyltsn
The inscription around the base of the lotus flower supporting the portrait
of this master pays homage to the mnyam-med Chos-dbang-rgyal-mtshan,
that is to the peerless Chwang Gyltsn, whose teachings and gaze
are alluded to by the copper inlay work in the lips and eyes of the image.
The master displays the gesture of debate while holding a book bearing
as a title the compound term Phyag-chen, which is the Tibetan translation of Mahmudr, meaning Great Seal or Great Symbol. Chwang
Gyltsn was obviously a follower of the body of teachings grouped under
that name, which appeared in India in the 7th century and is found in
the mystic songs of the 8th century Indian lay master Saraha, one of
the founders of the Mahmudr tradition, which became increasingly important in late Indian Buddhism particularly in the yoga-tantra schools.
An inscription in nine-syllable verses on a copper-alloy statue portraying the great scholar Bodng Chkl Nmgyl (Bo-dong Phyogs-las-rnam-rgyal, 1375-1451) describes that portrait as the peerless
Chwang Gyltsns personal image (nangrten, inner image, internal
support).1 Bodng Chkl Nmgyl, a native of western Tibet, became
the abbot of the monastery of Jonng before moving to central and
southern Tibet, and taught especially the Klachakra-tantra, but his
interest in Mahmudr teachings is reflected by the circumstance that
he painted two images of Saraha, one in Newar and the other in Indian
style.2 Bodng Chkl Nmgyl is regularly portrayed wearing a hat
similar to Chwang Gyltsns in this portrait. If the latter was a personal
disciple of the former, with whom he shared a special interest in the
teachings of the Mahmudr tradition, then he must have lived in the
middle of the 15th century and this portrait would date to that period.

Tibet, 15th century


Copper alloy with copper inlay
23.8 cm (9 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection,
acquired 1980s
American Private Collection,
acquired 2003
Published:
David Weldon, Homage to the Holy.
Portraits of Tibets Spiritual Teachers,
London 2003, No. 42.

15

23.8 (9 )

76

Cf. Gerd-Wolfgang Essen and Tsering


Tashi Thingo, Die Gtter des Himalaya Systematischer Bestandskatalog, Prestel,
Mnchen, 1989, vol. I, pp. 95-96, No. II-209.
2
Cf. Tsepon Shakabpa, An Advanced Political
History of Tibet, Tibetan Cultural Printing
Press, Dharamsala 1986, vol. I, pp. 108-109,
and David Jackson, A History of Tibetan
Painting: The Great Tibetan Painters and Their
Traditions, Verlag der sterreichischen
Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien 1996, p. 95.

30 Book cover
In Buddist terms books are more important than images in their role
as supports of the dharma, according to the traditional three-fold division
of supports, of the Body (image), Speech (text) and Mind (stupa), the last
corresponding to the highest level. From the artistic and religious point
of view the importance of texts may be hardly overestimated, not only
because they help in the identification of images belonging to the
Buddhist pantheon, but also because they describe religious figures
that have not always been actually represented.
During the first half of the 7th century, at the outset of the imperial period,
Tibetans adopted a writing system derived from an Indian alphabet
and initially wrote on rolls of paper, following the Chinese manner. As
their interest in Buddhist India increased, however, they adopted
the horizontal format used in Indian palm-leaf manuscripts, which
they started acquiring and translating from the second half of the
8th century. They obviously adopted the corresponding format for book
covers, which they could see not only in Indian books, but also in Newar
ones from the Nepal Valley, where materials other than wood could be
used, as illustrated by a pair of 13th century gilded copper ones kept at the
Museum of Bhdgaon. Tibetan book covers are made almost exclusively
of wood, often carved, and painted and gilded, following the same size
of the paper sheets they are meant to protect, their format not being
bound by the size of the palm leaf which conditioned the format of their
Indian models.
The decoration of this book cover is reminiscent of the fine woodwork
with racemes and animals which may be found also in contemporary
Tibetan wooden architecture, for instance in the lintel above the entrance
to the Three Door Chapel on the ground floor of the monastery of
Zhal, in southwest Tibet, built between 1290 and 1303. Foliate motifs
of Indian origin may be found also in the decoration of statues (cf.
catalogue No. 20), but in this case they include two highly stylized
dragons, a motif of Chinese origin, in the inner section of the cover
protected by a row of pearls. The position of the stupa carved in low-relief
along one of the sides of the book cover suggests that the latter may
have been the lower one in a pair protecting a precious volume containing
the Tibetan translation of a Sanskrit text probably related to early
Buddhist literature.

