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Sculptural production during the bstan pa phyi dar and its stylistic nomenclature: some examples from Khu nu of Rong Chung.

Collecting material for writing a New Indo-Tibetica Series the present author has been conducting a village-to-village survey in Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur-two frontier districts of Himachal Pradesh. The present study focuses primarily on the Buddhist monastery of Ropa, and its astounding wooden and clay sculptural wealth (Figure 1).

The village of Ropa (Tibetan: Ro-dpag, Ro-pag and, Ro-spag) is situated at a height of 2725 m in pargana Shuwa of tehsil Pooh in Kinnaur district, at a distance of 16 km from the national highway number 22 (Figure 2). With the exception of Gyawang village, which is bifurcated into two halves on either side of the Shyaso rivulet, the other four revenue villages in the Ropa valley are located on the left side of the river. The Ropa monastery has been also mentioned in the biographies of Rin-chen bzang-po (rDo-rje tshe-brtan 1977). It is indeed surprising that two early-twentieth century European explorers, namely, A. H. Francke and G. Tucci did not visit this monastery. The district census handbook of Kinnaur briefly says that the Bodh Labrang temple at Ropa is 210 years old (1982: pp. 52-3). The main purpose of this study is: 1) to test archaeologically whether architectural and sculptural remains preserved in this monastery belong to the time of Rin-chen bzang-po; 2) what could be the period of its construction, and other associated sculptural remains preserved in the monastery 3), and to situate this monastery in the overall Buddhist environment that prevailed in the kingdoms of Guge and Purang during the tenth and eleventh centuries. And, finally to assess the importance of the sculptural wealth preserved in this monastery for the study of Mahayana Buddhism during the bstan-pa phyi-dar has been highlighted.

The Ropa monastery: an architectural evolution

Most of the Buddhist monasteries constructed during the 'second diffusion of Buddhism' in a vast region from Ladakh to western Tibet embody certain architectural features that had been borrowed from diverse artistic sources (Thakur 2002: pp. 215-37). Influence of local architectural practices and from areas contiguous to Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur can also be traced to a considerable extent.

The architectural survey of an east-oriented monastery at Ropa carried out in situ seems to suggest two possible phases of construction (Figure 3). The sanctum (dri-gtsang-khang) enshrining five Tathagatas, measures 333 cm by 260 cm. The rectangular hall ('du-khang), however, is much larger and measures 709 cm by 280 cm. In the centre of the hall has been constructed an altar, measuring 147 cm by 110 cm. The main purpose of this altar was to keep oil-lamps burning and to keep other items of rituals and worship associated with the deities of the Vajradhatumandala. A total number of nine pillars (four are square and five round) support the ceiling and an upper storey of the temple. The entrance into the hall is through a door facing east. Sculptural arrangement made during its original construction in the hall and the sanctum remains astonishingly undisturbed. Five Tathagata Buddhas are enshrined on the raised pedestals in the sanctum. Two clay Bodhisattvas (one each on either side at the entrance of the sanctum) are placed in lalitasana. Two protective Bodhisattvas are fixed high up on the eastern wall of the hall, representing Vajrapani and Hayagriva. Sculpted in the finest traditions of the 'mNga'-ris style', explained below and elsewhere (Thakur 2001: pp. 214-22; 2006: pp. 72-6 and forthcoming), two wooden Bodhisattvas are standing against the south and north walls of the hall. Equally fascinating are other wooden and clay sculptures placed on the altar (Figure 4).

The walls of the monastery consist of the rubble masonry; the stones used in the construction are not very well dressed as usually seen in the pent roofed temples in Himachal Pradesh. The walls of the second phase consist of the alternate courses of wood and stone; the use of the horizontal logs of wood has been sparse. The latter method of construction is very popular and considered to be of earthquake proof quality in the hills of Himachal Pradesh (Thakur 1996: chapter 4).

