Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wangdu Nyingpo - Front & Back

Wangdu Nyingpo, Tuchen (c.1763-c.1806): Patriarch of the Khon Family, the 29th Sakya Tridzin, and also commonly known as the second Padmasambhava of this Age. He was a renowned Tantric practitioner and Terton - finder of Revealed Treasure. As a Tantric figure he was so popular that guruyoga practices were written that focused solely on him as a semi-wrathful mantradharin. (See the Wangdu Nyingpo Main Page). 

Wangdu Nyingpo sits wrapped in a meditation cloak with only his face, upper torso and arms exposed. Atop the head is a small version of a sparsely ornamented mostly plain lotus hat. He has open eyes, dark eyebrows, mustache and a light beard, along with small earrings. the two hands grasp a vajra scepter and vajra handled bell in the 'vajra embracing' gesture in front of the heart. A white lower robe is partially exposed, tied with a black sash and holding a ritual peg (purba). Seated atop a blue and green lotus above a lion supported jeweled throne, he is surrounded by an elaborate back rest of foliage and flowers encircle by an decorative 'torana' of a lion, sharabha, boy and dragon on both the right and left sides of the throne. The two dragons each offer a bowl of green and red coloured wish-fulfilling jewels.

 There is no name inscription, or any inscriptions, on the front or back of this painting. The identification of the central figure as Wangdu Nyingpo is based on the portrait of the figure and other comparable paintings and sculpture of Wangdu Nyingpo. (Read more on the Himalayan Art Resources website).
Jeff Watt [updated 1-2013]

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Panjarnata Mahakala Sculpture

Panjarnata Mahakala, the Great Black One of the Pavilion Tantra.

Panjaranata Mahakala is the special protector for the Shri Hevajra cycle of Tantras. The iconography and rituals are found in the 18th chapter of the Vajra Panjara Tantra (canopy, or pavilion) a Sanskrit language text from India, and an exclusive 'explanatory tantra' to the Hevajra Tantra itself. It is from the name of this Tantra that the specific form of Mahakala is known. 'Vajra Panjara' means the vajra enclosure, egg shaped, created from vajra scepters large and small - all sizes, completely surrounding a Tantric Buddhist mandala. The name of the Tantra is Vajra Panjara and the name of the form of Mahakala taught in this Tantra is also Vajra Panjara. The full name for the protector is Vajra Panjara Nata Mahakala (Vajra Pavilion Lord Great Black One). (See the Panjarnata Mahakala Main Page, Outline Page and Panjarnata Masterworks).

Western scholars, such as Laurence Austine Waddell and Albert Grunwedel, in the 19th and early 20th century believed that the meaning of the Tibetan word 'gur' is this usage meant a 'tent' and that this Mahakala was a special protector of the Tibetan and Mongolian nomads who lived in tents. This academically erroneous belief was however supported by Mongolian folk belief where they believed that Panjara Mahakala, originally introduced to Mongolia by Chogyal Pagpa in the 13th century, was indeed special for them based on the relationship between the famous Tibetan Lama Chogyal Pagpa and the Mongolian Emperor of all of China and Mongolia - Kublai Khan. The image of Panjara Mahakala was also used by Mongolians as a war standard (flag) during the time of Kublai Khan and the duration of the Yuan Dynasty.

The unique iconographic feature of Panjaranata Mahakala as described in the Vajrapanjara Tantra and according to the special Lamdre literature of the Sakya Tradition describes the deity as having no ghandi stick placed horizontally across the forearms. In the other more common Sakya traditions of Panjara Mahakala, such as the Three Deity, Eight Deity, etc., which descend from the tradition of Lotsawa Rinchen Zangpo, then Panjarnata is depicted with the ghandi 'stick of emanation.' There are other exceptions to this ghandi stick rule but they are rare and not commonly found in art - primarily textual exceptions. The two main exceptions are found with the Nagarjuna lineage form of the deity and the Ngog lineage form of Panjarnata Mahakala.

The 'Vajra Pavilion' when represented in mandala paintings or for three-dimensional mandalas is known as the 'Vajra Circle' (Sanskrit: vajravali): inside of the outer ring of a two-dimensional mandala, painting or textile, is a circle of fire and then a vajra circle. This vajra circle is often difficult to see and easy to dismiss as simply decorative. The circle is a series of gold or yellow vajras, painted against a dark blue or black background, lined up end to end and circling around the entire mandala, deity and palace. The vajra circle is not envisioned as flat or horizontal like the lotus circle. The vajras are seen as a three dimensional pavilion, without doors or windows, completely enclosing the mandala. It is made entirely of vajras, small and large with all of the openings filled with ever smaller vajras. It is a three-dimensional structure and impenetrable. Envisioned as a three-dimensional object it is called the Vajra Pavilion.

As with most things related to Tantric Buddhism, there is some confusion regarding the name of this Mahakala. Specifically, the name 'panjara' or 'panjarnata' is referring to deities described in the different chapters of the Vajrapanjara Tantra. Therefore this form of Mahakala is the Vajrapanjara or in brief the Panjara form. However, generally speaking, there are other traditions of this same depiction of Mahakala found in other tantras such as the Twenty-five Chapter Mahakala Tantra and the Fifty Chapter Mahakala Tantra. So, how are we to understand this?

