5. The Elder Arhat Kanakavatsa
c. 18th century
Ground mineral pigments on cloth
36 ¼ x 24 in.(92 x 61 cm.)
HAR # 36292
Provenance: Koller Zurich, June 1978, lot 46
The seventh of the sixteen great Arhats adorned in a red and orange patchwork robe heightened with gold leaf details. Seen seated on a lush green landscape, surrounded by trees, rocks, and a muttering stream: features characteristically Chinese in style, a syncretic attribute derived from the intimate relationship between China and Tibet created by the conversion of Kublai Khan, the Mongol ruler of China, to Tibetan Buddhism. The haloed and mature saint with eyes opened wide and gazing intently as he holds a jeweled lasso in his hands, according to the legends the jewels serve to give wisdom and understanding of Buddhist doctrine and were a gift of the Nagas. In the richly colored sky sit the sun and moon.
In “Art of Tibet: A Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection, June 1984, pg. 137, plate 4” Dr. Pratapaditya Pal references an early Arhat thangka, possibly of Kanakavatsa, with heavy Chinese influences. In this thangka an attendant figure is positioned offering a bowl to the Arhat. Dr. Pal explains that this iconography can also be seen in an eleventh century description of an Arhat series by an unknown Song master, in which “Kanakavatsa is worshipped by the King of Kashmir who sits on the right-hand side, the Arhat makes a mudra. Before him a flower bowl is placed…” Dr. Pal explains that “The kneeling figure in this thangka (LACMA), wearing the rich figured silk and offering the lapis lazuli flower, may be the “barbarian” king of Kashmir who is said to have visited Kanakavatsa…” One might postulate that the attendant figure in this thangka may also be the “barbarian king of Kashmir” offering a stylized vessel in homage.
“Arhats are the saints of Buddhism, followers of the Buddha who have attained freedom from ignorance and suffering. In the Hîyâna school of Buddhism, the Arhat was considered to be the Buddhist ideal, but in later Mahāyāna Buddhism this role was taken over by the Bodhisattva. Arhats remained important in Tibetan Buddhism as protectors of the doctrine. Prayers were said to them and they were credited with many miracles.”– British Museum.