The entrance into the sgo-khang (antechamber) is possible through a 134 cm wide-door, partitioned into two halves by a 19 cm by 12 cm wooden pillar. Men and women can assemble in a wooden pavilion constructed in front of the door. The ceiling of this pavilion rests on six wooden pillars. There are many Tibetan inscriptions written on the eastern wall of the antechamber. Looking like a box-type pedestal (ht 78 cm), constructed on the right hand side, is placed a huge statue of Padmasambhava. The left corner is adorned by a dungyur (dung-phyur). The south wall has an entrance from where an adherent Buddhist of Kinnaur can enter into the antechamber and could rotate the prayer wheel for the welfare of the entire village and the sentient beings. What is peculiar with the Buddhist monasteries constructed during the bstanpa phyi-dar is that no provision was originally made for the prayer wheel within the monastic precincts or in the gtsug-lag-khang. Prayer wheels have been subsequently added at the monastic complex of Tabo (constructed on popular demand within the monastic complex along the eastern boundary wall as recently as 2001) Ropa, Ribba, Charang, Pooh, Nako, Lhalung and Gumrang. This addition has been made in the original plans irrespective of the sectarian affiliation of the monastery.

The external wall measurement also varies considerably (assembly hall: south wall, 513 cm; north wall, 467 cm; antechamber: south wall, 406 cm and north wall 398 cm). The sanctum's external walls measure 260 cm (south), 484 cm (west) and 252 cm (north) respectively. About 50 cm wide additional support has been provided for the mandapa and garbhagriha. The main purpose of such support was to prevent the collapse of the structure during the winter months from the pressure of snow. It also prevented the leakage of water into the basement of monastery. The same method was also used very efficiently at Tabo; however, unfortunately the Archaeological Survey of India in September-October 1991 has removed the sifted clay walls originally provided around each temple (Thakur 2001: pp. 284-5; also see Indian Archaeology 1991-92- A Review: p. 175).

The roof of the monastery is flat. It has a provision for ventilation in the centre of the roof. The wooden umbrella-type canopy covers the ventilation. All early monasteries were provided this type of architectural device either in the mandapa or garbhagriha to allow sufficient amount of light in the sanctum, and it also prevented the penetration of direct sunlight in the sanctum.

Sculptures in clay and wood

The Ropa monastery preserves many exquisite pieces of sculptures. Majority of these sculptures belong to the period of its foundation. They can be divided into two material types: clay and wood. For the sake of convenience they can be grouped into three categories: 1) sculptures placed in the sanctum and the hall; 2) sculptures placed on the rectangular altar in the hall, and 3) those in the sgo-khang. There are also some clay sculptures of very recent period in the monastery. The following tables provide the exact description of each statue found in the sanctum and hall of the Ropa monastery.

All these eleven sculptures are part of the architectural ensemble and each one of them has been assigned a particular position during the time of its construction. Before we assess the date, particularly the style and craftsmanship of number 10 and 11 listed above let me briefly introduce the second group of sculptures now placed on the rectangular altar.

Six wooden sculptures

Two Standing Wooden Bodhisattvas

Two massive Bodhisattvas made of polychrome wood are placed against the north and south walls of the mandapa. They represent Padmapani Avalokiteshvara (ht 170 cm) and Vajrasattva (also ht 170 cm). These wooden Bodhisattvas represent the finest woodcarving and sculptural traditions of the western-Himalayan region. Wooden sculptures of similar craftsmanship have also been found at Pooh, Tsarang or Charang (Kinnaur) and Tabo respectively. Four wooden sculptures (discussed below) placed on the rectangular altar are also part of the same sculptural tradition, perhaps sculpted by craftsman at the workshop(s) in the Ropa valley.

Padmapani Avalokiteshvara and Vajrasattva both seem to have been carved by the same takshaka for they bear many common sculptural characteristics. Padmapani Avalokiteshvara holds a long stalk of a full-blossomed lotus flower in his left hand whereas the right hand is in varadamudra (Figure 5). Vajrasattva however tightly grips the vajra in his right hand at the chest level and the left hand grasps the bell (Figure 4). Both Bodhisattvas are in sthanakamudra, resting on the multi-petalled lotus-asanas. Jewel-studded triple-pointed crowns enshrine in their central part respective Buddha-the crown of Avalokiteshvara has Amitabha whereas that of Vajrasattva shows Akshobhya. The eyes of these statues are open and looking into the phenomenal world. The long ear lobes are decorated with the karnaphulas (not ekavalis) and similar rosettes appear above the ears. One of the marked peculiarities of these sculptures is a long vanamala, slung around the shoulders and it hangs down below the knees. Among the other items of decoration include stringed armlets, wristlets and the beaded mekhala decorated with a tiny rosette at the centre. The facial details are serene-the Vajrasattva has an urna between the eyebrows (Figure 6). The round-shaped faces with almond type eyes can easily be perceived in these sculptures. Such features are noticeable in the clay sculptures fixed on to the walls of the mandapa of the gtsug-lag-khang at Tabo (Thakur 2001: pp. 38-139). Equally fascinating are the ringlets of hair, which fall on to the shoulders in similar fashion, as noticed at Tabo.

