5-7 Novembre 2018
Basilica di SanDomenico Maggiore, Sala del Capitolo, Napoli
In West Nepal, the Karnali region is home to an ancient and still vital visual tradition of ornamenting monuments. Yet the oldest testimonies of this heritage can only be traced back to the 12th century. The area was then the heartland of the Khaś Malla empire (12th–14th century), one of the largest Himalayan political entities.
Hindu and Buddhist cults co-existed during the medieval period. Hindu rituals were performed in stone “tower temples” (śikharas) and on their premises. As for Buddhism, most discovered artefacts consist of reliquary monuments (stūpas), with the exception of the monumental temple of Kakrevihār (Surkhet district). Medieval ritual images, such as stone and metal sculptures, constitute a heterogeneous body that, to some extent – though, as will be seen, not exclusively – pertains to Buddhism and Hinduism in their orthodox forms (in opposition to regional forms, especially of Hinduism, as emphasized elsewhere by M. N. Srinivas and Gerald D. Berreman). Beside the śikharas and stūpas, memorial stone pillars and fountains were also erected across the Khaś Malla territory. Although the decor on stūpas remains inexistent, the medieval tower temples, fountains and pillars present a rich visual vocabulary.
The present-day religion of the Karnali region is a form of “regional Hinduism” that is practised in specific temples located in villages or in the surrounding forest. A main feature of this local Hinduism is the engagement of oracle-mediums (dhāmīs) who incarnate various gods and entities through their trances. The temples where the dhāmīs operate are usually richly adorned by wooden bas-reliefs and three-dimensional sculptures. The latter have so far been only presented as primitive art objects, only good for tribal art collectors and usually decontextualized from their original relation to the architecture and its decor.
The close study of a recently gathered documentation will allow a relevant appraisal of rather overlooked artistic idioms. Starting with the presentation of the earliest known representations of oracle-mediums, I will then observe the continuities and discontinuities of patterns and iconographies, from the medieval period to the present day. Interestingly, as will be demonstrated, some of these representations are directly linked to the ritual, and more specifically to its officiant, the oracle-medium (dhāmī) or the shaman (jhāñkri). They therefore provide information about the regional perceptions and semantics of what a deity, or a spirit, is, and how it is visualised by medieval and contemporary artists, which will be the main focus of the discussion.
The presentation will mainly consider bas-reliefs and statues in their architectural and cultural context.
Wars between neighboring clans were frequent in historical times, and it is one of the tasks of local deities to support the clan from which they receive offerings. With this respect, la btsas became a representation of ancient clanship and vernacular religion. The symbols of Buddhism used during la btsas rituals and offerings were embedded in a traditional system of folk customs.
At the centre of our recent observation of la btsas cult is a small village in Amdo region of Tibet, named Dumpa. The farming population of the village respects the local deity, Me stag dgra 'joms, and performs an annual ritual to renew his la btsas and to satisfy his wishes. The rituals and customs connected to Me stag dgra 'joms originated in recent centuries, taking the place of a more ancient deity's cult. This representation of religious transition shows the dynamic changes of modern Tibetan communities through the elements of a folk tradition. Since in this study partly we have relied on interviews with local villagers, the cult of la btsas will be presented through both an emic and an etic approach.
The paper is devoted to the political propaganda through the visual art in Islamic Afghanistan and Transoxiana. The political ritual as it appears in the Ghaznavid monuments (10th–13th c.), in particular in Ghazni, represents an important step in a proto-Islamic tradition of the elaboration of previous images with a ritual and protocol function. The debate on images permeates the following centuries in Iran and Central Asia. As a result of various polemical positions on the role of imagery, the emergence of a strong and widespread epigraphic tradition, marks the subsequent periods: if, during the Saljuq era, imagery survive in various media, in particular in metalworks, architectural decoration become the natural place for a large and developed epigraphic programme. The texts replaced the space previously devoted to mural decorations. The conference will consider a wide group of paintings, engraved stones and ceramics for architectural uses with a reference to the sites of Ghazni and Samarqand.
