Sunday, March 29, 2009

Diagrammatic Prayers

These three images are large mural paintings at the entrance to the Deer Park Institute temple in Bir, India (the old Dzongsar Institute). They are diagrammatic prayers intended to be read in any direction and still retain their meaning. Creating visually pleasing depictions of prayers is an old Indian tradition that found its way to Tibet and the Himalayas through the Buddhist migration northward. These particular prayers were composed by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo in the 19th century. At the top is a Shakyamuni Buddha prayer followed by Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen and finally Longchen Rabjampa at the bottom. The Shakyamuni and Sapan are on the left of the entrance and the Longchenpa on the right accompanied by a sword and lotus motif with two double headed birds (not shown here). All of these images will be uploaded to the HAR database shortly.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Recieving E-mail Blog Updates

To receive e-mail updates for all postings to the HAR Blog then sign up for Google Alerts and enter "Himalayan Art Resources" with quotation marks. We have tested this and it works although it sometimes takes up to five days for the Google bots to re-visit blog sites.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Hats, More About Hats!

Hats are fascinating, hats are costume, hats are religious insignia. If you can recognize the different types of Tibetan and Himalayan religious hats then you're way ahead of the game and ahead of the rest of the pack. And yes, when you start talking about hats then it is competitive. It can even be slightly sectarian. It wasn't until I traveled to Mongolia that I fully understood the truth about the valid use of the terms Yellow Hat and Red Hat. Terms I had generally been avoiding all my life. Anyway, to the point. Here is a link to a wonderful and informative article on Tibetan religious hats. The article in Pdf format is specifically about Pandita hats. Coiffe de Pandit by Etienne Bock.

Also see the HAR Hats Outline Pages. They have not been updated since posting in December 2007. Since then David Jackson has included a discussion about Karma Kagyu (Kamtsang) hats in his latest publication: Patron and Painter, Situ Panchen and the Revival of the Encampment Style. Rubin Museum of Art, 2009.

--- Jeff Watt

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Blue Beryl Medical Charts

The Blue Beryl (vaidurya ngonpo) medical charts are a set of paintings based on the text of the same name compiled and edited by the Desi Sanggye Gyatso in the 17th century. It is thought that there are several original sets numbering approximately 85 paintings each. Each painting represents a single chapter from the Blue Beryl. From the Blue Beryl sets recorded on the HAR website it can be seen that since the 17th century onward the total number of paintings has been reduced by doubling up and sometimes tripling up on chapters thus condensing them into single paintings. The overall effect is various painting sets of unknown number but definitely reduced in size from the original 85 or so paintings. More research needs to be done to determine if there is an accepted system for reducing the overall number or if it is up to the artist and patron to create a Blue Beryl set according to there own resources.

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Charts: Outline Page

A new Charts Outline Page has been uploaded to the site. The word 'charts' is not really a Tibetan or Buddhist technical word but 10 years ago when the HAR website was first being developed we needed a word that was inclusive and described the various types of paintings that looked like instructional charts. These paintings were often of irregular shape and contained geometric compositions and substantial amounts of inscriptions, calligraphy and symbols.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Tseringma & the Long-life Sisters

Tseringma is a protector of Buddhism in both Tibet and in the Himalayan Mountain regions. She and her four sisters have a popular narrative history that is strongly connected to the life story of Milarepa. After Padmasambhava had earlier subjugated the sisters, later Milarepa became their teacher and taught them mahamudra and karma yoga. In one very detailed painting a number of scenes depict the sisters who at first try to distract Milarepa to test him and later receive personal instructions in the sexual yogas of Tantric Buddhism - karma yoga.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Arhat Set: Chinese Ink Paintings

These paintings which appear to be executed in an obvious Chinese black ink technique are somewhat controversial. They are claimed by some to be the work of the 10th Karmapa Choying Dorje. It is true that Choying Dorje experimented with different techniques and styles a clear example of which is his version of the Buddha's life story. However, it will be left up to the 10th Karmapa experts to determine if he also did Chinese black ink compositions.

There are three of these paintings known to be in North America. Eleven paintings remain in the Himalayan Regions. Two paintings belong to a private collector. Those two are a Guardian King and the attendant Dharmatala, therefore the remaining three Guardian Kings and Hvashang are each painted in a separate composition. The centerpiece of the set, Shakyamuni Buddha, is unaccounted for but is likely to be in a composition with Shariputra and Maudgalyayana standing at the right and left side. These calculations if correct would mean that the full set of paintings is twenty-three in number.

The Thirteen Golden Dharmas of Sakya

Thirteen Golden Dharmas (Tib.: ser cho chu sum): a set of thirteen or more special meditation practices extracted from numerous different Tantra systems. There are several sets or enumerations that make up the Thirteen. The deities standard to all sets are the Three Red Ones (Marmo Kor Sum); Vajrayogini of Naropa, Vajrayogini of Indrabhuti and Vajrayogini of Maitripa - all from the Chakrasamvara cycle of Tantras. The Three Great Red Ones (Marpo Kor Sum); Kurukulla of the Hevajra Tantra, Takkiraja of the Guhyasamaja and Maharakta Ganapati associated with the Chakrasamvara. The Three Small Red Ones (Marchung Kor Sum); Kurukulla-Tara, Red Vasudhara and Tinuma. The four standard remaining deities are Black Manjushri, Shabala Garuda from the Kalachakra Tantra, Simhanada Avalokiteshvara from its own tantra and Red Jambhala from the Chakrasamvara. Alternates are the dakini Simhamukha associated with the Chakrasamvara, Amaravajradevi of the Chakrasamvara and Nine Deity Amitayus from its own Tantra.