Was it possible to carve these sculptures elsewhere in the mNa'-ris bskor-gsum or Khu-nu, and later transported to Ropa as imagined by some scholars? Considering the delicate craftsmanship displayed by the wood carvers in sculpting the statues, and also their massive size, it was not possible to bring them to Ropa from elsewhere in Kinnaur. Undoubtedly, these handsomely sculpted figures were carved in situ along with four other wooden sculptures placed on the altar, and other clay sculptures embellishing the sanctum and hall of the monastery.

Four wooden Bodhisattvas on the rectangular altar

Four wooden sculptures along with later clay sculptures are placed on the altar. They too deserve a detailed analysis for they represent the exquisite wooden sculptural traditions of the upper Sutlej valley during the beginning of the bstan-paphyi-dar. The question arises: whether these sculptures are part of the monastic complex or were collected from elsewhere in the western Himalaya? Before we provide answer to these questions it is necessary to evaluate their artistic impressiveness.

Sitting on an exalted seat, so often attributed to the Kashmiri origin, the six-armed Avalokiteshvara is shown in lalitasana (Figure 7). The identification becomes more precise from the effigy of Amitabha carved over the head. He carries in the left hands, from top to bottom: a full blossomed flower, snake and a kalasa. The right hand at the top had mala, now broken; the middle hand is in vitarkamudra and the lowest in varadamudra. This type of Avalokiteshvara figure was very popular in the western Himalaya (Ladakh, Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur) during the tenth and eleventh centuries. The famous marble statue enshrined in the Triloknatha temple at Tunde in Lahaul also bears the same iconographic features (Thakur 1996: pp. 57-8). The iconographic features of this type of Bodhisattva are very similar to Sugatisandarshana Lokeshvara with the exception that the abhayamudra is replaced by the mudra that is peculiar to the western-Himalayan region, and snake is not shown in the hand of Sugatisandarshana (Bhattacharryya 1968: p. 396). Similar statues have come to light from Kashmir (Pal 1975: figs. 50, 51b). Apart from the Triloknatha marble and stone statues, we have noticed two more example of this type of Avalokiteshvara from Gandhola in Lahaul, and a mural painted on the wall of the temple at Thangi in Kinnaur district.

Equally important is another sculpture of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, shown seated in vajraparyankamudra on a multi-petelled lotus. He holds the full-blossomed lotus flower at the level of the chest in the manner a standing wooden Bodhisattva holds at the lo-tsa-ba's monastery at Pooh. The jewel-studded diadem depicts a seated tiny figure of Amitabha in dhyanamudra. The wooden sculptures carved at Ropa, Pooh and Tsarang bear a unique characteristic that the lobes of the diadem, sometimes central or occasionally all the three carry tiny images of respective Tathagatas. This is an indicative of a workshop where takshakas specialised in this delicate and sophisticated carving technique displaying respective Tathagatas on the crowns.

Six-armed Ushnishavijaya is carved in sthanakamudra supported by five bharaputras, looking like lion faces. The carver has shown a slight bend at the hip level and she displays the following laksanas and mudras: the uppermost right hand is raised and holds an arrow; the middle hand holds a visvavajra and the lower most is in varadamudra. The attribute of left uppermost left hand is broken (it must be a bow); the middle holds a noose and the lower hand grips firmly the long stalk of the lotus. She wears a coloured nether garment. The standing acolyte is carved on either side of the oval-shaped aureole. A triple-pointed crown has been carved in the same manner discussed earlier in the case of two standing Bodhisattvas. Another common feature shared by these sculptures is a long vanamala slung over the shoulders. Ushnishavijaya is bedecked with numerous ornaments such as the round earrings, nupura and valaya.