Investigating the role of images in Tibetan religious culture and ritual, one may certainly come across the famous giant fabric thangkas used for public display and worship. At the beginning of my presentation, I intend to briefly outline the tradition of such textile images by discussing selected examples important for its historical development as well as for understanding the underlying aspects of producing and displaying them. This will include the history, religious background and ritual function of the monumental fabric thangkas held in monasteries of various Tibetan schools such as Mtshur phu monastery of the Karma Bka' brgyud, Smin grol gling of the Rnying ma, and the monasteries of Bkra shis lhun po, Bla brang and Sku 'bum, all belonging to the Dge lugs. The characteristics of such thangkas will be further highlighted by comparing and analysing three specific giant Maitreya thangkas commissioned in the eighteenth century. Based on the inventories composed by Ngag dbang blo bzang chos ldan (1642-1714) in 1703, 'Jam dpal rgya mtsho (1758–1804) in 1793 and Dharmabhadra (1772-1851) in 1795, one gains an insight into the reasons for their production, artistic features, consecration rituals, intended forms of worship and anticipated benefits for individuals and communities. Certain facets will be broadened and deepened by discussing a few further thangkas such as the giant Dga' ldan lha brgya ma thangka commissioned by the famous Third Trijang Rinpoche (1901–1981) for his monastery in Cha phreng in present-day Sichuan in 1936. It will be demonstrated that this thangka can be regarded as a good example for a monumental two-dimensional image serving as repository of relics in order to implement a particular religio-political hierarchy by ritual and visual means. In the last part of my talk, I will discuss the so-called Golden Rosary festival (ser phreng), also known as the Great Assembly of Worship (tshogs mchod chen mo), introduced by Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho (1653–1705) for the recently-deceased Fifth Dalai Lama (1617–1682). It was held on the second month in Lhasa when two giant thangkas were unfurled and a grand procession was held. My examination will be based on Tibetan texts such as the regulations for this ceremony written by the regent, murals depicting the festival painted in the Potala palace, and historic photographs held in the collections of The Pitt Rivers Museum and The British Museum. After briefly outlining the structure and characteristics of this festival, I will offer some conclusions regarding the relationship between image and ritual in the context of the phenomenon of putting giant textile thangkas on display. I would suggest that sometimes, in a specific context, it might be worthwhile to see things from a different perspective in order to understand all aspects. Rather than merely seeing an image as instrument and as reflection of ritual, one may also consider regarding a ritual as instrument and as reflection of images.
The Late Prehistoric rock art engraved on the open air stone walls and volcanic boulders of the Mongolian Altai Mountains can be broadly ascribed to the iconography and iconology of the Late Bronze and Iron Age rock art of Central Eurasia (Rozwadowski & Lymer 2012; Sanjmiatav 1995; Tseveendorj et al. 2007). In recent years, the ritual values and practices possibly associated with the Late Prehistoric Eurasian rock art have been actively reconsidered in the archaeological literature, particularly for Western Europe and Scandinavia (Bradley & Nimura 2013; Fredell et al. 2010; McDonald & Veth 2012; Mulk & Baliss-Smith 2007; Porr & Bell 2008). In this frame, the analysis of the ritual activities possibly associated with Central Asian rock art has mainly focused on the iconography and its connection with ancient cosmologies, myths, and rituals, such as the representation of Indo-European or Inner Asian shamanic ceremonies and the divine quality of certain anthropomorphic or zoomorphic motifs (Jacobson 1993; Rozwadowski 2004). Also, the context and symbolism of Central Asian rock art have been explored in relation to engraving techniques and the localisation of rock art sites, stressing their possible ritual and liminal character (Lymer 2010).
In this paper, I would like to explore another essential element encompassing most of the Mongolian rock art: the accumulation, reiteration, and superposition of certain iconographic motives on the same rock surface or at the same site over time. This is particularly noticeable at rock art sites that used to be, and often still are, seasonal pastoral campsites. In fact, in the Mongolian Altai Mountains, ancient rock art engravings can be often found at present pastoral campsites, as it has been verified after several fieldworks in the research area of the Ikh Bogd Uul Mountain, Eastern Altai, Southern Mongolia (see figure). Long-term pastoral returns to seasonal settlement areas in Central Asian Mountains have been also demonstrated by archaeological and radio-carbon analysis (Frachetti & Maryashev 2007; Lugli 2008). In this study, I propose to analyse this correspondence from the point of view of persistent rituality. In fact, as the seasonal movements of the local pastoral communities, rituality appears intrinsically connected with reiteration and cyclicity (Baumann 2008). In this paper, I aim to explore the hypothesis that the materialisation of ancient cosmologies and symbolism in Mongolian rock art images may be interpreted in the light of the rituality entangled in the periodical returns and cyclical mobility of the local pastoral communities over time.
One of the epithets of Vairocana the ‘Resplendent’ (rNam par snang mdzad) is Durgatipariśodhana (Ngan song sbyong ba), the ‘Purifier of the Ill-Fated Rebirths’. The Sarvadurgatipariśodhana tantra (Ngan song thams cad yongs su sbyong ba'i rgyud), henceforth SDPS, the ‘Elimination of All Ill-Fated Rebirths’, together with the Guhyasamāja tantra, is one of the most ancient Buddhist text to have been translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan during the 8th century. In fact, the SDPS tantra is not to be found in the corpus of Rin chen bzang po (958-1055) translations, since it should have been in circulation possibly from the First Diffusion (bstan.pa snga.dar), at the time of the sPu rgyal dynasty. However, Rin chen bzang po is credited with the translation of two commentaries regarding the SDPS. The SDPS seems to have played a considerable role in shaping the religious history of Tibet, overturning the old traditional customs and, at the same time, attests to the popularity of the Vairocana cult since the imperial epoch.
The power transition from dMu rgyal Gri gum btsan po to his son, sPu rgyal sPu de Gung rgyal, could be interpreted as a fracture between two cultural, political and religious ages. Now that the kings had ceased to disappear into the empyrean, and began instead to leave their lifeless bodies on earth, the approach to the “problem” of Death changed, and the idea of a second world of existence prevailed. The concept of a mutual relationship between Living and Dead constituted a spiritual, psychological and sociological background for a crucial shift in the funerary customs.