Handprints & Footprints Outline Page

Handprints and footprints are timeless human symbols found as wall paintings in prehistoric caves and on modern street intersection signs telling us not to cross. The feet of the Buddha were carved in stone as were those of Vishnu and other notable Indian gods. In the Himalayas and Tibet the custom of tracing a revered teachers feet and then painting them in or decorating around them with deities and lineage figures became popular at the time of Pagmodrupa Dorje Gyalpo who is credited with writing the first Tibetan explanatory text. Jigten Sumgon also authored a text on the meaning, sanctification and function of such tracings.

Arhat Outline Pages Updated

The subject of Arhats is actually the foundation of Himalayan Buddhist iconography, painting and sculpture. Temples and shrines invariably have an image of Shakyamuni Buddha. Where you have an image of the Buddha then there should follow the Sixteen Great Arhats, the Four Guardian Kings and then Dharmatala, later to be joined by Hvashang. (The liturgies from India and Kashmir do not include Hvashang although they do include Dharmatala).

When describing subjects in art, or the group of religious figures, Western art historians commonly use the phrase 'sixteen arhats' as do native Tibetan speakers in their own language 'ne ten chu drug' when talking about the important students of the Buddha. This is actually a curious phenomenon because the Sixteen Arhats are almost never depicted on their own. They are always created as retinue figures surrounding or placed at either side of Shakyamuni Buddha. Any set of arhat paintings, or sculpture, automatically implies that Shakyamuni is at the center. This central Shakyamuni is generally painted or created larger than the accompanying arhats. So, what this really means when looking at individual paintings or sculpture of arhats is that for every sixteen arhats there is going to be one Shakyamuni Buddha. In Himalayan art many of the Shakyamuni Buddha paintings thought to be simply a painting of Shakyamuni are actually not simply that. What they are is more precisely the centerpiece of a set of paintings that also includes the Sixteen Arhats, Four Guardian Kings and Two Attendants. The Sixteen Arhats are always a larger package of figures. See a numbered schematic of Shakyamuni Buddha and the Arhats with all attendant figures.

In modern times it seems that it is the sixteen that get all of the attention. Based on the Western art publications of the last number of decades Shakyamuni seems to have been relegated to a minor position in any Sixteen Arhat discussion. Rarely if ever is it mentioned in publications or exhibition signage that a significant or impressive Buddha is a centerpiece, or might be a centerpiece, of a much larger artistic and religious composition. Whenever looking at Himalayan art, paintings and sculpture, it should always be the first or second question that comes to mind "does this belong to a set or was it created as a single object"? When this question is asked then the answer should be, at least fifty percent of the time, "yes, it belongs to a set."

If we can agree that Shakyamuni Buddha has been marginalized in his own depictions, compositions and within his own visual Himalayan contextual framework then what about the two Arhats that stand apart from and are superior to the sixteen. These two are so important that they are not even referred to as belonging to the sixteen, but literally stand apart. They are referred to directly by name as a sign of their importance. In all of the liturgies their names follow immediately after that of the Buddha and before those of the sixteen. They are Shariputra and Maudgalyayana the two principal students of Shakyamuni Buddha. In paintings that present the Buddha and Arhats then these two seemingly forgotten figures are always depicted as standing immediately to the right and left of Shakyamuni. Not only are they regarded as the two principal students of the Buddha but they are likely historical figures. They are further counted as the first two patriarchs of Buddhism after the passing of the Buddha. In comparison, historical evidence by Western standards for the existence of the other Sixteen Great Arhats is dubious at best.

When depicted in sculpture Shariputra and Maudgalyayana are cast individually. The standing sculptural arhat figures in Himalayan art are rarely discussed and generally remain ignored in museum and private collections. Part of the reason for this can likely be explained by a lack of individual characteristics for the standing Shariputra and Maudgalyayana. In comparison it is always nice to look at different depictions of the Arhat Bakula, almost always with facial characteristics, wizened and aged, and then to take note of how the jewel disgorging mongoose is portrayed.

Shakyamuni Buddha and the Sixteen Arhats, in painting and sculpture sets, are plentiful in Himalayan art. They alone make up a significant percentage of all art found in temples, museums and private collections. Knowing that and knowing that sets are a unique and distinguishing feature of Himalayan art, then, the Arhats can no longer be looked at in isolation. Shakyamuni Buddha cannot be looked at in isolation, neither can the Guardian Kings, Two Attendants, or especially the two principal students of the Buddha. Commissioned by an individual/s or community and created by an artist or atelier, it is all of these twenty-five figures that make up the composition and they together form the complete religious and artistic work.

Arhat Outline Page
Arhat Art Topics
Arhat Painting Sets
Arhat Sets Linear List