The last sculpture in this group represents a blue-coloured Bodhisattva shown seated on peacock in lalitasana. Its exact identification remains somewhat controversial but he holds a mala between the tarjani finger and thumb in the right hand; the left hand rests on the thigh of the left leg. It holds what looks like a snake. Two pleats of hair on either side falls on to the shoulders. The nimbus and aureole are painted multi-coloured with a combination of black, yellow and red colours. The left leg rests comfortably on a specially designed lotus-flower cushion. He is bedecked with a single-beaded hara, keyura, nupura and valaya. A Bodhisattva sitting on peacock may perhaps represent Vajrapani (?) (Getty 1962: p. 53).

Discussion and concluding remarks

After discussing the artistic and iconographic peculiarities of six wooden sculptures a stylistic comparison with near contemporary sculptures in wood, metal and clay would help us to understand them better in art-historical contexts. What could be determinant for deciding the date of these sculptures is the possible date of the establishment of the Ropa monastery. As pointed out earlier that Ropa has been listed among the 'twenty-one' smaller monasteries constructed in Guge and Purang after the completion of Rinchen bzang-po's six-year 'second sojourn' in Kashmir. His return to Guge and Purang cannot be imagined before AD 1002-3. The possibility of this date has been arrived after making calculations of certain events and their chronological sequence given in different biographies that have come down to us in manuscript form, and a few dated Tibetan inscriptions from the times of Ye-shes-'od and Byang-chub-'od. Rin-chen bzang-po's immediate disciple named Guge khyi-thang-pa dPal-Ye-shes wrote one such biography. All the six biographical accounts agree that he proceeded to Kashmir in the wood-hog (shing-phag), that is AD 975 and returned to Guge (the actual word used in the manuscripts is bod, that is Tibet) after spending ten years in Kashmir and eastern India. His return to Guge can be fixed in the wood-bird year (shing bya), that is AD 985. Seven versions of manuscripts reproduced in the Collected Biographical Material (hereafter CBM) are facsimile copies [italics ours] as clearly pointed out by its editor both in the sub-title and preface of the book. Three biographies differ in calculating the period of Rin-chen bzang-po's stay in western Tibet (Guge and Purang) before he was again asked by his patron Ye-shes-'od to go to Kashmir to bring books (pe chas) and artists (lha bzos). The CBM, no. 5 emphatically records that (rDo-rje tshe-brtan: p. 175, line 2):
   der rgya gar nas bod du byon te lo bcu song ba dang | Then ten
   years had passed since he came from India to Tibet.

However, another version of the Tibetan text of his biography now in Lokesh Chandra's collection (Chandra, et al., 1988: p. 113) and CBM, No. 6 mention 'twelve years' instead of 'ten'. Text of his biography reproduced as CBM, No. 6 reads (rDo-rje tshe-brtan: p. 258, line 2):
   rgya gar na bod du byon pa dang de bar la lo bcu gnyis song ba|
   Until now, arriving from India to Tibet, twelve years had passed.

It seems quite reasonable that Rin-chen bzang-po (AD 958-1055) spent roughly ten to twelve years in Tibet before he was asked to go to Kashmir for ten years period of stay in Tibet cannot be accepted for the simple season that in AD 996 he laid and supervised the construction of some monasteries in the mNga'-ris region, guiding the artists to use an appropriate Vajradhatumandala in decorating the walls of the monasteries, and also translating several sets of sutras (especially Prajnaparamita copies) and tantras for immediate use in the newly-constructed monastic establishments. Therefore, we would like to suggest that Rin-chen bzang-po perhaps returned to Kashmir not before AD 997, and stayed in Kashmir for another six years. He seems to have returned with books and thirty-two artists in c. AD 1002-3. Most likely, the foundation of the Ropa monastery could not have been laid before that date. The late fifteenth century chronicle mNga'-ris rgyal-rabs written by Ngag-dbang grags-pa has clubbed a monastery named 'Ri-sag' along with Nyarma, Kha-char, Ta-po, Ka-nam and sPu (Vitali 1996: p. 95). 'Ri-sag' cannot be identified with Ropa with absolute certainty. Ngag-dbang grags-pa has certainly derived this information from the available biographies of Rin-chen bzang-po. Two names such as Ka-nam and sPu are taken from a sentence where the available biographies discuss the monasteries of the borderland areas (gzhan yang mtha' 'dul gis gtsug lag khang). In that sentence the following monasteries are discussed in the following order (rDo-rje tshe-brtan, CBM, No. 3: p. 110, line 2; Snellgrove and Skorupski 1980: p. 108, line 29):
   lho'i de gar| dpag| drug phag gi mon| nga ra'i ka nam| rong chung
   gi spu|

