Mirrors of the Sacred: Continuity of Traditional Painting in Contemporary Nepal
Source: Nepal Art Council
By: Dina Bangdel
The remarkable artistic legacy of the Kathmandu Valley has been celebrated through the centuries, and the genius of the traditional master-artists from the Newar community have gained international reputation for creating works of extraordinary aesthetic quality that capture the essence of the divine embodiments. Nepal’s historical works of art bear witness the religious aspirations of two faiths—Hinduism and Buddhism—whose community of faithful have lived together in peaceful harmony for millennia. Historically, Nepal was been an important interface regions in South Asia, with political and religious alliances with their neighbors in the Gangetic plains, as well as with the Tibetan regions in the north. In this context, it is the works of art that remain the most vital witness of cross-cultural dialogue across the centuries, where Nepalese artists and religious teachers traveled to India, Tibet, China, and Mongolia since at least the 6th century CE. Certainly, by the Licchavi period (ca. 4th-9th centuries), Nepali craftsmen had developed distinctive stylistic and aesthetics conventions in both metal and stone sculptures, rivaling their Indian counterparts of the Gupta period.These masters—the Newar artists of the Kathmandu Valley—quickly achieved internationalrepute throughout Asia, and were acclaimed asworld-class painters and sculptors with unparalleled skill and iconographic expertise. The Transitional (ca. 9th-13th centuries) and Malla (1200–1768) periods were the most prolific and inspired eras of artistic production, with extensive cultural exchanges with the neighboring countries. The Buddhist monasteries and temples echo these creative productions in stone, wood, and metal—with shrine façades embellished with spectacular toranas, graceful strut figures, and intricate sculptural decorations. These virtuoso artists, many of whom belonged to the Buddhist castes of Vajracharyas and Shakyas were also patronized by royal Hindu patrons and lay followers. In fact, what we today generally refer to “Nepali” art is largely the creative genius of theseNewar masters, and it was their styles and idioms that were adopted by artists in Tibet, China and Mongolia.This exhibition organized by the Nepal Art Council, Mirrors of the Sacred: Traditional Painting in Contemporary Nepal, celebrates this extraordinary legacy through the works of contemporary paubha artists and the artistic conceptions combined with stylistic innovations allude to the unique expressions of the contemporary Nepalese artistic renaissance.
Mirrors of the Divine: Sacred Art in Hindu and Buddhist Traditions
The Sanskrit term pratima is aptly used to indicate a religious work of art whose essence is to capture the likeness or qualities of the divine as a reflection to understand the devotee’s unity with the divine. Hence, through the artistic creation, the metaphor of reflection and mirroring becomes essential in that the work of art created by the artist is meant to embody the sacred vision to inspire and illuminate beyond mere physical presence. With the offerings of flowers, incense, fruit, cloth, and jewelry given by the devotees, the object’s physical presence as living embodiments is acknowledged through ritual acts of honoring (puja), through touching, bowing, and sacred viewing, darshan (Fig 2). Indeed, in the religious context, images are considered worthy of veneration only after they have been consecrated. To create these sacred works, artists as creators are empowered through a ritual process called hastapuja, where the hands of the artists and tools that he will use are purified and empowered to conduct this sacred work.
After the creation of the work, in Hinduism and Buddhism contexts, consecration is the core ritual that transforms an artistic creation to an image or monument that is imbued with power and vivified as living embodiments of the sacred. The Sanskrit term pratistha, literally “installation or establishing,” is the ritual transformation of consecration. In Hinduism, significant treatises explain the process of pratistha, but this is also important in the Buddhist concept as well.
