Himalayan Art Gallery, Shivaji Museum, Mumbai
high-definition creative commons photographs from the Himalayan Art Gallery in the Shivaji Museum, Mumbai, together with a description.
The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly The Prince of Wales Museum) in Mumbai houses good collections of materials from all over the Indian regions. One particularly fine collection they house is from the Himalayan regions, mainly Nepal and Tibet. The collection comes from the 10th - 20th centuries, and includes a few works works from China and Mongolia as well. The collection has recently been rehoused on the 2nd floor, with good and informative introductions to the pieces on display. It is these that I have reworded here to give a description of the works in this collection. I have ordered the material roughly hierarchically, including Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, gods and masters of the tradition. At the end are a few thangkas, which I had less information on.
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Dīpankara is a Tathāgata or Samyak Sambuddha – one who discovers the dharma and attains nirvāna without the guidance of a teacher. He is one of the Buddhas of the past, who is supposed to have lived thousands of years before Śākyamuni. Standing on a lotus pedestal his right hand is in abhaya mudra (the gesture of reassurance) and the left is holding one end of his upper robe. Elaborate floriated patterns probably symbolize the bodhi tree. Such metal images seem to be a part of the pañcadāna festival (donation of five objects), celebrated by the Newars in the month of Śravaṇa (July-August).
Śākyamuni is seated in lotus position with his right hand in Calling the Earth to Witness posture and left hand in meditation posture. The signs of Buddhahood on his head, neck and ears are prominent. His eyes show marks of being inlaid, the result of the Kashmir and eastern Indian influence. Images of western Tibet of 11-12 century bear the influence of Kashmir. The Buddhist monk Rinchen Sangpo (958-1055 CE) visited the University of Vikrāmasīla and returned with several Kashmiri artists who influenced the art of Tibet giving rise to a new style of which the present image is an excellent example.
Maitreya is the Buddha of the future. He now resides in Tuṣita Heaven, waiting for the time when he can appear on earth to become the next Buddha. He symbolizes love and compassion. Here he is standing in Samabhanga posture with his right hand in vitarka mudra holding a pearl symbolising knowledge, and his left hand holding a vase of nectar. He bears a stūpa on his crown, which he acquired while meditating on his master the Śākyamuni Buddha.
Akṣobhya is one of the five transcendent Buddhas and head of the vajra family. His special ability is to transform delusion into the clear light of wisdom. The Buddha is seated in padmāsana. His right hand is in Calling the Earth to Witness posture and left hand is in meditation posture. The halo, with a variety of creatures, is adorned with a typical Nepali parasol symbolizing the Buddha's ability to protect all beings from delusions and fear. The pedestal is adorned with elephants on either side and a dharmachakra in the front which are the symbols of the Buddha. An inscription on the pedestal says that the image was dedicated by Jīvamunisimha to mark the death of his father Jīvanasimha.
Amitābhā, the Buddha of immeasurable life and light, is seated in lotus position holding an alms bowl. He is associated with the western direction and is generally depicted in red colour. In Tibetan Buddhism, red is the colour of love, compassion and emotional energy. The present image is an important example of the contacts between Tibet and Mongolia. The great Mongolian sculptor Zanabazar visited Tibet at an early age and returned to Mongolia in 1651 CE accompanied by many Tibetan lamas and several artists and craftsmen.
Amitāyus, the Buddha of eternal life, is popular due to his special ability to assure long life. He is sitting in padmāsana holding a vase of ambrosia, his special emblem. Sometimes an Aśoka tree, the tree of life, is shown coming out of the vase. Buddhists commission images of Amitāyus in order to gain merit and assure long life.
Vairocana is the Tathāgata ruling the centre of the cosmic maṇḍala of the family of five Buddhas. Vairocana sits enthroned at the centre of the universe and often takes the place of the primordial Buddha and is known as Mahāvairocana. He is richly ornamented and sitting in diamond cross legged position on a lotus throne. His hands in meditation posture may originally be holding the dharmachakra symbol. His hair is tied in a bun with a vajra on the top. When this image was acquired by the museum, the plate at the bottom had come open revealing several mantras, grain particles and three Tsa-Tsa (clay tablets). Two of these three tablets depict Tsongkhapa suggesting its association with the Gelugpa sect.