By the time of sPu rgyal Mu ne btsan.po (761-798), apparently the main text and maṇḍala employed in all funerary rituals appertained to the tantra on the Elimination of All the Ill-Fated Rebirths, together with the main maṇḍala of Vairocana the ‘Omniscient’ (Sarvavid Vairocana – Kun rig rNam par snang mdzad). In the contraposition and debate with the local priestly class, the newcomer Buddhist clergy indeed showed itself to be more convincing; facing the questions arising from the ineluctability of death, the Buddhist philosophical vision seems to have gained consent at the sPu rgyal court, when compared with the archaic ritualism and way of life. Therefore, the confrontation on the plane of Death and after-Death could have led to a radical change in the religious and political history of Tibet, leaving a lasting trace in the whole life of the Tibetan world, for a new intellectual ruling class was going to replace the old one, whose liturgy, spiritual research and ritualism were patronized by the powerful yon bdag of imperial Tibet. According to this reading key, the centrality of the Vairocana image in the iconography of the early temples in central Tibet may be understood as a visual expression of the state ceremonies officiated by the Buddhist mchod gnas, who mastered the techniques for safely guiding the deceased on the perilous pathways of the bar do, emphasizing the process of purification through ritual actions and prayers. A distinctive feature seems to have been the possibility to alter the deceased’s destiny even during the after-Death journey, before incorporation into a new existence, since it was believed that along the intermediate stages between Death and Life the consciousness was in equilibrium among the lower realms and the higher, pure and joyous Buddha’s lands.
It is also possible to argue that the cult of Vairocana was not confined to the spatial and temporal framework of imperial Tibet, but instead re-surfaced at the beginning of bstan pa phyi dar in mNga’ ris sKor gsum, as a luminous thread overcoming the so-called Dark Period and connecting the First and the Second Diffusion. In fact, the art and architecture of Gu ge Pu hrang and Mar yul as well, are connoted and dominated by the Vairocana vajradhātu maṇḍala, which unfolds either in three-dimensional sculptural compositions, or in two-dimensional depictions, marvellously painted on the walls of the temples.
In Spiti, in the Pin Valley or Valley of Clouds, the various religious specialists on the margins of the Buddhist clergy include a class of tantrists known as buchen, or “great disciples” (W. bu chen, lit. “big boys”). These trace their origins to the mahāsiddha Thangtong Gyalpo (1361–1485?), and claim to perpetuate the tradition of their master and, like him, indulge in paradoxes, excesses and laughter, in order to provide a profound but accessible education to all as they travel from village to village, recounting the uplifting stories of men and women who sacrificed everything to spread the doctrine. During the Gewa ritual that is held seven days after the death, they relate – with the help of portable paintings - journeys to the underworld undertaken by men and women. These are very concrete stories that are much more memorable than the reading of the Bardo Thödrol performed by the monks in the private chapel of the house of the deceased, and that very few villagers understand. This paper will examine here some of the scrolls that are displayed on these occasions. The scrolls are reminiscent of Mediaeval European paintings, and present the retribution for deeds, and especially the consequences of sins, in a very explicit way, as well as the role of the buchen as “saviours”.
A two- or three-dimensional image in a ritual use becomes the ‘central essence’ of a ritual space. It is the sphere around the image which can physically be entered by the devotee. This sphere is of various dimensions reaching from small spaces allowing a direct contact to the central image as it is the case in a temple, to the circumambulation of settlement structures where the pilgrim gets in a far distance to the central image. In any case, the space around the image – the ‘sacred space’ – or ‘ritual space’ has to be marked for its recognition for those who intend its entry in a physical and spiritual form. These markers are of different shape but what they have in common is their appearance in a materialised and physically present form. Such markers may be walls which encompass a ritual space of a temple or sacred objects such as chorten which describe a certain route within a coded space. Even in a pure idealised form of a ‘sacred’ space as it is the case in Buddhist cosmology, e.g. according to the Abhidharma, the imagination of the central presence of Mount Meru is dependent on the imagination of its surrounding space, which again gains its imaginable presence by the objectification of markers such as oceans or islands. A surrounding space is needed for the definition of a centre and finally gives the raison d’être to a centre.
The addressed matter we find globally in various rituals, defined by religious and cultural preconditions. This presentation focusses on ‘the space around’ to define a centre of a selected group of settlements in the Western Himalayas – in particular such which house some of the earliest Buddhist remains like Tabo, Alchi or Nyarma. A context between the respective spiritual centre and the surrounding settlement, the integration of markers of the ritual space and its use is questioned and juxtaposed. How is space organised in relation to a central core – in various cases to a central image? Based on ongoing research, we may state the use of similar markers for the objectification of these settlements’ ritual space but for each of them an individual spatial concept. The ‘sacred space’ as a ‘ritual space’ is – besides the physical markers manifested by the ritual movement of the pilgrim. The central image becomes the core of this overall religious spatial program, which will be discussed within this contribution.
