HIMALAYAS | NEPAL | PAINTING

56 Divinities, Pancaraksa Devi Mandala
Lhachog Sengge (1468-1535) 
Ngor monastery
Distemper on cloth

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56 Divinities, Pancaraksa Devi Mandala
Lhachog Sengge (1468-1535) 
Tibet, Ngor monastery
Distemper on cloth, original cloth mount and original red lacquered dowel
Portrait approx. 16 x 13 1/4 in. (41 x 33.8 cm.)
Full dimensions without pole 25.5 x 15 3/4 in. (64.5 x 40 cm.), related mantras to reverse, (Hr) 
Provenance:
Viennese private ownership. Technical certificate available from Prof Schreiner, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, August 2017.

This thangka features the image of a 56-divinity Pañcarakā Devī Maṇḍala (ib. Srung ba lha mo lnga lha lnca bcu nga drug gi dkyil ‘khor) from the Kriyātantra division of the famous compendium of 139 Ngor Maṇḍalas[1] from Tibet. The Maṇḍala is dedicated to the group of five female protective deities, who were considered to be the personifications of five early Buddhist texts (Skt. Sūtra; Tib. mDo), the oldest dating from the middle of the 1st millennium AD. Each of the five divinities have specific functions, and it is their role to bring about worldly prosperity and luck, prevent natural catastrophes, conquer fear, and repel disease. Although they are termed ‘Raka‘ – which means demon – all of them are treated and seen as meditation deities (Tib. Yi dam). They enjoy great popularity – primarily in the Himalaya region and in Central Asia – and are even venerated in China and Japan.

The five divinities are depicted in diverse forms, depending on the tradition and ritual practices involved, varying, for instance, in the number of heads and arms shown. In the Ngor tradition featured here, which belongs to the Buddhist Sakya School, the eight-armed white goddess, Mahāpratisarāvidyārājñī (Tib. So sor ‘brang ma) with her four faces is seen in the centre of the Maṇḍala. Her main visage is white, the one to the right is blue, the one to the left is red, and the one facing the rear is yellow. She sits adorned with ornaments and robes in the vajra pose (Skt. Vajrāsana), her four right hands variously holding a sceptre in the form of a thunderbolt (Skt. Vajra), an arrow, a sword and a wheel. Her four left hands respectively hold a trident, a bow, an axe and a sling. Surrounding the white goddess in a circle are four other female deities facing the four heavenly directions, each direction having been assigned its own colour, which are mirrored again in the outer floral colour fields. Shown to the west is the red three-headed, twelve-armed Mahāmantrānusāriī (Tib. gSang sngags rjes ‘dzin ma). To the north, an image of the green three-headed, six-armed Mahāśītavatī(Tib. bSel ba’i rshal chen mo). To the east is the blue four-headed, eight-armed Mahāsāhasrapramardinī (Tib. sTong chen rab ‘joms), and to the south, the yellow three-headed, eight-armed Mahāmayūrī (Tib. rMa bya chen mo). Vases are placed between each of the deities.

The five divinities are encompassed by a second circle featuring the ten Buddhist forms of the Hindu gods of the earth, who act as protective deities watching over the ten directions (Skt. Dikpāla; Tib. Phyogs skyon): VaruaVāyuYakaIśānaBrahmaIndraAgniYamaRākasa and Pthivī. A third circle contains the nine planetary divinities (Skt. Grahas; Tib. Gza’): Śukra (Venus), Śan aikara (Saturn), Rāhu (Lord of the Planets), Ketu (Comet), Āditya (Sun), Soma (Moon), Magala (Mars), Budha (Mercury) and Bhaspati (Jupiter). The fourth circle features images of the 28 houses of the moon (Skt. Nakatras; Tib. rGyu skar).

The Maṇḍala palace is surrounded by a square red veranda, on which a further 16 sacrificial divinities are located. The palace walls are delineated in blue and white, its richly decorated gates being guarded by the four kings of the heavenly directions (Skt. Lokapāla; Tib. ‘jig rten skyong ba): Virūpāka (west), Vaiśravaa (north), Dhtarāṣṭra (east) and Virūhaka (south). The Maṇḍala is encircled by two protective polychrome outer rings consisting of lotus leaves and flames.