From the earliest layers of Buddhism, consecration becomes the most significant ritual to transform an image not simply to representor symbolize the Buddha and thereby the Dharma—whether it is anstupa, text, or image— but to render present the enlightened essence of the Buddha. It therefore is not simply, a pratima, literally “likeness/mirror” of fully enlightened Buddha, but is elevated to the category of an uddesika relic—a sacred object that is both living and a reminder of the dharma. Early literary sources, such as the MulasarvativadaVinayarefer to practices of consecration, and inserting a sarirarelic may have been one of the earliest forms of this ritual, as the text distinguish images with relics to be superior to those without relics.1These practices, found in the earliest layers of Buddhism, similarly continue to this day in the Kathmandu Valley among the Newar and Tibetan Buddhist practitioners. We have evidence for example, the 8th-9th century Kashmiri Avalokitesvara from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, whose internal hollow included inserted pieces of bone with string tied around them, painted wood, and dharanis on paper. Other evidence of consecration includes mantras, on the back on paintings, most frequent in Himalayan sculpture and painting, the mantras OM AH HUM. In other instances, dharanis and mantras vivify the image. Understanding the significance of the religious works of art help us realize the significance and role of artists in capturing the divine essence into a sculpture or painting through their creativity and skill.
Early painting traditions of the Kathmandu Valley
Early paintings from the Licchavi period have not survived, although inscriptions mention that the walls of a Buddhist temple were decorated with the Kinnari Jataka and other Buddhist subjects.2 Given the extensive production of metal and stone sculptures in the Licchavi period, some of the Buddhist monasteries must have been decorated with wall paintings, following the Indian tradition that dates back to the 6th century murals of Ajanta and Ellora Caves. The earliest surviving Nepali paintings are the illuminated palm-leaf manuscripts, dated and inscribed to the early 11th century. Since palm-leaves are not native to the Kathmandu Valley, this tradition was likely introduced from Eastern India, especially the Bihar and Bengal regions during the Pala-Sena period (ca. 9th-12th century), where palm-leaf manuscripts were illustrated with Buddhist deities dispersed within the text and also painted on the wooden covers. By the 9th century, there was a great deal of contact with the great Indian Buddhist centers such as Nalanda and Vikramashila, and we have records of pilgrims traveling to Bodhgaya, the heartland of Buddhism and the site of Shakyamuni’s enlightenment. The earliest extant palm-leaf manuscript is the Prajnaparamita Sahashrika manuscript, currently in the University of Cambridge Library.3 Dated to NS 135 (1015 CE), the colophon states that it was written in HlamVihara, presumably in Patan. The second oldest wooden cover of the Prajnaparamita manuscript is dated to 1028 CE in a private collection in Calcutta. Others include the illuminated Prajnaparamita manuscripts, dated 1054 CE (Los Angeles County Museum, USA) and 1072 CE (Asiatic Society, Calcutta). Stylistically, these early illuminated manuscripts are generally characterized by deep red backgrounds, slender elegant figures with subtle animations in their forms, and delicate delineations of facial features—aesthetics that are different from the Eastern Indian Pala manuscripts. The sharp angularity of the nose, chin, eyes and overt animation of figures in the Pala manuscripts can easily be distinguished stylistically from the Nepali conventions, with the subtle movements of the figures, delicate modeling of the form and gentle charm of facial expression. However, Pala influence continued to be important in Nepali art, especially when the itinerant Newar artists, familiar with Pala aesthetics, began to produce Pala-derived paintings for their Tibetan patrons after the demise of Indian Buddhism in the 12th century.
The earliest surviving Hindu manuscript illuminations are two covers of the Vishnudharma Purana(1047 CE), now in the National Archives in Kathmandu. The manuscript is profusely illustrated with various iconographic forms of Vishnu, but is stylistically similar to the Buddhist manuscripts. Other Hindu illustrated manuscripts included the ShivadharmaPurana and various copies of the Devimahatmya. The tradition of Newar illuminated manuscripts of Hindu and Buddhist themes continue well into the Malla period, with the copious production of handwritten manuscripts, often exquisitely illustrated. Stylistically, these manuscripts are carefully executed, with an increasing interest in scroll motifs in the background and ornate throne-backs. By the late Malla period, a significant stylistic shift occurs in the manuscript paintings, with the introduction of Rajput and Mughal influences in the 17th century. Increasingly, the animated figures are often delineated in bold black outline, and they lack the crisp definition and refined details of the earlier periods. The intricate scroll designs on the background now give way to a plain monochromatic backdrop and more static compositions. By the late 17th-early 18th centuries, long horizontal scrolls, some as long as thirty feet, are the preferred format to illustrate religious narratives, such as the vrata story of Vasundhara, Svayambhu Purana, or the life of the Buddha.
