Nepal, Manjushri Namasangiti – 12 hands

Undated, Nepal, Manjushri, gilt copper or copper alloy, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

Undated (Malla period), Nepal, Manjushri, gilt copper or copper alloy, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

This rare form of Manjushri, with one head and twelve hands, is the embodiment of a sacred text known as Arya Manjushri Namasangiti Tantra (see The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art by John Huntington and Dina Bangdel). As such, he is a fully enlightened buddha, with a bodhisattva appearance. Very important in Nepal he is rarely seen elsewhere. The six pairs of hands are related to the dyani buddhas and Vajrasattva. The above has a small oval face, a tripartite crown with bows and flowing ribbons, modest stone-inlaid jewellery. The lower end of his dhoti forms a fan shape under his ankles often seen on 16th century works.

17th century circa, Nepal, Manjushri, gilt copper, at the National Museum in Kathmandu, published in the Huntington Archives.

17th century circa, Nepal, Manjushri, gilt copper, at the National Museum in Kathmandu, published in the Huntington Archives.

This fairly similar image, complete with a lotus base, displays the vitarka mudra against the chest, as described in the Tantra. The two hands below sprinkle ambrosia from the bowl he holds on his lap in the third pair (in the dhyana mudra). The hands at shoulder level would have held a staff and sword, a bow and arrow, his upper hands are joined above his head in the vajrachakra mudra that symbolises Mount Meru amongst other things.

Undated, Himalayas, Manjushri, metal, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

Undated, Himalayas, Manjushri, metal, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

This undated but undoubtedly more recent image, possibly from Tibet, is reproduced here as there are so few sculptures on this topic outside Nepal. It displays several Nepalese features such as the oblong urna on the forehead and the small V-shaped mouth, but during the Malla period the lower lip is usually fuller and the fingers far more delicate, whereas the squarish face and the way Kirtimukha is depicted at the front of the crown are more proper to Tibet. We will notice that the upper arms are held so tightly against the head that the symbolism of the gesture is somewhat lost. This is even more obvious on the following example, which displays the same row of thick curls under the crown but finer hands with pointed fingers typical of Chinese-style Tibetan sculptures of the 18th century and 19th century.

18th-19th c., Tibet, Manjushri Namasangiti, gilt c.a., galerie geluk on Trocadero

18th-19th century, Tibet, Manjushri Namasangiti, gilt copper alloy,  published by Galerie Geluk on Trocadero.com

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