In recent years, archaeological excavations of Buddhist sites in Afghanistan have yielded new examples of lay donors’ portraiture in different media such as sculpture, painting, and luxury vessels with stamped decoration, which can be broadly assigned to the Huna period. Though not many, these new additions offer an encouragement to start assembling the available evidence, in an attempt to detect compositional models and formulaic visual repertories of symbols as a valid, non-textual source of interpretation. Recurrent iconographic schemes, the physical placement of the donor figures and the contextual linkage of the individual components, besides suggesting ritualised conventions, may provide significant clues to the function and meaning of these visual allegories, which proclaim, without any accompanying written records, the donors’ presence, rank, intentions, and privileged interaction with the divine.
In particular, the paper will discuss the message embedded in family groups, with a special focus on the role of women and children, from the earlier ‘Gandharan’ stone reliefs to the ostentatious display of the late-antique stucco and clay sculpture. Also, the effigies of rulers (?) on the stamped pottery from Tapa Sardar ̶ an evidence which long remained unique ̶ will be analysed in comparison with similar specimens recently unearthed at Mes Aynak, with a view to a better definition of their common cultural horizon.
All in all, the available evidence is not yet sufficient to enable us to establish clear and consistent patterns. However, it unambiguously testifies to the strong intersection between lay patronage and monastic communities during the Huna period, while at the same time enabling us to perceive the historical dimension of rhetorical constructs, as well as trends of continuity and change in social and cultural behaviour.
Known as “Sasanian,” Central Asia textiles, mainly woven in the Sogdian-Turfanese area, present a variety of zoomorphic figures enclosed in roundels that became popular in Eurasia, and were widely reproduced especially after the decline of the Sasanian Empire (224–651), until the late medieval period. To date, not a single textile fragment of this type, datable to the Sasanian period, has been discovered in Iran, or in Central China. Nevertheless, these textile images can be linked to the rock relief of Ṭāq-e Bostān, and have been recognized and accepted as Sasanian. Sometimes depicted as crowned or with royal insignia, these figures appear on metal works, mural paintings, and texts. But what or who do these animals represent? How were they envisioned? Why did they become so popular? How did they cross borders? Most importantly, why did they substitute human portraits? The process that accompanies the representation of this common imagery, as a means of emulation of universal power, that spread in Central Asia could not avoid the implication of various groups at any social level, first and after the Sasanian period; but a human portrait remains a rare (almost absent) image in textile.
Developed from a more extensive ontological and interdisciplinary study that will be published in 2019 with the title Transcending Patterns: Silk Road Cultural and Artistic Interaction(s) through Central Asian Textile Images, this paper aims to disclose the super-mundane role that zoomorphic figures played in Central Asia art. Traced back to the Pazyryk carpet, discovered in the Altai and dated to the 5th cent. BCE., the medieval case studies that will be presented have been technically, stylistically and iconographically analyzed in the last decade of research. Examples from various geographic areas, often used for the afterlife, have been compared and historically contextualized, showing the entangled relationship between objects and humans, as “the dialectic of dependence and dependency” (I.Hodder. Entangled; 2012). Shaped upon an accepted Turko-Iranian matrix, these zoomorphic images were continuously adapted and included in Central Asian royal and religious strata, implying but not portraying.
Cultural-historical conceptual categories such as the Silk Roads, Steppe Peoples, Frontiers, or even certain other geographic-cultural ones like Sogdiana, have always been perceived and observed in ancient Central Asian studies as distinct entities. The transmission of iconographic values and, tout court, images that crossed those itineraries and cultures, have always appeared as inevitable and almost necessary ideological-cultural grounds and, in this case, especially religious, conveyed together with men and women, merchants and artisans who brought them, transmitting their differences to very differing political realities and peoples. One can, however, begin to observe and propose different interpretations for those categories, especially considering the extreme permeability of the borders (geographical, cultural, and political) that underlie them and the very special nature of the transmitted immaterial values. The Silk Roads are nothing other than the areas of frontiers interposed since protohistory (the Jade Road, for example) and then between some major state and / or imperial entities of antiquity (such as China, Parthian Iran, Kushanas and Rome), and at least until the early medieval age constituted the perennial itineraries that have crossed the East and the West. We will examine some examples of the transmission of images from the early protohistory to the Buddhist era, crossing those routes, starting especially from Sogdiana!
This study explores the depictions of certain rituals featured on two reliquaries found in Subashï, near Kuča on the Northern Silk Road and dated between the 6th and the 7th century. One reliquary shows separate figures sitting in roundels or beside them, playing musical instruments. The other reliquary depicts dressed up, dancing people with masks and musicians in a kind of procession.
The musicians resemble portraits of the local donors in the wall paintings of Kuča. They are clad in long caftans and boots comparable to Iranian fashion. Other figures, however, differ strongly from the afore-mentioned: They seem to move vividly, wear animal masks and jester-like costumes with skirts and bells. How are the different figures connected to each other? What do their clothing and attributes tell us about the context and subject of the representation?