Paubha Painting Tradition
In Nepal, the term paubha, derived from the Sanskrit term pata (“cloth painting”) generally refers to large vertical format of sized cloth painting. These were commissioned by Hindu or Buddhist patrons to commemorate a special religious event, or given as an offering to gain religious. Historically, Hindu shilpashastra treatises, such as the Vishnudharmottara Purana (ca. 7th century) as well as the early Vajrayana literature, Manjushrimulakalpa(ca. 8th century) were well-known as reference manuals, especially for the technical processes of creating cloth painting (patavidhana) and also for the lost-wax process casting techniques. The descriptions also delineate the ritual procedures during the creation of painting and sculptures, such as purificatory rituals of preparing the materials, empowerment of the artists (hastapuja), mental and spiritual preparation to complete the painted image, and finally the consecration rituals to animate and vivify the finished object. In the Vajrayana texts, the artist is often described as a yogin, a practitioner who is able to reproduce onto the canvas images visualized during meditations. Iconometric guidelines were also important for the study of style. Specific grid measurements of body and facial proportions, and general delineation of deity categories, such as Buddhas, Bodhisattva, peaceful or wrathful deities, follow iconometric conventions of a specific style or school. Stylistic mastery was generally acquired through teaching lineages, often transmitted within family or within an informal guild system.
In the Newar tradition, artists, sketchbooks often serve as a shorthand of iconographic/ iconometrics accuracy (color, attribute, form) and stylistic variation, and these sketchbooks must have been created as handy reference to familiarize the artist with the complex iconography of both Hindu and Buddhist deities. Rather than relying on the strict iconometric grids, master artists tend to sketch freehand. In this context, artists were generally designated by their hereditary caste affiliation of wood-carvers, metal casters, and painters (chitrakara/pun), although the Buddhist Shakyas and Vajracaryas caste have been superb sculptors and painters, and their iconographic and ritual knowledge were associated their religious training. Even today, the authority and iconographic expertise of the Vajracharya or a Hindu Tantric priest would override the artist’s own visual repertoire. Artists were also expected to have mastery of the religious iconography, and Buddhist texts such as Abayakaragupta’s Nispannayogavali, Sadhanamala, or Vajravali were important references. Thus, form, color, composition, and iconography are the key elements of defining the Newar stylistic tradition, and we know from surviving paintings Newar artists working for Tibetan patrons would use Tibetan conventions of composition as well as specific iconography based on a Tibetan lineage. Sadhana, or visualizations of the image, were critical to the accurate portrayal of the deity onto the canvas, as the final intention of these exquisite works of art was to engage the viewer to experience and evoke the quality of the divine beings. Works of art were based on these visualizations, and this correlation between iconography and visualization is evident in the sadhana of Vajrayogini based on the 12th century Indian teacher Umapatideva’s Guhyasamaya Sadhanasamgraha:4
“Imagine the yogin’s body as the mandala palace. In the middle of the mandala is a triangular source of Dharma (dharmodaya), white outside and red inside with a narrow root and a large hood, domed on top like the back of a tortoise. Inside this, speech is transformed into the syllables of the mantra and the mind into the deities. From PAM arises a lotus in the center of which is a yellow corpse with its head to the left. On the heart-mind of the corpse is OM from which comes a sun disk on which is VAM. Light rays emerge from it and spread throughout all directions returning with the Jina of the ten directions who dissolve into the syllable. It becomes myself, Vajrayogini, deep ruby red, as brilliant as 10,000,000 suns.
Her principal face is of goddess aspect, imbued with passion and wrath, laughing and with bared teeth. The right face is that of a pig, wrathful and looking upwards. Her right hand brandishes a vajra knife, her left holds a skull [bowl] of blood at her heart while carrying a white khatvanga in her armpit. Her garland of five dry skulls is strung on a wreath of black vajras and she is adorned with a long, hanging necklace of fifty blood-dripping human heads links with entrails and the five symbolic ornaments of human bone, i.e., circlet, earrings, bracelets, necklace [and girdle]. Naked, youthful as a sixteen-year-old, and full breasted, she stands in ardhaparyanka dancing posture with the left leg extended. She is amorous and playful in the midst of the blazing fire of insight.”