Now it comes down to appearance. If the Mahakala form has one face and two hands, squat, holding a curved knife and skullcup at the heart, and generally (but not always) holding a ghandi stick across the forearms, then it is said both colloquially and in late Tibetan literature that this is named Panjaranata Mahakala, or the panjara form of Mahakala despite the original source text. It is likely that this came about because the Vajrapanjara Tantra and the Hevajra Tantra were so well known as both early Tantric literary works and practice traditions. Because the 'panjara' name was so well known and represented the one face, two armed, form of Mahakala, it is therefore most likely that the name panjara came to be applied to all forms of Mahakala that had this same or similar appearance.

The translation of the description of Panjara Mahakala below is from the Rinchen Zangpo Tradition. It is identical to the description of the Vajrapanjara Tantra Mahakala except for the inclusion of the 'gandhi' stick.

"The Great Vajra Mahakala, blazing, with one face, two hands, in the right a curved knife and left a skullcup filled with blood, held above and below the heart. Held across the middle of the two arms is the 'Gandhi of Emanation;' with three eyes, bared fangs, yellow hair flowing upward, a crown of five dry human skulls and a necklace of fifty fresh, blood-dripping. [He is] adorned with six bone ornaments and snakes, with a lower garment of tiger skin, flowing with pennants and streamers of various silks; dwarfish and thick, in a posture standing above a corpse." (Konchog Lhundrub, 1497-1557).

The general features that describe and define Panjarnata are the single face and two arms. The pair of hands hold a curved knife in the right and a skull cup in the left. Both hands are held to the heart with the right hand slightly above the skull cup. Panjara may or may not also have a 'gandhi' stick across the forearms. His body is short and squat with the legs bowed. He is also described as being a dwarf with short thick arms and legs. He typically stands atop a human corpse having an orange or yellow colour. All of the other characteristics of Panjarnata are identical with the general characteristics of the Mahakala class of deities.

This specific sculpture of Panjarnata Mahakala is counted as one of the best representations of Panjarnata sculpture in the world along with the famous white stone sculpture of Panjara in the Guimet Museum in Paris, France, and an unpublished Yongle Panjarnata in a private collection. These three rank as the best sculptural examples of the Panjarnata subject.

Alternate Names: Vajra Panjara, Vajra Panjarnata, Panjara, Panjarnata, Panjara Mahakala, Panjarnata Mahakala.

(Written for the publication and exhibition catalogue: Exhibition of Quintessence of Returning Tibetan Cultural Relics from Oversea. Beijing, China, July 2012).

Jeff Watt July 8th, 2012

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Lhakang Chenmo Main Temple, Sakya Town

The Main Temple of Lhakang Chenmo Monastery, Sakya Town, Tibet. This set of images is still very large and needs to be divided into smaller groupings of images. The labeling will take some time to complete. The famous Temple Pillars have already been divided into a separate grouping.

Mandala Roof Balcony, Lhakang Chenmo

The Mandala Roof Balcony of Lhakang Chenmo Monastery, Sakya Town, Tibet, is located on the 2nd to top floor and faces in towards the central open courtyard below. The mandala paintings are subject to a tremendous degree of weathering because they are exposed to the harsh elements with only a roof above and no wall or protection facing the courtyard. The subjects of the mandalas follow closely to the iconographic programs of the Shalu and Gyantse Monasteries.

Bamo Lhakang, Sakya Town

The Bamo Lhakang is located in Lhakang Chenmo Monastery in the north-west corner tower. The various rooms contain a number of sculpture of famous Throne Holders of Sakya along with various small protector chapels the foremost being the for the Three Witches (Bamo). The various wall towers also serve as residences for senior monks and abbots.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Maharakta Ganapati

There are a number of very good paintings and sculpture of Maharakta Ganapati. This however has to be the best of the late paintings, likely to be 18th century. As for the provenance, it was owned in the 1960s by the Kumar Galleries of New Delhi and later sold to the Guimet Museum in Paris sometime in the early 1970s. Also during this period the painting was made into a poster and offered for sale in both Europe and North America.

The painting was commissioned by someone of the Sakya Tradition. The composition has several unique features such as the Ratnasambhava Buddha at the top center accompanied by several Sakya teachers, the special form of Bhutadamara Vajrapani unique to the Maharakta practice, and the Yugu Chesum - three wealth sisters - at the bottom center. It is really a fantastic example both for art and iconography of an important Power Deity in the Sakya Tradition.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Virupa Page on the HAR Website - Updated

Virupa, the Lord of Yoga, 9th century (Tibetan: bir wa pa, nal jor wang chug); foremost in magical attainments amongst the 84 mahasiddhas of India. He can appear in a number of different forms and colours. He can also appear in different contexts such as a set of lineage images, a narrative scene, the set of Eighty-four Mahasiddhas, as a Guruyoga meditation form, etc. Virupa is not unique to any one tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and therefore can be found almost anywhere. In the Sakya Tradition Virupa is typically depicted in one or all of six textually documented forms that follow the major events in his life story.

The image of the sculpture on the left is from the Lamdre Lhakang at Gyantse Palkor Chode in Tsang, Tibet. In this form Virupa is displaying a teaching gesture (mudra).

When depicted with the right arm raised in the air and performing a wrathful gesture Virupa can easily be mistaken for the Nyingma teacher Shri Simha who appears in a similar posture and gesture.

"Reversing the Ganga and subduing the evil king; while holding the sun - drinking the liquor of the entire country, without being drunk; completely shattering the Linga and subduing the Chandali; to the renowned Lord of Power, I bow my head." (Sakya liturgical verse).