The sharing of the Buddha’s relics is an important part of the Buddhist narrative. It is also depicted in the wall paintings of Kuča, showing four kings on each side of Droṇa, each of them carrying one reliquary. The cylindrical base and conical top of these representations correspond exactly to the find of the three- dimensional object. Former investigations agreed on the topic of the two reliquaries being the depiction of a certain ritual. However, there is disagreement on the specific topic and elements. One suggestion is that the paintings show the Iranian spring festival Nowruz alluding to the annual revival of life and rebirth. Another thesis suggests that the animal masks could be borrowed from Egyptian death rituals, in which the death god Anubis is marked by a jackal mask. He has the function to collect the torn-up pieces of Osiris’ body in order to reassemble them.
By comparing the reliquary scenes to further pictorial representations and to written sources it shall be investigated, what speaks for the particular assumption, or if there is another plausible explanation for the subject of the paintings.
In the architecture of the Western Himalayan Region, a specific type of stupa holds an outstanding position. Their significance is based on three characteristic features: (1) they are accessible through corridors along two or four cardinal directions, (2) they have chambers of significant height into the actual stupa body which are covered by elaborately decorated ceilings of the so-called lantern type, and (3) they contain another votive stupa placed in an elevated position above the corridor(s) and right below the ceiling. These stupas are commonly referred to as passageway stupas or kakani chörten. While the architectural terminology “passageway stupa” is derived from the corridors which allow the trespassing of the buildings, “kakani”, as discussed by Rob Linrothe (...), refers to the image of Buddha Akshobhya, who is regularly depicted in the centre of such ceilings. However, both explanations cannot be sustained for the very early specimen of this stupa type.
The paper sets out to discuss the function of the two earliest and most relevant monuments of this type in Ladakh: The Great Entrance Stupa and the “Small” Stupa in front of the famous Three Tiered Temple (Sumtsek). The discussion will be based on an analysis of the iconographic systems displayed on the lantern ceiling of the respective chamber as well as the inner-most part of the programme, namely the paintings inside the votive, which also includes a chamber. That chamber does not have a floor but is open to the corridor below and can therefore be viewed from the very central position inside the monument. All lantern ceilings, i.e. the “inner” ceiling of the votive stupa as well as the “outer” ceiling of the elevated chamber, display mandala systems which apparently either directly represent or at least refer to the Parishodhana Tantra. However, the topic to which the inner faces of both of the votive stupas are dedicated are sets of four Buddhist teachers or masters. In other words, each face of each inner stupa is dedicated to one Buddhist master. Despite their placement in the very centre of the whole monument, those inner chambers have not been taken into account so far in previous discussions of those monuments and their functional and ideological background.
The presentation aims at explaining the functional purpose of the two stupas by analysing all the elements according to their spatial position and finally, through discussing the position of the mantrin or practitioner within this system in order to bring forward on the type of ritual or experience for which these monuments had been designed.
Known since 1994, the Buddhist rock painting found at Chaghdo (Baltistan, North Pakistan) has so far been the object of only cursory descriptions. The composition depicts a ritual scene taking place in front of three stūpas, and including groups of male and female kneeling figures, saddled horses and lotus flowers. An attempt to relate this composition with the iconographic traditions of neighbouring as well as more distant areas will be made, with the aim of providing some clues for a better understanding of the ritual context to which the painted subject could be attributed.
In the dGe lugs pa school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Bla ma mChod pa tantric tradition and literature combines yoganiruttara tantric classes with instructions to sūtra instructions related to Lam rim and Blo sbyongs trainings. One of the main instructions concerns the visualization of an assembly of gurus and deities, surrounding the main figure of the root guru Tsong kha pa. This assembly is called tshogs zhing, the spiritual field for the accumulation of merits, and is addressed as the main object of devotion in order to receive blessings and wisdom, and to eliminate obstacles and interference on the spiritual journey.
All the dGe lugs pa Bla ma mChod pa tshogs zhing artistic representations are intended to evoke different praxes and experiences depending on the spiritual level of the adept. The tshogs zhing is a sort of “road map” to the enlightenment, in which the devotion aspect plays a fundamental role.
In this paper, concerning the iconographies of the Bla ma mChod pa merit field, I will focus on depictions of ritual objects and elements related to the concept of the offering, mchod pa. All these objects and elements are intended, at the same time, as the expression of spiritual realizations and as the expression of devotion addressed to the root guru Tsong kha pa, to all the masters of the different lineages prescribed by the Bla ma mChod pa tradition, and to all the deities considered as object of worship, as a representation of enlightened qualities of the consciousness, and meditation, as a representation of the true nature of the mind.
The text itself basically is an Avalokiteśvara sādhana (Khal. Janraiseg burkhaniig büteekh arga), and the practice included in it builds on the ōṃ maṇi padme hūṃ mantra and the Soyombo symbol and its parts.