The vertical scroll painting (Skt. pata. New. paubhas) format adopted by the Newar artists suited their purpose, since its distinctive format and painting technique enabled portability, and could be easily rolled up and transported over the high Himalayan passes to their clients in Tibet. As sacred objects, these paintings were consecrated, and became the focal point of meditation or worship within a monastery or temple. Today, some of the most significant Newar paintings are now in museums and private collections in the West and Asia. To name a few of these magnificent Newar paintings and sculpture: Green Tara (ca. 12th century) in the Cleveland Museum of Art; Chakrasamvara Mandala (ca. 13th century) from the Metropolitan Museum; Ratnasambhava (ca. 13th century), Vishnu Mandala (1420 CE), Chakrasamvara Mandala (dated 1490), and Chakrasamvara and Vajravarahi (ca. 15th century) from the Los Angeles Museum of Art; the reconsecration of Svayambhu Mahachaitya (dated 1565) and the Chakrasamvara and Vajravarahi (ca. 15th century) in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Collection; the stunning sculpture of Durga Mahisamardini (ca. 15th century) in the Rubin Museum; Acala and Dveshavajri (ca. 14th century) from the Zimmerman Collection; RaktaGanapati (ca. 1435) in the Magnucci Collection; and the painting depicting Pratap Malla performing the Tuladhana ceremony (dated 1664), Private Collection in Paris.
Artist Arniko/Anige in the Yuan Courts
The Kathmandu Valley’s importance as artistic nucleus and great center of Tantric Buddhist practice is nowhere more clearly evident than in the Tibetan historical accounts, and Chinese sources in the Yuan dynasty. Especially from the 10th to 12th centuries we have accounts in the Blue Annals of the great Indian Mahasiddhas coming to Nepal, staying in the Kathmandu Valley, and transmitting the Tantric initiations to Newar panditas before making their way into Tibet. Similarly, in the Tibetan accounts, there are extensive lineage transmissions of the Tantric teachings, which list some of the great Newar Tantrins who came to Tibet and conferred initiation there. Conversely, as the Nepal Valley was widely known as one the great centers of Tantric practice, we have innumerable references to Tibetan teachers coming to Nepal—to study with a famous Newar teacher and to receive empowerments, to learn Sanskrit, and to translate the texts into Tibetan with the help of the master. Indeed, these textual references testify to the vitality of the Kathmandu Valley around the 10th to 13th centuries, where there was extensive contact and exchange of teachings among the Indian, Newar, and Tibetan Buddhist practitioners. It is within this religious environment that Newar art flourished through contact with its neighbors.
The most famous Newar artist is perhaps Arniko (Ch. Anige/Aniko), also known as Balbahu.5Arniko (ca. 1245–1306) was first invited to go to Tibet by Phagpa, the hierarch of the Sakya sect, in 1260 to build a golden stupa in Tibet.6 Although Arniko was only fifteen, he took charge of the hundred artisans and impressed Phagpa with his talents. After completing the stupa, Arniko requested to return to Nepal but Phagpa encouraged him to go to Yuan court and meet the great Mongol emperor, Kublai Khan. Phagpa initiated the artist in esoteric Buddhist rites and presented him before the Great Khan. Chinese texts mention that Arniko answered Kublai’s questions eloquently and with composure, impressing the ruler with his bravery, piety, and skill.7 The Khan then tested Arniko by ordering him to repair a badly damaged Song-period bronze statue. None of the court artists had been able to accomplish the task, because the statue had a complicated system of arteries and veins. When Arniko restored it successfully in 1265, the young artist sealed his reputation at the Yuan court and remained in favor for more than forty years.