Beyond the Maṇḍala there are a further four deities, each assigned to a corner of the thangka. To the upper left, there is the future Buddha, Maitreya (Tib. Byams pa) and to the right, the Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī (Tib. Jam dpal). Mirroring them to the lower margin are two depictions of Jambhala (Tib. Dzam ba la), the guardian of wealth and abundance, shown in both his peaceful and angry manifestations. Each divinity is flanked by two auspicious symbols: the victory banner, the parasol, the treasure vase, the conch, the pair of goldfish, the endless knot, the wheel and the lotus.

The painting style is strongly influenced by Nepalese aesthetics, and shows a great predilection for red, characteristic of thangkas and wall paintings of the Sakya School and the Ngor tradition of the 15th and 16th centuries. The colour palette is intense and vibrant, and the composition as a whole is balanced and symmetrical in form. To the reverse of the painting is a verse intended as a dedication: “This assembly of divinities belonging to the Maṇḍala of meditation deities was executed by Vidyadhara Lhachog Sengge.”[2] Lhachog Sengge (1468-1535) was the ninth abbot of Ngor Monastery in Tibet, and was responsible for the production of many works, all of which bear a similar Tibetan dedication.[3]

[1] bSod nams rgya mtsho (1983) Tibetan Maṇḍalas. The Ngor Collection, vol. II, Tokyo.
[2] Tibetan inscription: yi dam dkyil ‘khor gyi lha tshogs ‘di / rig pa ‘dzin pa lha mchog seng ges bzhengs; translation into German from Tibetan by Dr Alexander Schiller.
[3] See HAR [www.himalayanart.org/items/89798; /87012; /65020; /65463; /88554; /41215; /269]

Central divinity:
[I] Mahāpratisarāvidyārājñī (Tib. So sor ‘brang ma)

Inner circle:
[II1] Mahāmantrānusāriṇī (Tib. gSang sngags rjes ‘dzin ma)
[II2] Mahāśītavatī (Tib. bSel ba’i rshal chen mo)
[II3] Mahāsāhasrapramardinī (Tib. sTong chen rab ‘joms)
[II4] Mahāmayūrī (Tib. rMa bya chen mo)
[II5-8] Vase

Second circle: the Buddhist forms of the gods of the earth (Skt. Dikpāla; Tib. Phyogs skyon)
[III1] Varuṇa (Tib. Chu lha)
[III2] Vāyu (Tib. rLung lha)
[III3] Yakṣa (Tib. gNod sbyin)
[III4] Iśāna (Tib. dBang ldan)
[III5] Brahma (Tib. Tshangs pa)
[III6] Indra (Tib. brGya byin)
[III7] Agni (Tib. Me lha)
[III8] Yama (Tib. gShin rje)
[III9] Rākṣasa (Tib. Srin po)
[III10] Pṛthivī (Tib. Sa’i lha)

Third circle: nine planetary divinities (Skt. Grahas; Tib. Gza’)
[IV1] Śukra (Tib. Pa wa sangs) – Venus, Friday
[IV2] Śanaikara (Tib. sPen pa) – Saturn, Saturday
[IV3] Rāhu (Tib. sGra gcan) – Lord of the Planets
[IV4] Ketu (Tib. mJug ring) – Comet God
[IV5] Āditya (Tib. Nyi ma) – Sun, Sunday
[IV6] Soma (Tib. Zla ba) – Moon, Monday
[IV7] Maṅgala (Tib. Mig dmar) – Mars, Tuesday
[IV8] Budha (Tib. lHag pa) – Mercury, Wednesday
[IV9] Bṛhaspati (Tib. Phur bu) – Jupiter, Thursday

Fourth circle: 28 houses of the Moon (Skt. Nakatras; Tib. rGyu skar)
[V1-28]

Gates: four kings of the heavenly directions (Skt. Lokapāla; Tib. ‘jig rten skyong ba)
[VI1] Virūpākṣa (Tib. sPyan mi bzang) – west
[VI2] Vaiśravaṇa (Tib. rNam thos sras) – north
[VI3] Dhṛtarāṣṭra (Tib. Yul ‘khor srung) – east
[VI4] Virūḍhaka (Tib. ‘Phags skyes po) – south

[1] Maitreya (Tib. Byams pa)
[2] Mañjuśrī (Tib. ‘Jam dpal)
[3] Jambhala (Tib. Dzam ba la)
[4] Black Jambhala (Tib. Dzam ba la nag po)