Its author, Luwsandambiijaltsan (Tib. Blo bzang dam pa’i rgyal mtshan), who became the first head of Mongolian Buddhism, is the most prominent and well-known figure of Mongolian Buddhism to this day, known not by his Tibetan name but rather as Öndör gegeen Zanabazar. Öndör gegeen, or “His High Brightness” was the title he bore first, while the name Zanabazar is the distorted Mongolian pronunciation of the Sanskrit Jñānavajra (“the Vajra of Knowleadge”). As a head of Mongolian Buddhism, he bore the title bogdo or bogdo gegen (Khalha bogd gegeen, “Saint” / “Saint Brightness”), or the title jebzundamba khutagt (Mong. qutuγtu, Tib. rje btsun dam pa, “The Highest Saint”, or “His Excellency”) conferred on him by the Fifth Dalai Lama. Zanabazar (1635–1723), who was considered as a reincarnation of the Tibetan master Tāranātha, was a key figure of the spreading of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia. He was an excellent sculptor and artist, the founder of the so-called Mongolian or Zanabazar school of art in several branches of Buddhist arts, and established several monasteries in Mongolia. He is also famous for founding the special characteristics of Mongolian Buddhism, by adjusting Tibetan Buddhism to Mongolian customs and circumstances. This means special features in external appearance, such as the distinctive Mongolian lama robes, as well as special ways of recitation and melodies. The special ceremonial system was formed in his time, too: special Mongolian Buddhist ceremonies appeared that are performed only in Mongolian monasteries; Tibetan ceremonies became modified in their melodies, as well as in that new texts, composed by Öndör gegeen and other Mongolian authors, were inserted into them. In addition, he composed two of the different Mongolian writing systems: the Soyombo (Sz. svayambhū (jyoti), “miraculously appeared”, Tib. rang byung) script composed in 1686 in his Töwkhön meditational monastery, used as an ornamental script, the first letter of which became an important symbol depicted on the Mongolian national flag being the Mongolian national emblem; and the horizontal square script or horizontal seal script (Khewtee dörwöljin, Tib. yig gru bzhi). Neither of the two writing systems became used in everyday life, but remained in use as ornamental writings.
The presentation will show how this Soyombo symbol is used in this meditative practice and is widespread in Mongolia, being based on this text of Öndör gegeen, which is also considered to be the main explanation of the Soyombo symbol, written by the creator of the symbol itself, Öndör gegeen. The E and WAM seed syllables, as well as the ma ṇi (jewel) and the padme (lotus) of the mantra, and in the same way the Soyombo symbol which has a form resembling the E WAM syllables symbolize the two essentials that must be united for enlightenment — wisdom and method, emptiness and compassion. During practice, this non-duality (Tib. gnyis med) or unity is sought. It is described in the second stanza of the text, which also relates to the meditational practice aimed at gaining the dharmakāya (Tib. chos sku, Khal. nomiin lagshin, “dharma body, truth body, absolute body”) at the moment of death. In other parts of the text, the meaning of the syllables of the oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ mantra is detailed, and the parts of the Soyombo symbol are listed, together with the deeper meaning associated with or symbolized by these. The text also explains how all maṇḍalas and their deities are collected in the mantra and similarly in the Soyombo symbol itself.
The presentation will detail the usage of the symbol in this practice, which became an exceptionally important text in Mongolia for Tantric meditation.
The descriptions of the various hells in Buddhist eschatological and cosmological literature, with their peculiar names, and specific features, constitute one of the most fascinating speculations elaborated by this religious system, which provides extravagant details with accurate, and at times nearly grotesque, portrayal of sinners’ atonement process. Such dramatic representations of infernal tortures contributed to explaining the devastating force of karmic retribution. Likewise, these scenes could satisfy the believers’ quest for knowledge about their destiny, while at the same time, they could act as warning signs to encourage the practice of Buddhism. While a number of important works have focused on the illustrated manuscripts of the Sūtra on the Ten Kings, which portray the ten judges of Chinese “purgatory”, visual narrative describing the theme of hell damnation, as found in Dunhuang mural paintings, has received less attention. These illustrations can be divided into three categories: hell representations found in scenes illustrating various sūtras; damnation scenes in cosmological tableaux; representations of the underworld featuring the Ten Kings “system”. The present paper is an analysis of the iconographic themes selected by painters to make reference to the hell destination in Mogao murals that fall into the first two categories.
The historical role played by the Museo Nazionale d’Arte Orientale ‘Giuseppe Tucci’ (National Museum of Oriental Art ‘Giuseppe Tucci’ – MNAO) in the protection, study and conservation of works of Himalayan art is well known to the international scholarly community.
From September 2016, the MNAO became a Department of the new Museo delle Civiltà (Museum of Civilizations – MuCiv) as Museo d’Arte Orientale ‘Giuseppe Tucci’. The specificities of the MuCiv, excellent tools for the pursuit of a cultural diplomacy to be placed at the center of our relations with today’s world to promote an order based on peace, the rule of law, freedom of expression, on the understanding and mutual respect for fundamental values (this in summary a recent European Commission policy address), are substantiated in the tutelage of State collections and, at the same time, in the promotion in Italy of knowledge and awareness of the cultures and civilizations at the global level. This enhanced activity of emphasizing the importance of the collections is simply unavoidable in the present historical and political period.
The continued emergence of nationalistic turmoil and prejudices that continue to hurt “other” cultures are unlikely to shed proper light on the matter of the unquestionable importance that the fruitful cultural exchange with the rest of the world has had since ancient times in the formation of thought and, therefore, of Western civilization itself.
