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Two Illustrated Leaves from a Prajnaparamita Manuscript
a) Buddha Shakyamuni and Prajnaparamita
b) Manjushri and a Bodhisattva with Donors
Central Tibet, 13th century
Ink and pigments on paper, each page 9 3/8 x 27 1/4 in (23.8 x 69.2 cm)
Catalogue #137

These two leaves constitute the first (a) and last (b) folios of an Ashtasahasrika (8,000 verses) Prajnaparamita manuscript. The text is written in white on paper dyed blue, a practice also encountered at about the same time in Nepal (see Pal 1985, pp. 58-59, figs. P5-P6). Stylistically, as well, the illustrations are closely related to the Nepali manuscripts, making it likely that the artist was a Newar or a Tibetan working in a workshop in Newar.

Fortunately, the last leaf (b) contains post-colophon statements that provide us with interesting information as well as two labels identifying the two figures dressed in Tibetan attire. We are told (see appendix) that the manuscript, characterized as a sacred object, was prepared for the benefit of the next rebirth of devout parents who were from Shang. Shang is the name of a place in the province of Tsang, north of Tashilunpo, according to both Das's dictionary and to Zamling Gyeshe's Geography of Tibet (see Wylie 1962, p. 225). The inscription further wishes that the donation would also benefit all the people of U. a province in central Tibet. Presumably, the two seated figures in the posture of adoration with offerings in the green panel represent the parents, whose names are Jo-sey De-chen and Jomo Lo-tse.

It is likely, therefore, that the manuscript was commissioned by offspring of Jo-sey De-chen and Jomo Lo-tse, who were from Shang but, at the time of the donation, lived somewhere in U. This would explain why benefit is intended generally for the people of that district. Interestingly, the manuscript was commissioned not for the "enlightenment" of the parents or their rebirth in Tushita heaven or any other paradise, but perhaps for their rebirth on earth. A second unusual feature is the characterization of Tsang in general as "Jambudvipa," which usually denotes the Indian subcontinent, but in this context probably just means "here on earth."

On the first leaf (a), the beginning of the text is embellished with a white-and-red canopy parasol with flying streamers at either end, flanked lay two auspicious objects. The two compositions depict the Buddha Shakyamuni on the left and the goddess Prajnaparamita, the deified text, on the right. Shakyamuni is represented in a shrine that is clearly meant to depict the temple at Bodhgaya, where he was enlightened, as indicated by the leafy branches of the bodhi tree above and the gesture of his right hand. Beside his throne within the arch are two kneeling and adoring Buddhas, wearing red robes like his and similar haloes. The six Buddhas above, however, sit in quiet inactivity, looking at the master. They wear blue robes, whose import is unclear. The tiered superstructure of the shrine is embellished with stupas, while garlands hang from the arch around Shakyamuni's head.

The four-armed Prajnaparamita is also seated on a lion throne like that of Shakyamuni's, but there is no shrine. Instead, the yellow figure is set off against an elaborate throne back with gajasimha motifs on the side (a lion with a human rider trampling an elephant), makaras with luxuriant, foliate tails, and a face of glory (kirtimukha) at the summit. Exuding immense power, this stylized lion's face with human hands is extracting two serpents from his mouth. His head is crowned with solar and lunar symbols. Prajnaparamita holds the rosary and the book with her upper hands, while the second right hand displays the gesture of teaching. Her left hand rests on her lap. Two nimbed males flank her thrones, and eight others in similar attitudes are included above the throne. These are possibly bodhisattvas being instructed by the goddess.

The figure on the left in the second leaf (is) may be identified as the bodhisattva Manjushri by his yellow complexion and the teaching (dharmachakram~tdra) gesture of his hands. Without any elaborate throne, he sits on a lotus and is surrounded by an aureole with a flaming border. By contrast, the illustration on the other side is more elaborate, showing a male deity in a chariot. In typically Nepali fashion, he is seated with one leg hanging down and the other folded horizontally, his body turned slightly to his right and his head in three-quarter profile. His hands are placed in front of him in a loose version of the gesture of adoration. While he is yellow complexioned, his two kneeling female attendants are red. Curiously, the charioteer is leading one of the two horses by the reins rather than driving the carriage. What this scene represents is not clear, though it is likely that the male rider is a bodhisattva. Apart from introducing an element of iconographic mystery, this composition is a departure from conventional modes of illuminating the colophon pages of such works.

all text and images © The Trustees of the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore


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