The present author thinks that 'Ri-sag gi mo-nang' in the mNga'-ris rgyal-rabs is possibly a corruption of 'drug phag gi mon'. The other two monasteries are only listed after providing the list of 'twenty-one temples' immediately above this sentence. Ropa is mentioned in all the seven different versions checked by us (Thakur 2001: p. 44, table 1).

Majority of the clay and wooden sculptures are part of the originally conceptualised Vajradhatumandala that was so popular in the school of Rinchen bzang-po. This mandala at Ropa was not conceived on a grand scale as visually depicted at Tabo, and later at Charang in Kinnaur. At Ropa only five Buddhas, guardian deities and some Bodhisattvas are depicted. Wooden sculptures discussed above formed part of the collection probably added one by one soon after the foundation of the monastery. They bear common iconographic characteristics that were popularised and efficiently practiced by the artists who were traversing to and fro between the western-Himalayan kingdoms in the west and western Tibet in the east during the tenth and eleventh centuries.

All wooden sculptures preserved at the Ropa monastery bear sturdy anatomical features; especially the two standing Bodhisattvas are carved from the huge deodar wooden logs. Their facial features are exquisitely chiselled out and there is a slight bend at the hip level. There is a perceptible change from two bends, so fascinatingly shown by the Kashmiri and Chamba artists, to one only. Round faces are so vigorously carved with plump cheeks and chins are carved out prominently. All sculptures show open eyes that are looking into the phenomenal world. There are a large number of clay and metal images from Ladakh, Lahaul-Spiti and western Tibet showing uneven folds of the dhoti, normally shorter fold on the left leg of the statues (Henss 2002: 23-82, figs. 5c, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 16). One fold of the dhoti of the Bodhisattva remains higher than the other, a feature also noticed in the clay sculptures of Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta standing at the entrance of the sanctum in the gTsug-lag-khang at Tabo (Thakur 2001: pp. 115-20). One of the common features of sculptural decoration is the carving of rosettes above ears. This feature has been noticed on the clay sculptures of the Vajradhatumandala in the gTsug-lag-khang at Tabo and also wooden and clay sculptures found at Pooh, Charang and Thangi respectively. The group of artists working at Ropa created different types of prabhamandalas for four statues according to their sizes, mudras and asanas. Varieties of aureoles and nimbus noticed here cannot be construed as if these sculptures have wide chronological gaps. What is peculiar to notice is the use of the same colour scheme for decorating the plain areas in the nimbus section. Three colours are used: blue, orange and red. The nimbus section is always plain as so often seen in the stone and stucco sculptures from the Gandhara region. Such compositional scheme reached the western Himalayan areas from Kashmir via Chamba and Kulu. High ornamental pedestals and thrones carved with multi-petalled lotus base (without showing the stamenoids) are evocative of similar types noticed on the pedestals of the metal bronzes attributed to the Kashmir style. Another favourite decorative predilection among the artists was to depict a long vanamala that hangs down below the knees.