Arniko’s works were instrumental in the conversion of Kublai Khan to Tantric Buddhism. In 1274, Phagpa directed Arniko to create an image of Mahakala that was used in a protection ritual to aid Khan in his battles against the Southern Song, whom he final overthrew in 1280. This same image also became important in the political strategy of the 17th-century Mongols and increasingly powerful Manchus in the Qing dynasty. Arniko’s Mahakala image had become a powerful symbol of these leaders’ authority to rule, linking them to the deity’s powers as well as to the Great Khan.8 Among his many architectural projects, only the White Stupa in Beijing still stands. He was responsible for many imperial works and worked in a variety of media, such metal, dry lacquer, ceramic, unfired clay images, cloth paintings, and woven tapestry. Although his works are not signed, Arniko’s style was noted for the skillful fusion of Indian, Chinese, and Newar aesthetics. This marks the definitive authority of Newar stylistic influence in the Tantric Buddhist arts of Tibet, China, and Mongolia.
Newar Artists in Tibet and Beyond: Beri (Bal ri) Style
For the Buddhist clientele, the Newar Buddhist caste groups of Vajracharyas and Shakyas were the Valley’s craftsmen: carvers of stone, wood, and ivory; painters; and highly skilled metalworkers, goldsmiths, and silversmiths. These occupations led many members of these caste groups to serve as itinerant artists in Tibet, commissioned to work for monasteries throughout central and southern Tibet. In this regard, devout lay Newar Buddhists were major patron of the arts, specifically from the merchant (uray) castes, who offered the artworks as token of gratitude and benefaction for all sentient beings. They were also skilled traders and many lived in Lhasa and southern Tibet, taking Tibetan wives and maintaining a family. Therefore, by the 13th century, Newar aesthetic and style has made a lasting impact in Tibetan art, and Newar artists were held in high regard, for their skill and expertise of various styles. Indeed, by the early 14th century, Newar artists were actively traveling to Tibet and have been instrumental in the development of the Tibetan Beri (Bal ris or Bal bris) style of painting and sculpture from the 14th-16th century.9 “Beri” style, meaning “Newar-derived painting/sculpture,” created by the Newar artists, are found in the murals and sculptures in the monasteries of central Tibet, such as Shalu (figure 2), Sakya, and Ngor monasteries. The distinguishing features of the Newar style are the delicate softness of the faces, highly decorative and detailed brushwork, the overall red palette, intricate scroll patterning in the background, and elaborately decorated thronebacks with spectacular makara tails and kirttimukha motifs. Iconographically, however, the Newar artists were familiar with Tibetan conventions based of specific Tibetan lineage traditions.
An inscribed thyasaphu of 1435 is the oldest surviving artists’ sketchbook (figures 7 and 8). It belonged to the 15th century Newar artist Jivarama, and the inscription mentions that he had worked in Tibet and brought the book back after his stay in Tibet. What is spectacular about this sketchbook is Jivarama’s mastery of different styles and iconographies—the indigenous Newar style, Chinese style, as seen in the style of the Arhats, or in a Tibetan idiom, as indicated by the four Guardian kings. Another Newar artist Srimatadeva had a similar sketchbook, which he prepared in Lhasa in 1652. These types of sketchbooks suggest that they were not only used as a sampling of their virtuosity for the Tibetan clients, but was also to familiarize themselves with Tibetan iconography and Tibetan/Chinese styles. In recent years, Himalayan paintings that were previously designated as “Tibetan” or “Nepalese” can now be more specifically reattributed to the works of Newar artists in Tibet, or Tibetan artists working on the Newar style. The recent discovery of the 14th century mural paintings at Lomanthang in Mustang are evidence of the prolific artistic tradition of the Newar paubha painters, as the style is the amalgamation of Indian and pure Newar aesthetics. This extraordinary eye for accommodating the desires of their patrons still continues today, as contemporary paubha masters fluidly shift their styles and adopt idiom suited for their specific clientele—whether it is iconography and styles of Japanese Buddhist art, the 17th century Tibetan New Menri School, or purely localized “Newar” style of painting.