Eight symbols of good luck
[a1] Victory banner (Tib. rGyal mtshan)
[a2] Parasol (Tib. Rin chen gdugs)
[a3] Treasure vase (Tib. Bum pa)
[a4] Conch (Tib. Dung gyas ‘khyil)
[a5] Pair of goldfish (Tib. gSer nya)
[a6] Endless knot (Tib. dPal be’u)
[a7] Wheel (Tib. Khor lo)
[a8] Lotus (Tib. Ka dag)

The Vasudhara Mandala
Signed: Jasaraja Jirila 
Nepal
Dated 1365
Ground mineral pigment on cloth

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The Vasudhara Mandala
Signed: Jasaraja Jirila 
Nepal
Dated 1365
Ground mineral pigment on cloth
41 x 34 in. (104 x 86.4 cm.)
Provenance:
Doris Wiener, New York, circa 1970
The Collection of Stuart Cary Welch:
Sothebys, London, May 31st, 2011, lot 84

The great milk Yakshi, the great Jewel. May it be auspicious. In the Year 485 [C.E. 1365] on the Third day or tithi of the dark half of The month of Magha [January-February] the inhabitants of Yokoche … Paksa, and Khadvasuri, The donors, commissioned this painting of Vasudhara. The priest teacher (acaju, in Sanskrit, acarya) sri Julo, Vahara, and Raju are … responsible for establishing the Guthi. Jasaraja Jirila painted (liksita) this painting (jasapta).”

This sumptuous Vasudhara mandala is the earliest recorded Nepalese paubha that contains a date within its dedicatory inscription, and was painted in 1365 by Jasaraja Jirila. It may be assumed that Jasaraja Jirila was a Newar from the Kathmandu valley. Although nothing is known of the artist mentioned in the inscription his work remains one of the finest and most important of the relatively small corpus of early Buddhist and Hindu paintings from the Kathmandu Valley. Details are drawn with consummate finesse, charm and sensitivity, no more so than in the animated scenes of worship, music and dance below. Choice pigments are used throughout creating a vibrant palette, with subtle shades complimenting the predominant vermillion and midnight blue that define the early painting of Nepal. The ordered geometric schema belies the dynamism in the structure of the painting, with a sense of radiating expansion from the calm sanctuary at its centre. The distinctive shrines with cusped arches at the ordinal points are a common feature of Vasudhara mandalas from this early period, cf. a mandala of circa 1400 in a private collection, see Pal 2003, cat. no.33. And the overall format is typical for Newar painting with the inclusion of ritual scenes and portraits of the painting’s donors below; and with each framed episode from the Suchandra avadana and the Great Miracles depicted with alternating and acutely contrasting backgrounds, deep red to dark blue or white, a conventional Nepalese device used already in 12th century manuscript cover illustration, see Zwalf 1985, pls.169, 172. A consecratory practice peculiar to Nepalese painting, of placing a tablet of gold beneath the painted surface at the heart of the principal deity, may explain the darkened square seen on the upper body of Vasudhara, see Bruce-Gardner 1975, pp.378-81.

The Buddhist goddess Vasudhara is worshipped in Nepal as bestower of prosperity, and is depicted at the centre of the painting holding emblems of wealth and abundance and symbols of the Buddhist faith. The scenes in the side registers and the lower of the two upper registers refer to episodes from the legend of Suchandra whose son stole bricks from a stupa: the sacrilegious act resulted in the breakdown of the family and the loss of their wealth. Suchandra supplicated the Buddha with meagre offerings, all that he could muster in his straightened circumstances. The Buddha advised that he worshipped Vasudhara, and his wealth was restored. The story promotes the devotional worship of the goddess and is often included in Nepalese Vasudhara mandalas, see Pal 1975, p.82. Indeed Vasudhara is one of the most popular goddesses in Nepal. According to mythology she is the consort of the king of the nature spirits who are invoked for bountiful harvests: Vasudhara is traditionally depicted holding a sheaf of grain in one of her left hands. Furthermore the inscription pays homage to Vasudhara as sristanyayakshi, srimani, the great milk yakshi, the great jewel, equating wealth and prosperity with the ownership of cattle and the bountiful production of milk, see Pal 2003, p.280 for the translation and interpretation of the inscription by Gautama V. Vajracharya. This exquisite Vasudhara mandala was painted during the reign of the Nepalese Malla king Jayarjunadeva (r.1361-1382), a period of relative calm in Nepal following recent punishing Muslim raids, and remains a document to the artistic genius that made Newar artists famed and sought-after throughout the Himalayan region, and as far afield as the Chinese imperial courts of the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.