Artists in Kashmir, Chamba and Kulu regions from the eighth century onward were familiar with the above-mentioned aesthetic and iconographic peculiarities, and other canons of proportions. From time to time they made new innovations according to the demands of the patrons and the availability of the material on which they worked. It is not clear from any source for how long thirty-two artists brought by Rin-chen bzang-po from Kashmir around circa AD 1002-1003 remained in the regions of the mNga'-ris. At the same time we do not know whether some of them settled in western Tibet or returned after decorating the monasteries. Who were their most notable novices? Archaeological remains examined in situ indicate that the Ropa monastery was constructed possibly between AD 1003 and 1042; the later date is taken broadly because by that date Rin-chen bzang-po was eighty-five year old and did not travel widely as he used to do in his early days. It is therefore quite reasonable to assign six wooden sculptures to the first half of the eleventh century. The sculptural productions of the early period in the collection can clearly be distinguished from those made in later period when wall decorations were done afresh. Wooden sculptures along with clay sculptures in situ at Ropa are splendid creation of both Kashmiri and Kashmiri-trained local artists, thus they would mark the beginning of a new aesthetic ideals in Asiatic plastic art what I have preferred to call the 'mNga'-ris style'. This style embedded the finest sculptural traditions of Kashmir, Chamba, Kulu and Madhyadesha.

The survival of the archaeological evidence in the monasteries constructed during the bstan-pa phyi-dar is of paramount concern for actually knowing the intricate processes and problems associated with the introduction of Buddhism in the region. The medieval Tibetan literary sources (chronicles, biographies and mahatmyas) cannot be fully trusted for many a time in them historical events are represented as fictitious occurrences. Surviving archaeological evidence preserved in situ presents fairly a broad understanding of prevalent Buddhist ideology propagated by the rulers of the western Tibet. This chapter of Buddhist spread in the land of snows provides many vicissitudes of encounter with the local beliefs, Bonpos and already existing Buddhism. The rulers of western Tibet therefore adopted a multi-pronged strategy to check the spread of corrupt practices in the Anuttarayogatantra, and to establish unadulterated Buddhism. They invited the most celebrated teachers of Indian Buddhism, including Atisha, from India (Kashmir and eastern India) to western Tibet to impart true knowledge of the sutras and tantras to Tibetans. They also financed the construction of monasteries and stupas along the most recognizable routes of communication across the kingdom. It was ensured that each monastery must possess essential texts for daily recitation by the community of monks. Notably two rulers of western Tibet (Ye-shes-'od and Zhi-ba-'od) issued ordinances (bka'-shogs) specifically denouncing such pernicious sacramental ceremonies involving the actual practice of sex in the career of celibate monks (Karmay 1980a: pp. 150-62; 1980b: pp. 3-28 and 2009: forthcoming). Sustained collaborative efforts between Indian Buddhist Sanskritists and Buddhologists of Kashmir and eastern India and equally persuasive Tibetan pupils were made possible by stupendous financial liabilities undertaken by the rulers of Guge and Purang. These rulers were very much concerned to check the spread of corrupt practices that had crept in the Anuttarayogatantras. It was ensured that each monastery be provided with important Buddhist scriptures, including the copies of the mDo-mang ('many sutras'), Prajnaparamita and some Dharini texts along with necessary ceremonial items for performance of rituals and consecrations of Vajrayana divinities. The entire state became totally identified with the propagation of Buddhism. In the first instance, a large number of 'authentic' texts were translated into Tibetan by establishing translation workshops at Nyarma, Tabo, Lari, Tholing and a few other places in the mNga'-ris bskor-gsum. Preservation of original copies of some Tibetan translations of sutra and tantra literature at Tabo, Pooh and Charang (all located in Himachal Pradesh) seem to vindicate the statements of later literary works that Rin-chen bzang-po and his many Indian and Tibetan collaborators translated original 'orthodox' Buddhist texts from Sanskrit into Tibetan for discarding the practice of corrupt rites and malicious religious offering causing harm to both men and animals (Thakur 2008: pp. 21-31). Phases of Mahayana Buddhist thought during the eleventh century can be broadly divided into two periods: c AD 996-1042, and AD 1042-1076. During these two phases Buddhist sutras and tantras were translated amass and many monastic centers established along the trade routes or places that were earlier established centres of local cults, or Bonpo faiths. The first phase was dominated by Rin-chen bzang-po (AD 958-1055), and second by Dipankarashrijnana (AD 982-1054) and his disciples. The main interest of Rin-chen bzang-po was in the 'Perfection of Wisdom' literature (prajnaparamita) and the tantras, whereas Atisha devoted himself to the study of monastic vinaya as well as in tantras. An analysis of extant artistic remains in the monastic complexes constructed during the bstan-pa phyi-dar makes it abundantly clear that for architectural and sculptural decorations the most popular text used was the Sarvatathagata tattva-sangraha (The Symposium of Truth). Vairocana is the main presiding deity in the mandala of the Sarva-tathagata tattva-sangraha. The sculptors at places such as Ropa, Tsarang, Tabo, and some decades later, at Nako, Lhalung and Gumrang have used this mandala with minor variations. Establishment of new gtsug-lag-khangs in every central and peripheral parts of the empire, to equip them with authentic Buddhist texts and also to decorate their interior with impressive statuary was a spirited challenge that Rin-chen bzang-po and his munificent patrons accomplished whilst effectively combating many problems that arose during the implementation of the Buddhist doctrine in the mNga'-ris region (Reugg 1984: pp. 369-81; McKay 2003: pp. 123-33). Each monastery became a lantern for the region in which it was constructed, and had played its assigned role by transforming the lives of nomadic and pastoral people through an alternative path that promised enlightenment and liberation as well as wisdom and compassion. Entrance to these new centres of Buddhist faith was open to all people belonging to diverse ethnic and linguistic groups irrespective of their social and economic status.