Toward the late 15th to 19th centuries, the commissions of Newar traders who patronized the Tibetan artists also created distinctly Tibeto-Newar-style paintings combined with a specific Newar iconography. Indeed, some of the most spectacular paintings of this period highlight the interaction between Newar artists and Tibetan patrons and, conversely, the symbiotic relation of the Newar patrons in Tibet. The Gyantse Kumbumand the murals (figure 2) are among the best examples of 17th century Tibeto-Newar-style. These works also herald the foundation of the Tibetan New Menrischool, which is an amalgamation of Newar aesthetics, Tibetan iconography, and Chinese inspired blue-green landscape elements.
Paubha Paintings of the Kathmandu Valley
While the prolific Newar artists were be courted by the international patrons in the courts of the Tibetans, Chinese, and Mongolians, the artistic creativity in the Kathmandu Valley was also significant in that they produced some of the masterpiences of Nepalese art. We have several important dated paintings, in Nepalese museum collections as well as in private and museum collections in the United States and Europe, which attest to the creative genius of the Nepalese artists. A unique feature of Nepalese paintings is the colophon at the bottom of the painting, which provides the historical circumstances for which the painting was produced, generally the names of the donor, the date, and the occasion for commission. Names of artists are extremely rare up until the 18th century, and thus far we only know a handful of names of these traditional artists. Paintings were never signed by the artists. Among the dated paintings are Vasundhara Mandala of 1367 (Private Collection), Ushnishviyaja for the Bhimratha ceremony dated 1416 (Zimmerman Collection); Vishnu Mandala of 1420 in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Candra Mandala of 1426, now at the Metropolitan Museum; Vasundhara Mandala of 1443; Cakrasamvara and Vajravarahi of 1467, and the wonderful Chakrasamvara Mandala from LACMA dated 1490.
The Malla period from the 15th century onwards saw a prolific period of creativity, specifically in Hindu deities commissioned by the royal Hindu courts, among which some spectacular paintings have come to light, including the Tuladhana of Pratap Malla, Pilgrimage to Gosainkunda, a horizontal scroll (tulapau), now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. With the late Malla period came the introduction of Rajput and Mughal elements in Nepalese paintings, specifically in the interest in minute details in the figures, ornate borders, and interest in secular paintings, specifically portrait. The downfall of the Newar Malla kings to the Shah dyanasty (1768-2008) witness a new shift in patronage with the courtly elite of commissioning works of more intimate scale, mostly for internal comsumption of Hindu deities. It is during this period that there is a decline in the traditional arts of the Kathmandu valley with the rupture in royal patronage.
Modernity and Traditional Arts from the early 20th century to Today
In the late 19th century, there is a dramatic rupture in patronage as well as the artistic access, since the sole responsibility for painting were still under the tight network of the Chitrakar caste-group, especially from 1845-1951, when Nepal was controlled by the Rana oligarchy and closed to the world until 1961. It was during this time that we are able to document the names and careers of specific artists, all belonging to the Chitrakar, or Shakya caste groups. The biographies of artists are critically important to recognize in the revitalization of the arts.10Of these, several artists are critically important for their introduction of a “new Newar” style. These includeAnandamuniShakya, Manik Man Chitrakar, Krishna Bahadur Chitrakar, and Prithiviman Chitrakar. Of these, Anandamuni Shakya’s legacy is extremely significant, as he introduced a radically new style of religious art, marking this shift in artistic innovation, specifically medium, composition and style of Newar paubha or scroll paintings. Distinctive characteristics include the black and white tonality to suggest photo-realism, which along with the flowing drapery, realism of form later become his signature style. Anandamuni’s legacy of this new “Newar” aesthetic renaissance in this hybrid of style—Newar, Tibetan, and Chinese aesthetics—continued with his son, Siddhimuni Shakya, who mastered this “black and white” technique. Many of the works that we see today in the contemporary context are legacy emerging from Anandamuni to take on new forms, media, and self-expression. These prolific traditions continue to be practiced today in the three cities of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur, with both local and international patrons supporting the arts. Increasingly, the paubhapainters have moved outside the restrictions of the Chitrakar and Vajrcharya/Shakya caste group to embrace the diversity of ethnicity to work on the paubha painting tradition.
