13. Bhurkumkuta
(cat. pl. 25)
c. 15th-16th centuries
Gilt copper with pigment
h. 14.2cm


Perhaps the most accomplished work of Tibetan art in the Nyingjei Lam Collection, this exceptional image was executed with supreme mastery. Bhurkumkuta (sme [ba] brtsegs pa or sme brtsegs dud kha)241 is a wrathful form of Vajrapani who serves an important function in the transformation of the mundane spirits on the periphery of wrathful deity mandalas and sometimes acts as gate-keeper. 242 The figure assumes a powerful stance in pratyalidha and holds his six arms aloft menacingly. The mouths roar with rage, exposing teeth, fangs and tongues. Eyebrows and moustaches are angry flames, echoing Bhurkumkuta's explosive fury; the hair is likewise drawn into a mound of fire.

The modelling of Bhurkumkuta's form is reminiscent of that employed for similar deities in the murals of the Gyantse Kumbum. There is a figure of Krodha Trailokyadharsana at Gyantse which, like Bhurkumkuta, has a diminutive but corpulent body with a distended lower abdomen.243 The facial features of some wrathful deities at Gyantse are also similar to those of Bhurkumkuta, especially the misshapen, wide nose and the flaming brows.244 Moreover, Gyantse deities wear similar jewellery, including single or double bangles adorned with one main decorative element.245 The jewellery, like that of Yongle period works, is not inlaid and was never meant to be set with gems.246 The tigerskin lower garment is arranged so that the tiger's head appears to devour Bhurkumkuta's right knee, a playful conceit that also appears in the murals at Gyantse.247

The scarf is also a determinant in ascribing a date to this work: it falls off the upper arms, making one dramatic loop on either side of the torso and enlivening the space beneath his arms. Similar textile flourishes can be found in c. fifteenth-century Tibetan paintings, including a Raktayamari in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and a Vajrasattva in the Robert Ellsworth Collection.248 (cat. pl. 25)

241. See Lokesh Chandra (1991), fig. 733.
242. The authors thank Dr. Gyurme Dorje for this information on Bhurkumkuta, in correspondence dated 10 January 1999.
243. Ricca and Lo Bue (1993), p. 170
244. Ricca and Lo Bue (1993), pp. 154 and 156; also p. 164 (for the brows)
245. Ricca and Lo Bue (1993), p. 170.
246. See Weldon (1996), figs. 3-10.
247. Animal heads appear to devour the upper arms of those who wear their skins, See Ricca and Lo Bue (1993), p. 153.
248. Published in Rhie and Thurman (1991), p. 234 and pp. 332-3, respectively. See also Ricca and Lo Bue (1993), p. 153 and a c. fifteenth-sixteenth-century sculpture of Hayagriva formerly in the Pan-Asian Collection, published in Pal (1977), p. 187.

images © Nyingjei Lam
text © D. Weldon, Jane C. Singer