Of course, this is not an easy task, as it will be not be easy to avoid confusion and/or overlaps in the interpretation of cultural and religious aspects that are apparently similar, but in fact substantially different.
In the formation of the contemporary collective consciousness, though often in the presence of a superficial and often misleading disclosure, the constantly emerging interest in “spirituality” is not a secondary signal, but a significant and important tool in relation to the transition to a world that is increasingly interconnected.
Thanks to the rapid spread of cultural approaches that are characterized, compared to the past, by a more critical view, today one can expect a willingness to interpret such phenomena also by the general public, a new audience more aware of the need to understand and to refer to a global dimension.
However, language communication based on the thorough comprehension and knowledge of the phenomena should be employed, leading to the most unconditional openness of criteria for analysis which should not be tainted by preconceived visions of the world in their turn, since these are also, sometimes, dangerously reductive.
An ideological approach never should prevail, as well as the resolution to elect the centrality of only a culture, instead should be explored new reading tools, useful to the revaluation of cultural phenomena often hastily judged; this is the method of the approach that those who will work in the new Museum should hold as a key method in the study, research and communication of the collections value.
The MuCiv has several strong points: first of all, to establish cordial relations and friendship with all the embassies and cultural institutes; the Museum will be the “showcase”, so to speak, for the dissemination and promotion of culture of various countries including the promotion of international exchanges of cultural materials, exchanges that over the years have already increased the collections of the State, recalling how Italy is a land of collectors and travellers, and that many citizens have donated their collections; and moreover, bringing the general public closer to the different and distant cultures through targeted events.
In April 2018 a large collection of Bonpo ritual manuscripts was photographed in a private house in Monthang, the main town and former capital of the former kingdom of Lo (Mustang). Until two generations ago the house belonged to a family named Drangsong (Drang srong). Drang srong is a Tibetan term that translates the Sanskrit word ṛṣi, ‘sage’, but in the Bon religion the name has a special connotation as the equivalent of the Buddhist dge slong, a fully-ordained monk. In the present case, however, the name applies to a hereditary patrilineal succession of Bonpo priests who served as the chaplains of the Kings of Lo from the mid-fifteenth century until the death of the last male heir in the 1960s. The collection consists of approximately 280 manuscript items, mainly comprising ritual texts but also talismans and works of philosophy, about one-third of them being incomplete, amounting to some 3,000 folios. The texts contain a wide range of visual images. Some are diagrams and tables related to divinatory practices, while others are pictorial representations of ritual objects such as details of the attributes of divinities, as well as shrines and other installations. This presentation will give a general account of the variety of purposes that this diversity of visual imagery would have served in the ritual duties of the royal chaplains.
The original inhabitants of the historical Nepal, the Newars, observe an elaborate series of old age rituals that are performed to sacralize and protect the celebrated elders. Requiring months of preparations and spread out over several days, these are the most complex domestic rituals performed in the Newar tradition. Central to these rituals as performed by the Buddhists of Kathmandu are scroll paintings or repoussés typically dedicated to three dhāraṇī goddesses deemed critical for the continued life of the elders, namely Grahamātṛkā, the mother of the planetary deities, Vasudhārā, the earth goddess of wealth, and Uṣṇīṣavijayā, the goddess of longevity. These paintings serve both as the central icon embodying the dhāraṇī goddesses, and as commemorative objects that depict the key moments of the ritual in the register below the main subject—a stūpa that houses the mentioned dhāraṇī goddesses—and that record in an inscription at the bottom the date, occasion and principal protagonists of the ceremony.
Numerous exquisite scroll paintings and repoussés survive in museums and private collections around the world, and this talk will introduce to a range of them, starting with the earliest dated icon from the late 14th century, through the Malla and Śāha era, up to the present, in which such paintings continue to be produced for old age rituals as they are performed even now. More particularly, the talk will examine the complex ways in which these icons are tied to the elaborate sequence of rituals, and how the consecration rituals performed for them structure the old age ceremony, with the elders undergoing many of the same sacralizing rites as the icon. Attention will also be paid to how the icons function as objects of propitiation within the ritual and beyond—they are subsequently kept “alive" by daily worship in order to assure the continued blessings of the dhāraṇī goddesses—and how they serve to commemorate a grand and prestigious family ceremony for posterity.
Inumerable sorts of images and poetic metaphors, in the recitations of the Tamang bards of Nepal, of shamans bompo and in the rnyingmapa ritual texts of their lamas, speak about unseen presences (invisibilia), and the way people represent for themselves what happened in primeval times, what will happen to them in the future, and what kind of terrible rebirths or sufferings they risk when offending entities living in the different levels of the cosmic universe (triloka). These are svarga, âkâsha, or heaven; prithivî, bhû, bhûmi or earth; pâtâla (or naraka for the Buddhists) or infernal underworlds.
It is also through a concrete support that Buddhist populations have access to the metaphoric meaning or sumbolon of these spaces and their inhabitants: images on rice paper, effigies of the dead, bamboo palaces, gtorma of cereals, crossed wooden sticks and/or figurative constructions (etc) may incarnate temporarily, or give form and figure, to the living beings as well as to the dead, before being dismantled and thrown away. Sometimes, these are several ‘images’ referring to invisibilia which create meaning. Lhasin Devke Dolma, a goddess of the Earth (an equivalence of Dharati Mâtâ for the Hindus), for instance, is named after a metaphorical allusion to the Eight Different Classes of Gods and Demons in Tibetan literature (Lha srin de brgyad sGrol ma). Ambivalence and ambiguity is thus at the core of the image.
