Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Gorampa Sonam Sengge Biography

Gorampa is one of the most important figures in Sakya history and especially important for understanding the philosophical teachings of Sakya Pandita. See the new biography of Gorampa on the Himalayan Art Resources website.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Vira Vajradharma - Unique Sakya Iconography

This painting is iconographically unique because it is the only known composition depicting Vira Vajradharma as a central figure and the only painting known that depicts the two figures of Vajradhara and Vajradharma paired together in a single composition. Vajradharma originates with the Chakrasamvara cycle of Anuttaryoga Tantras and is another form of the Tantric Buddhist primordial Buddha. Vajradharma is red in colour and has two different iconographic forms. The first form, shown in this painting is considered common, Vira Vajradharma, and the second form is regarded as more profound, or uncommon. The second form does not use the initial term 'vira' meaning 'hero' (referring to the appearance of Vira Vajradharma with hand drum and skullcup) and simply goes by the name Vajradharma. The profound form of the primordial Buddha Vajradharma has the same identical appearance as Vajradhara except Vajradharma is red in colour rather than blue. (The primordial Buddha Vajradharma should not be confused with the red form of Avalokiteshvara also with the name Vajradharma [see image])

Unique Iconographic Features:

1. Vira Vajradharma (red) as a central figure.

2. The group of three Vajrayogini figures: Naro, Indra & Maitri.

3. The group of three power deities: Kurukulla, Takkiraja & Ganapati.

4. The inscriptions written on the cloth hangings in front of the two thrones - specifically the Kalachakra monogram.

5. The two Pamting brothers seated on the same lotus.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Village & Temples of Tsarang (Charang), Nepal

The village of Tsarang is just south of the walled town of Lo Monthang, the capital of the Kingdom of Mustang in North Western Nepal. The village of Tsarang (Charang) has numerous stupa structures, a monastery with a main temple (gompa) and a fortress (dzong). The monastery is made up of several buildings and structures. Some are in the process of being renovated and others are in a state of serious disrepair. The inner walls of the main temple are painted with murals depicting the deities of the Medicine Buddha mandala. They have recently been cleaned and restored. It has been suggested by some local informants that depictions and rituals of Medicine Buddha are a special object of devotion in the Kingdom of Mustang and can be found in the temples of almost every Mustang village.

By far one of the most interesting buildings in the small walled monastic complex is located at the back of the property, looking like nothing but a ruin, almost falling over a cliff. The structure is referred to locally as the Ani Gompa, or Ani Lhakang (nunnery). Navigating the only entrance, a set of small wooden double doors, flanked by a Wheel of Life and murals of the Four Guardian Kings, arriving inside, it is imediately noticable that the roof has large gaping holes, numerous rafters with blue sky behind. The floor is an uneven surface of mud and dirt and the entire place seems like it could collapse at any momenent. Yet despite all of that, the inner walls are completely decorated with brightly coloured murals, some of which appear to have been cleaned and restored in very recent years. It is like an oasis of colour and palacial grandeur, unexpected, awesome and immediately comforting and strangely well grounded, stable and solid.

The inner layout of the room, clearly a temple or shrine room of some sort, is not completely typical. The main inner wall at the front of the room (across from the door) has a large depiction of the Buddha Vajradhara, the primordial Buddha, surrounded by the lineage teachers of the Sakya Lamdre - based on the Hevjra Tantra and teachings of the Indian mahasiddha Virupa (depicted with six different forms in the murals of the main temple). On the viewer's left hand side is a very large painting of Padmasambhava surrounded by a Nyingma lineage. On the right side of the room is a large painting of a Drugpa Kagyu teacher surrounded by a Drugpa Kagyu lineage. The side walls of the room appear to depict the Five Symbolic Buddhas accompanied by smaller buddhas representing the One Thousand Buddhas of the Age. To the immediate right and left of the entrance are protector deities of the Sakya Tradition on one side and protectors of the Drugpa Kagyu Tradition of the other side.

Despite being called an Ani Gompa, the structure is more likely to be a Lamdre Lhakang or a building created for use during the Monastic Summer Retreat - and later painted. As a backdrop to the monastery, on the steep cliff sides of the valley surrounding the village are evidence of extensive cave dwellings both for religious as well as secular use. Only some of these caves are accessible, most are not. Only a small percentage of the caves have been explored by trained climbers and cultural specialists.