Mañjuśri is the manifestation of the wisdom of all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. His left hand holds a stem of a lotus which supports a manuscript of Prajnāpāramitā, the book of divine wisdom. His right hand is displaying the boon-giving gesture. His special ability is to find the right method to solve problems.
Vajrapāni is the spiritual son of Akṣobhya who is the progenitor of the Vajra family. Sitting in meditational pose he is holding a vajra in his right hand and his left hand is in threatening posture. Of all the periods of Tibetan, the Yongle period has been the most productive as far as art is concerned. There was a continuous exchange of visitors from both Tibet and China resulting in a distinctive art style. This rare image of Vajrapāni is inscribed with a Chinese inscription reading Da Ming Yongle Man-Shi, donated in the Yongle reign of the great Ming period.
The standing figure of Padmapāni is holding a lotus in his left hand and his right hand is displaying the boon-giving gesture. The bejeweled halo has a flame design. He belongs to the lotus family and his presiding deity is Dhyāni Buddha Amitābhā. According to Mahāyāna doctrine, Avalokiteśvara took a great vow to postpone his own Buddhahood until he helps every being on earth to achieve nirvāṇa.
Avalokiteśvara Padmapāni is standing on lotus pedestal holding a lotus stalk in his left hand and his right hand is displaying the fearless gesture. This is a common gesture of the eight manifestations of Avalokiteśvara who protect the devotees from the eight fears.
The sixth Dhyāni Buddha Vajrasattva is regarded by Newar Buddhists as the priest of the five Dhyāni Buddhas. He is believed to have originated from the syllable HUM. Vajrasattva is sitting in lalitāsana on a lotus pedestal. He is holding the bell in his left hand, his raised right hand is in a posture of holding a vajra. The vajra is the symbol for the ultimate reality called śūnya and the bell represents prajñā or wisdom. Vajrasattva wears a variety of ornaments, a rich dress and a crown. He appears to be a Bodhisattva than a Dhyāni Buddha.
This Avalokiteśvara is standing on a five-jewelled pedestal. His thousand hands are shown symbolically in a circular pattern. His two main hands are displaying the reverence gesture, holding a vajra and the two lower hands are displaying the boon-giving gesture. In his right hands he is holding rosary and lotus, and in his left hands he holds lotus bud and bow.
Avalokiteśvara is represented here in his cosmic manifestation, with eleven heads and multiple hands symbolic of one thousand arms. The principle pair of hands is held against the chest displaying the reverence gesture. The right hands are boon-giving gesture and are holding rosary and jewel. In his left hands he is holding a lotus, bow and arrow. Such plaques were probably meant for traveling shrines.
6-syllable Lokeśvara is associated with the great knowledge of the six syllable mantra Om Maṇi Padme Hum (the jewel in the lotus Hum). The deity is sitting in diamond cross-legged position and is having six arms. The principle pair of hands are displaying the reverence gesture. His upper right hand carries a rosary and his lower right hand is displaying boon-giving gesture. The two left hands carry a manuscript and a lotus stalk.
Vasudhāra is the consort of Jambhala (Kubera) and the deity of spiritual and material wealth and fertility. She can be identified by her attribute of a sheaf of corn which she holds in one of her hands. The Vasudhāra remains very popular with Nepalese Buddhists. The six-armed Vasudhāra here displays her right hands in boon-giving gesture and holds a cluster of jewels and a lotus bud. In her left hands she holds a book, a sheaf of corn and a waterpot. The halo is in the shape of double circle of rays.
White Tārā is the goddess of long life. She helps the practitioner to remove obstacles and bestows wisdom and has the power to grant wishes and to protect from dangers and distress. Seated in padmāsana on a lotus pedestal, the goddess is flanked by a lotus stalk. Her right hand is displaying the boon-giving gesture and her left hand is displaying the going-for-refuge gesture.
