Stone steles from Tibet

Many Tibetan stone steles represent wrathful god Mahakala, especially in his Panjarnata form, i.e. the protector of nomadic tents, probably used as a portable altar.

13th century, Tibet, Mahakala Panjarnata, gilt and painted limestone, private collection

13th century, Tibet, Mahakala Panjarnata, gilt and painted limestone, private collection

Mahakala, standing on the enemies of the faith, is holding a ceremonial staff across his arms and a skull cup and flaying knife in his hands. He wears a long necklace of severed heads, his crown is adorned with skulls and his has flaming hair. He is surrounded with other wrathful deities. There is a flaming halo behind him. The pedestal is made of a row of unusually small lotus petals going upwards and a row of much larger ones going downwards, resting on a plain base.

12th century, Tibet, Mahakala, painted black stones, at the Musée Guimet in Paris

12th century, Tibet, Mahakala, painted black stones, at the Musée Guimet in Paris

Four-armed Mahakala holds a sword, ceremonial staff, skull cup and flaying knife. His flaming hair is represented by a smooth orange shape sticking out of his crown. On this stele and the one below, the deity has one leg folded on the seat and one leg resting on a large lotus flower, in the Indian Pala fashion.

12th-13th century, Tibet, black stone and paint, private collection

12th-13th century, Tibet, black stone and paint, private collection

13th century, Tibet, six-arm Mahakala, stone and pigments, gilt copper frame, private collection, published by C. Halpert,

13th century, Tibet, six-arm Mahakala, stone and pigments, gilt copper frame, private collection, published by C. Halpert,

This fierce-looing Mahakala wears an elephant hide on his back, a snake belt, snake anklets, as well as a necklace of severed heads and other adornments. He holds prayers beads, a ceremonial staff, a skull cup and a flaying knife while the other two hands are making a symbolic gesture. The figure at the front is Shri Devi, from the Indian pantheon.

14th-15th century, Tibet, Mahakala Panjarnata, steatite and pigments, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (USA)

14th-15th century, Tibet, Mahakala Panjarnata, steatite and pigments, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (USA)

Other Tibetan stone steles represent bodhisattvas or buddas.

12th century, Tibet, bodhisattva Manjushri and his consort, at the Cleveland Museum of Art (USA)

12th century, Tibet, bodhisattva Manjushri and his consort, at the Cleveland Museum of Art (USA)

This is a rare representation of four-armed Manjushri , holding swords and manuscripts, in an embrace with his consort. This double lotus base design – elongated plump petals –  is often seen on 12th-13th century copper alloy statues.

Being proportionally taller and narrower than steles, stone statues are more likely to fall and get broken. Only a few can be seen to day.

12th century, Tibet, bodhisattva Manjushri, schist and pigments, private collection

12th century, Tibet, bodhisattva Manjushri, schist and pigments, private collection

If this is Manjushri, the lotus to his left is missing. It is usually the blue lotus topped with a manuscript that help identify him in his most peaceful form (White Manjushri).  The rigidity of the body and sturdy lower limbs, and the shape of the pedestal, suggest an Indian influence but the moonlike face and the use of pigments on the lips and hair indicate that it was made by a Tibetan artist, or, at any rate, to suit Tibetan taste.

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s