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8. Book Cover with the Bodhisattva Dharmodgata and Attendants

 Book Cover with the Bodhisattva Dharmodgata and Attendants

8. Book Cover with the Bodhisattva Dharmodgata and Attendants
Central Tibet, late 11th-early 12th century
Distemper on wood
74 x 27. 5 cm (291/8 x 107/8 in.)
Private collection .

The quality of painting seen in this book cover is a testament to the extraordinary importance accorded to books and the recorded tradition in early Tibet. The inner surface of the cover is divided into three sections bordered on all sides by gold bands with alternating red and green lotus petals. In the center sits the bodhisattva Dharmodgata (inscribed chos 'phags) holding a wheel between his palms. His lotus seat rests in front of a throne back with a single crossbar held up by rampant vyalas astride elephants. On it sit addorsed makaras whose foliate tails twine behind the bodhisattva's aureole. The entire ensemble is framed by a larger aureole and is set within a shrine with a low tile roof that may reflect early Tibetan architecture. The roof shares features with the Serkhang at Shalu, built between about 1027 and 1045.1 To the right of Dharmodgata is the seated bodhisattva Sadaprarudita (Always Weeping).2 He sits on a similar throne base, also guarded by recumbent lions. One leg rests on the ground, tucked in close to the body, and the other is slightly raised and placed to the side. The torso and head are turned in the direction of the raised leg. In early Tibetan art variants of this pose are used repeatedly for attendant bodhisattvas., Sadaprarudita sits against a pillow and his aureole is flanked by two yellow devices, which on careful examination can be seen to contain hamsas (geese) with elaborate tails, a substitute for the torana found in eastern Indian manuscripts.Sadaprarudita is also surrounded by a large aureole, and two cloud-borne vidyadharas, one holding a parasol and the other a fly whisk, fill the corners of his flower-strewn niche. The two bodhisattvas may illustrate an episode from the Ashtasahasrika Prajnapararnita, in which the spiritual asp)rant Sadaprarudita finally achieves bodhisattvahood in the presence of Dharmodgata.4

To Dharmodgata's left is a large kneeling figure surrounded by four attendants, all wearing crowns, earrings, and long robes whose wide sleeves are banded with borders. Most probably they are historical figures. They all hold their hands in a gesture of adoration (anjali mudra), and stems of lotuses emerge from between their palms; in the central figure this has metamorphosed into a triratna, a symbol of the Buddha, his doctrine, and his followers. White outer robes (usually an indication of Buddhist lay worshipers) are worn by the main figure and his two flanking attendants, all of whom are set on lotus bases. Red robes (a sign of high rank) are worn by the two attendants above. The disposition of four figures around a large central one suggests a mandala.

Possibly, in hope of gaining merit toward his enlightenment, the central figure, whose pose mirrors that of Sadaprarudita, commissioned a Prajna paramita manuscript with book covers, and this is the lone surviving part. Certainly the symmetric opposition of the divine bodhisattva and the crowned lay Buddhist, in like attitudes, each facing toward the bodhisattva Dharmodgata, would seem to imply this. Susan Huntington has suggested that the divine characteristics of halos and lotus seats accompanying lay donors in a Pala stela may "suggest that the individuals ... conceive of themselves as having attained the certainty of being reborn in paradise, the promised benefit of meritorious works...."5

The book cover is superbly rendered. The line is masterful, the proportions elegant, and the figures are lithe and enlivened by individuality. Even the vyalas and elephants in Dharmodgata's throne are unusually vibrant. The durable wood surface has allowed the pigments to survive largely intact. The colors are particularly varied, with a large number of subtle tones that include pale raspberry pinks, mint greens, an ocherlike saturated yellow, pale and slate blues. Like several other works in this exhibition, the book cover displays a number of anomalous characteristics that may associate it with the early mural tradition more than with the Bengali-inspired style. The presence of the single-tier throne back is uncharacteristic of the Bengali-inspired style, as is the presence of the lion guardians in the base shown fully and in profile. Finally, the disposition of the mandala-like ensemble of donor and attendants is reminiscent of the pentads of Tathagatas and vajra deities surrounding a central figure in the early Mandala of Vairochana (see fig. 13). Its format and style seem to point to a late-eleventh-century date and a Tibetan provenance, but they also serve to show how accomplished indigenous painting of the period could be.   SMK

1  See Vitali 1990, pl. 47.

2  The inscription reads rtag-tu ngu (Takdu Ngu).

3  See, for example, cat. nos. 4, 5, and 10, where both legs are held tight to the body.

4  See Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa 1961, P. 309, in which it is noted that Atisha touched upon the life story of Sadaprarudita. See also Snellgrove 1987, p. 60.

5  Seattle 1990, p. 157.

all text & images © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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