Tārā is the supreme Buddhist goddess. As a savior deity and an embodiment of compassion, she is the counterpart as well as spouse of Bodhisattvta Avalokiteśvara. She protects her devotees in their long journey and guides them to find their way when they get lost. There are twenty forms of Tārā – the two most popular are Green Tārā and White Tārā. The goddess Tārā is seated here in lalitāsana on a lotus pedestal flanked by a lotus stalk. Her right hand is displaying the boon-giving gesture and her left hand is displaying the going-for-refuge gesture.
Tārā is a savoir deity and the consort of Avalokiteśvara who is an embodiment of compassion. Here Tārā is seated on a lotus pedestal in lalitāsana. She is wearing elaborate jewellery and tiaras. Her right hand is displaying the boon-giving gesture. Her left hand is displaying the going-for-refuge gesture. There is a third eye on the forehead.
Prajñāpāramitā is the female personification of perfect wisdom embodied in the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā sutra, an important Mahāyāna Buddhist scripture dealing with the theory of non-duality. Newar Buddhism lays great stress on the worship of the three jewels: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Prajñāpāramitā represents the Dharma. Here she is seated in lalitasana on a lotus pedestal. Her hands are displaying the teaching gesture, and each of them holds a lotus stalk.
Vajrayoginī is a ḍākinī and a Vajrayāna Buddhist iṣṭadevatā. She is a representation of complete Buddhahood in female form whose practices are associated with the cakrasamvara cycle of Anuttarayoga. She possesses supernatural powers and wisdom. This powerful image of Vajrayoginī is standing in pratyalidha posture on a lotus, and holds a staff in her hand and has a vertical third eye on her forehead. Normally she holds a scull cup, but it is not depicted in this image.
In the Buddhist rituals celebrating the success in achieving long life Uṣṇīṣavijayā is worshiped as a goddess residing in the womb of a stūpa. Her centre face is believed to be white, right face in golden colour and her left face should be sapphire blue. Her faces here are slightly wrathful in appearance, but each face has three peaceful eyes. The goddess should be holding attributes like a double vajra, an image of the Buddha, bow and arrow and vase of long life. In the present image one can see only the vase. The halo is in the shape of a stūpa.
Uṣṇīṣavijayā is one of the popular deities of the Nepalese pantheon. White in complexion, she is three faced, three eyed, youthful and heavily ornamented. Her main hands hold a viśva vajra. The upper right hand holds an image and her lower right hand is displaying the boon-giving gesture. The upper left hand is displaying the fearless gesture and her tower left hand holds the vase of long life. Her remaining hands are normally in gestures of holding bow and arrow which is missing here. In 13th century a group of Nepalese artists led by the famous artist Anige worked for the Mongolian royal family. Since then the Nepalese artists were exposed to the Mongolian tradition which resulted in Mongolian influence on Nepalese Art.
The cult of Indra is popular in Nepal as the Newars consider him as their divine ancestor Aju Dya or Hatha Dya. During the autumnal week they celebrate the festival of Aju Dya. It appears to be a non-sectarian festival enjoyed by both Hindus and Buddhists. Indra is considered as the King of Gods and is depicted as a sumptuously adorned regal figure. He can be identified by his third horizontal eye on the forehead. The Indra cult is more popular in Nepal than in India.
Dharmadhātuvagiśvara is the Lord of the sphere of the divine worlds. He is an emanation of Bodhisattva Manjuśri who has attained Buddhahood. The deity is seated in hal cross-legged position on a lotus seat with his Śakti. He has four faces facing the cardinal directions. His main hands display the teaching gesture, while the hands clockwise display boon-giving gesture, an arrow and rosary in the right hand, an manuscript, bow and lotus in the left.
Cakrasamvara is one of the principle Yidam or meditational deities of the Sarma school of Tibetan Buddhism. He is associated with both Heruka arid Hevajra and his iconography closely resembles that of Śiva. Such concordance of Buddhist and Hindu iconography has its origins in the tantrism of medieval eastern India. In this image the blue coloured god, with four faces and twelve arms is shown in physical union with his prajñā Vajravārahī. His two main hands are holding vajra and bell. He is trampling a Bhairava and a Kālaratrī.