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Thakur, Laxman S, forthcoming, "The Emergence of the 'mNga' ris Style': Archaeological Perspectives", in Studies in Sino-Tibetan Buddhist Arts; Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Tibetan Archaeology and Arts, 16-20 October 2009, Beijing.

Tucci, Giuseppe, 1988, Rin-chen bzang-po and the Renaissance of Buddhism in Tibet around the Millenium (Indo-Tibetica II), Lokesh Chandra, et al, (eds.), Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi.

Vitali, Roberto, 1996, The Kingdoms of Gu-ge Pu-hrang According to mNga'-ris rgyal-rabs by Gu-ge mkhan-chen Ngag-dbang grags-pa, Tho ling gtsug lag khang lo cig stong 'khor ba'i rjes dran mdzad sgo'i go sgrig tshogs chung, Dharamsala.

List of Figures

1. Map of Kinnaur showing Ropa and other associated Buddhist monasteries in the adjoining areas.

2. A road leading to Ropa along the Shyaso rivulet, Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh.

3. View of Ropa monastery with an umbrella canopy on the flat roof.

4. Plan of the Ropa monastery showing the location of important clay sculptures in the sanctum and the hall.

5. A standing wooden statue of Padmapani Avalokiteshvara (height 170 cm).

6. A standing wooden statue of Vajrasattva (height 170 cm).

7. Avalokiteshvara in the lalitasana at the altar of the monastery.

Note: All drawings and photographs are by Laxman S Thakur.








Laxman S. Thakur

Table 1: Sculptures in the sanctum and hall of the Ropa monastery

Name                 Material   Ht(cm)   Width (cm)   Colour   Location

1. Vairocana         clay       145      108          white    sanctum
2. Akshobhya         clay       130      100          blue     sanctum
3. Amitabha          clay       124      85           red      sanctum
4. Ratnasambhava     clay       132      90           yellow   sanctum
5. Amoghasiddhi      clay       132      90           green    sanctum
6. Bodhisattva       clay       186      86           white    hall
7. Bodhisattva       clay       170      70           white    hall
8. Hayagriva         clay       180      50           red      hall
9. Vajrapani         clay       155      30           blue     hall
10. Padmapani        wood       170      103          yellow   hall
11. Vajrasattva      wood       170      91           yellow   hall

Table 2: Sculptures on the rectangular altar of the Ropa monastery

Name                    Material   Ht(cm)   Width (cm)   Colour

1. Buddha               clay       29       20           yellow
2. Vajrasattva          clay       35       23           white
3. Ushnishavijaya       clay       51.5     30           yellow
4. Amitabha             clay       47       28           red
5. Amoghasiddhi (?)     clay       31.5     2            green
6. Avalokiteshvara      wood       69       44           white
7. Avalokiteshvara      wood       84       41.5         white
8. Ushnishavijaya       wood       60       23.5         yellow
9. Unidentified deity   wood       91       37.5         blue

Six wooden sculptures
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Cultural Geography
Author:Thakur, Laxman S.
Publication:The Tibet Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Sep 22, 2009
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