78

Tibet, 13th century


Carved and painted wood
26.5 x 74 cm (10 x 29 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection
acquired 1995
Published:
Kathleen Kalista, Masterpieces of
Himalayan Art From a European Private
Collection, Carlton Rochell Asian Art
Rossi & Rossi Ltd., New York 2009, No. 21.

13

26.5 x 74 (10 x 29 )

31 Book cover with cosmic Buddhas


Buddhists have always believed in a plurality of Buddhas having lived
before Shkyamunis time and to appear in the future, but it was only
during the first centuries of the common era that they started to conceive
of several Buddhas coexisting in various parts of the universe at the
same time. To the latter category belongs a group of five cosmic or
transcendent Buddhas, generically known with the epithet of Jina in
Sanskrit and Gylw (rGyal-ba) in Tibetan, meaning Victor. To each cosmic
Buddha correspond not only a specific position in the space, a family, a
symbol, a gesture, a colour and a vehicle, but also a particular type of
wisdom, of evil to defeat and of corresponding component of personality.
The five cosmic Buddhas are carved in the inner rectangular space of
this upper book cover according to a common arrangement based on
a hierarchic criterion found also in the Tibetan descriptions of both
images and chapels in temples: starting from the centre and proceeding to the
central figures proper right and then to the central figures proper left.
The Buddha occupying the central position in the universe is Vairchana
(Resplendent), who is portrayed here displaying the gesture of setting in
motion the Wheel of the Doctrine, which is the symbol of the Tathgata
family to which he belongs. To that Buddha correspond respectively pure
and absolute wisdom, the evil of stupidity which the former is supposed
to counter, and form as a component of personality. To Vairchanas
proper right and left there are respectively the Buddhas Akshobhya
(catalogue No. 12) and Amitbha (catalogue No. 13), whose gesture
Vairchana may also display, but only if he is portrayed on his own.
To Akshobhyas proper right sits Ratnasmbhava (Jewel-Born), who
presides the southern quarter of the universe and belongs to the Jewel
family, and is regularly shown in the gesture of affording spiritual riches.
To that Buddha corresponds discriminating wisdom, which must oppose
the evil of desire born out of the component of personality of feelings.
To Amitbhas proper left there is Amoghasiddhi (Infallibile Success),
the Buddha presiding over the northern quarter of the universe and
belonging to the Karma family, displaying the gesture of absence
of fear and reassurance. To him corresponds active wisdom, which is
meant to counter the evil of envy born out of the component of personality of
our impulses.
Whereas the five Buddhas portrayed inside the inner rectangle formed
by rows of pearls are conceived as royal figures wearing jewels and
diadems, and are separated by flowers supported by elaborate stems
and having the shape of flaming jewels, the fourteen Buddhas placed
in the scrollwork surrounding the central composition wear the plain
garment of the monastic order founded by Shkyamuni.
The three distinct triangular elements of Indian origin making up the
crowns of the pentad of the cosmic Buddhas are found also in statues
and paintings extant at Nyetang, Dratng and Zhal, all foundations
dating to the 11th century and located in central, southern and southwest Tibet, where wood is a scarce and valuable material. The iconographic theme of this fine wood cover suggests that it protected a
volume belonging to the Mahyna literature translated from Sanskrit
by expert Tibetan translators, often assisted by Indian scholars.
80

Tibet, 12th 13th century


Carved and painted wood
28 x 72 cm (11 x 28 in)
Provenance:
European Private Collection,
acquired 1980s

12 13

28 x 72 (11 x 28 )

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83

First published to accompany the exhibitions:


Gods and Demons
of the Himlayas
4-7 October 2012
Fine Art Asia
The Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
Wanchai
Hong Kong
1-10 November 2012
Asian Art in London
Rossi & Rossi
16 Clifford Street
London W1S 3RG

Coordination: Martin Clist


Chinese translations: Cecilia Tong
Chinese proof reading: Xiaohan Li
Photography: Matthew Hollow, Maggie Nimkin, Matt Pia, Danfo Sze and Ann Woo
Design: Ruth Hflich

Rossi & Rossi Ltd. 2012


Text copyright the author. Images courtesy of Rossi & Rossi
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be transmitted in any form or by any means,
electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any storage or retrieval system,
without prior permission from the copyright holders and publishers
ISBN 978 1 906576 32 5
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

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Cover:
Majushr Yamntaka
Tibet, c. 1000 AD
Copper alloy with gilding and pigment
37 cm (14 in)

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