Hayagrīva, a wrathful manifestation of Avalokiteśvara is a meditational deity. His special ability is to cure skin diseases. He can be identified by the horse-heads on his own head. Here the deity is represented in Yab-Yum form. The three faced, six-armed God stands on two prostrate nāgas. Important to note is the skull garland and human bone apron. The inscription on the image mentions: it is made by Puṇyavārdhana and produced for the prosperity of the donor and his family and also for religious merit.
Ghaṇṭāpada was a great tantric Buddhist scholar endowed with supernatural powers. King Devapāla of Pataliputra developed a grudge against Ghaṇṭāpada and to lead him away from his spiritual path he sent a beautiful young girl to him. She began to live with him and later gave birth to a child. With an intention to tease, the king attacked him. But the monk embraced his consort and flew away in the sky and transformed into the deities Samvara and Vajravārahī. Their child was transformed into a thunderbolt. The deities here are in Yab-Yum posture.
King Songsten Gampo (died around 650 CE) is the founder of the first royal dynasty in Tibet. His two wives from China and Nepal were instrumental in introducing Buddhism to Tibet. The Chinese queen brought with her a Buddha image which was the first Buddha image to reach Tibet. This led to the deification of the king as an incarnation of Avalokiteśvara. King Songtsen Gampo is always shown with a high crown with the head of the dhyani Buddha Amitābhā in his coiffure. His two wives are canonized as the Green and the White Tārā. This bronze image closely resembles the clay image of the King in the monastery at the Potala Palace at Lhasa.
In the 11th century many Tibetan translators came to India and studied with Indian Buddhist masters in Bihar, Bengal and Kashmir. Many of the sects of Tibetan Buddhism trace their lineage back to these encounters. The Kagyupa sect derived its lineage from Marpa, who visited India and studied under tantric masters like Naropa and Maitripa. Pot-bellied and gaggle-eyed Marpa is seated on a tiger skin on a lotus seat. His hands are displaying the teaching gesture.
Milarepa, one of the popular Tibetan saints, was a disciple of Marpa. He was said to have achieved Buddhahood in one lifetime. He was a yogi, singer and a poet of many songs. He is famous because of his biography and his hundred thousand songs which popularised Buddhist thought. He is normally depicted with a hand between ear and mouth, a gesture that expresses the act of singing.
A lāma or Buddhist monk is an inseparable part of Tibetan life and culture. Originally the epithet was restricted to the head of the monastery. However, out of respect a Buddhist monk or a priest is also addressed as lāma. The origin of this tradition goes back to the 8th century CE when Guru Padmasambhava founded the first monastery at Samye in Tibet around 779 CE.
The maṇḍala is the most admired symbol of Tibetan religion. It is means a religious container of the Dharmadhātu essence. Maṇḍala symbolises both the mind and the body of the Buddha. Even though one maṇḍala may look different from another, the basic composition consists of various combinations of squares and circles. Both peaceful and angry deities may reside in a maṇḍala. Invariably each maṇḍala consists of a presiding guardian deity, mahāsiddhas and other symbols. This mandala is of Akṣobhya – one of the dhyāni Buddhas.
The Sanskrit word Cintāmaṇi literally means a "wish-granting jewel." This plaque depicts Cintāmaṇi Lokeśvara flanked by acolytes. His right hand is held near his navel in gesture of going-for-refuge, and with his left hand he is holding a branch of a fabulous tree bearing jewels as its fruits. Through the grace of Cintāmaṇi Lokeśvara all physical and spiritual desires of devotees are fulfilled. Such hanging plaques were made in Nepal and kept in household shrines.
Aprons, caps and ornaments made of human bones are worn by Heruka and yidam or guardian deities. The tantrik masters wear them at the time of performing special rituals. Wearing these garments during the cham dance, lāmas transform themselves into deities.
Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu
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