On the funerary monuments and memorials, one can see some personalized images of donors, painted and sculptured, and adorned with local motives and colours referring to domestic life. On the effigy of the dead, an abstract and stereotyped image of a person bears also resemblance with the imago of a real person, thereby linking the living and the dead in a progressive chain of dissolution.
In all cases, at the level of the imaginary life, there seems to be an incessant exchange between subjectivities and objective constraints emanating from the cosmic and the social ‘milieu’, shaped through images. In turn, images may inform and structure people’s thoughts and representations. Our purpose is to show and understand how, in a popular Buddhist context, paradox and tensions are revealed between this necessity to recreate images of invisibilia through recitations and figurative models, and to make them disappear, and the people’s will to always remember and to express their emotions in a lasting and phenomenal world. Beyond the iconographic rules, we aim to retrace a kind of logic of dispossessed and subalterns, that reveals itself between the different images and support of the invisibilia, and which frames the different emotions and obsessions of the population, from despair and horror, to compassion, love and hope in a better future.
Music forms a vital component of ritual in the Hindu-Buddhist culture of the Kathmandu Valley. Owing to the evanescent nature of sound, musical performance tends to disappear from the historical record. But its presence is recorded in images—paintings and sculptures—that document ritual events. These allow us to see instruments and players, and to infer the sounds, functions and social contexts of the music and its performers. This paper will focus on a particularly informative painting that commemorates a ritual held in 1664, in which King Pratap Malla of Kathmandu weighed his son in silver and jewels at the temple of Taleju, the patron goddess of the Malla kings (Vergati 2004). This painting illustrates the diversity and importance of music under the Newar kings, and their direct and indirect patronage of the art. The painting shows, ranged on the stepped pyramid of the temple, six different music groups, playing different combinations of instruments (and singing). Judging from related instrumental ensembles surviving in the Valley today, the groups represent processional, ritual and devotional music played by low, middle and high castes respectively. This social ranking corresponds to the vertical ordering of groups on the temple steps. The painting also suggests the personal involvement of the king, not only at the apex of the architectural pyramid and the centre of the ritual action, but also in the musical performances depicted in lower registers of the painting. This image re-creates or evokes a ritual sound-world and a musically articulated social order, both presided over by the king.
EO 3580 is a fairly large painting (approx. 130cm X 70cm) on hemp cloth from 10th-century Dunhuang. Its upper portion depicts a Buddha surrounded by bodhisattvas, arhats, and heavenly beings sitting or standing on a platform above water in a Buddha-field. Its lower portion shows Kṣitigarbha seated with depictions of the six destinies and the ten kings around him. In this paper, I would like to focus on the lower portion and discuss its significance. Kṣitigarbha surrounded by the six destinies and/or the ten kings is a fairly common motif found in many Dunhuang paintings. From my point of view, this painting is significant for the following two reasons.
One is the possible ties between this motif and the mural painting on the rear wall of Qumtura Cave 75. On this wall, there is a painting of the frontal view of a meditating monk surrounded by the six (or perhaps five, depending on the interpretation of the painting) destinies. Scholars have noted close ties between the Kṣitigarbha paintings in Dunhuang and the painting in question in Qumtura. Some have even suspected that the monk depicted in Qumtura Cave 75 is also Kṣitigarbha. I myself do not believe that the figure depicted in Qumtura Cave 75 is Kṣitigarbha, but it indeed seems likely that the Qumtura painting was under the influence of the Kṣitigarbha iconography in Dunhuang. Thus, a close examination of the Kṣitigarbha paintings in Dunhuang is important for the correct interpretation of the painting of a meditating monk in Qumtura. This is the first task I would like to accomplish in this paper.
Another noteworthy point regarding this painting is that infrared pictures clearly show two Chinese characters invisible in regular (visible-light) pictures. These characters are not in cartouches for inscriptions (which are all empty) and thus cannot be a formal inscription. They must be either some kind of memo or a signature left by the painter. Although this is a tiny piece of information, it may shed new light on the process of production of Buddhist paintings in Dunhuang. This is the second direction I would like to pursue in this paper.
In her fierce review of Robert Sharf’s study “Art in the dark: the ritual context of Buddhist caves in western China”, Angela Howard criticises the author’s thesis that the “central pillar caves” in Kucha had the function of memorial funerary caves. Howard underlines that Sharf’s explanation downplays or even denies the role of meditation among the monastic communities in Kucha and considers the mural paintings in the caves to be allusions to or records of meditative states.
The proposed paper will address both abovementioned opinions and investigate the prospect of analysing the pictorial programmes of the Kuchean murals as possible scenery of a ritual or a monastic meditation practice. A special reference will be given to the programmes of the “parinirvāṇa space” in the corridors behind the main images at the rear of the “central pillar caves”.