Three generations of paubha artists of extraordinary creativity can be identified, with Anandamuni Shakya, Manik Man Chitrakar, SiddhimuniShakya, Amirman Chitrakar. The second generation is Premman Chitrakar, Surya Bahadur Chitrakar followed by Mukti Singh Thapa, Lok Chitrakar, Nhycchekarji Bajracharya, Purna Hyoju, Gyankar Bajracharya, and Deepak Joshi. A new wave of pioneering artists that push the boundaries of tradition and contemporary is Uday Charan Shrestha, whose radical compositions reflect artistic innovation yet his religious works are deeply rooted in the iconographic precision of sadhanas and iconographic texts. Among the younger generation of extraordinary artistic practice is Samundarman Singh Shrestha, Raj PrakashTuladhar, Devendra Sikhuwal, Ujay Bajracharya, and SukrarajTamang. It is critical also to recognize that women paubha painters have entered the arena in a historically male-dominated profession, including artists like Minu Bajracharya, Renuka Gurung, and Pramila Bajracharya among others.
Through an extraordinary gathering of 72 artists and over 100 works of art, Nepal’s incredibly rich legacy of contemporary paubhaartists is being presented in the Nepal Art Council today. The historical roots of Newar aesthetics and style must to contextualized by the paubha artists in order to define their “contemporary” expressions of Nepalese paubha painting. What we witness are vitality and creative continuities of this fascinating history of creativity and excellence that spans almost 12 centuries that the contemporary paubhaartists seek to preserve in their cultural and artistic heritage.
Dr. Dina Bangdel is Associate Professor and Director of Art History at Virginia Commonwealth University, and is a specialist in Himalayan art and architecture. She serves on the Executive Board as Member of Nepal Art Council.
1 See JuhyungRhi, “Image, Relics, and Jewels: The Assimilation of Images in the Buddhist Relic Cult of Gandhara—or Vice Versa,” ArtibusAsiae65, no. 2 (2005), 169-211. See also Donald Swearer, Becoming the Buddha: The Ritual of Image Consecration in Thailand (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004).
2 DhanavajraVajracharya, LicchavikalkaAbhilekh(Kathmandu: Institute of Nepal and Asian Studies, VS 2030 [June 1973]), 1.
3 Pratapaditya Pal, Art of Nepal, Vol 2(Leiden: E.J. Brille, 1978), 17.
4 Martin Willson and Martin Brauen, eds.,Deities of Tibetan Buddhism (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2000), 257–58..
5 The Pin Yin transliteration of the Chinese characters of his name is Anige. Commonly spelled Arniko or Aniko in modern scholarship, there are no Newar records of him, only Chinese and Tibetan. He is also referred to Balbahu in the Yuan shi.
6 Huntington and Bangdel, “Tantra in China,” Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art, 45-46. See also, Anning Jing “The Portraits of Khubilai Khan and Chabi by Anige (1245–1306), Nepali Artist at the Yuan Court,” 47 and James Watt, The World of Khublai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty (New York: Metropolitican Museum of Art, 2010).
7 On Arniko, see Anning Jing, “Anige (1245–1306): A Nepali Artist at the Yuan Court.” For the story of Arniko’s presentation before the Khan, see pp. 3–6.
8 The image was first offered to Ligdan Khan (r. 1604–1634), the last of the Northern Yuan khans in 1617 before ManjushriPandita, originally part of Ligdan’s entourage, offered it to Manchus at Mukden in 1635; Patricia Berger, “After Xanadu: The Mongol Renaissance of the 16th to the 18th Centuries,” in Patricia Berger and TereseTse Bartholomew, Mongolia: The Legacy of Chinggis Khan, 54–55.
9 See David Jackson, The Nepalese Legacy in Tibetan Painting (New York: Rubin Museum of Art, 2010).
10 See GyanendraBibas, Prasiddha Nepali PaubhahKalakar[“Famous Paubha Artists of Nepal”], (Kathmandu: Lalit Kala Academy, 2013).