Vajradhara and consort Bhagavani (Tibetan: dor je chang): the primordial Buddha of Tantric Buddhism and the spiritual source for the Buddhist Tantric literature along with four of the Eighty-four Mahasiddha. This is the first painting in a set of eleven paintings commissioned by Jigme Gonpo and [painted by a Karshodpa artist of Eastern Tibet (as recorded by inscription on the back of the painting).
This composition is the first, center, in a set of eleven paintings depicting Vajradhara and the Eighty-four Mahasiddha according to the system of Abhayadatta Shri. The first painting contains Vajradhara and four mahasiddha, Luipa, Virupa, Indrabhuti and Dombi Heruka, along with a Buddha at the top and two deity figures at the bottom. Each subsequent painting in the set contains a bodhisattva at the top center and eight mahasiddha per composition. The ordering of the siddha follows the sequential enumeration from the text called The History of the Eighty-four Mahasiddha (Tibetan: grub thob brgyad bcu tsa bzhi'i lo rgyus) by the Indian scholar Abhayadatta Shri (12th century. Full Tibetan text in PDF format: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).
Seated at the center of the composition is blue Vajradhara with his red consort, Bhagavani. He holds a vajra and bell crossed at the heart and the consort holds a curved knife and skullcup. Richly attired and adorned with jewels and silks they sit in vajra posture atop a lotus and lion supported throne. Behind the couple is an elaborate throne back (Sanskrit: torana) decorated with elephants, snow lions, makara sea creatures and a red garuda bird at the peak.
At the top center is a Buddha figure embracing a consort and performing the gesture of teaching with the two hands at the heart. Seated on a moon disc and multi-coloured lotus throne they gently rest atop pillows of green and blue cloud floating in the sky.
At the middle left is Luipa, semi-naked, pale, with matted hair typical of a yogi, seated on a deerskin in a relaxed posture. He is eating the discarded entrails of predatory fish, abandoning societies notions of what is wholesome and unwholesome, acceptable and unacceptable. In front is a large gutted fish and at the sides are two figures, a male on the right offering a fish and a female on the left offering up a golden vase of spiritual attainments to Luipa.
Seated below is King Lilapa, in a relaxed posture atop a regal throne, richly attired with sumptuous robes and wearing a crown. Six court attendants perform various tasks, a minister, treasurer, musicians, and servants. A yogi figure stands in front.
At the middle right is the Lord of Yoga, Virupa, 'Ugly One.' Dark in colour and semi-naked, he sits in a relaxed posture with the right arm raised and the hand in a wrathful gesture aimed at the sun in the sky above. The left hand holds a black deer horn used as a drinking cup. A large blue jar of alcohol sits in front and a barmaid offers up a large cup of the libation. An Indian king below offers payment for the alcohol recalling an episode from the life-story of Virupa.
Below that is Dombi Heruka, embracing his naked consort and riding on the back of a pregnant tigress. A hood of six snakes adorns his head and he holds in the right hand upraised a seventh snake as a whip. On the grass below, five figures pay homage with offerings, and ask forgiveness. This miniature scene recalls an event in the life-story of Dombi Heruka.
At the bottom left is the meditational deity Blue Achala with the consort Mamaki, in the form known as Maha Chandaroshana. He is in a kneeling posture and with the two hands the right is upraised holding a sword and the left holds a lasso. A circle of multi-coloured flames surrounds the couple as they kneel on a sun disc and lotus seat.
At the right side is the fiercely wrathful protector, the Great Black One, Mahakala, in his form known as Chaturbhuja (four-armed). He has one face and four arms holding a curved knife and skullcup at the heart in the first pair and an upraised sword and trident in the second pair. The consort is light blue in colour and holds a double-sided drum and a skullcup. Seated in a posture with the legs splayed atop two human corpses, above a sun disc and lotus seat, they are completely surrounded by the brightly burning flames of pristine awareness.
The two wrathful figures, Achala and Chaturbhuja Mahakala, have long been associated with the Eighty-four Mahasiddha in Tibetan ritual, initiation and meditation texts. They are both specifically mentioned at the beginning of Jonang Taranata's text and described for inclusion in murals or paintings of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas.
The inscription at the back of the painting, top of the brocade, states "The principal painting of the eighty [four] siddhas made by Kushab Jigme Gonpo; painted by a Karshodpa artist from a Situ model." This can be understood and interpreted in several ways. Jigme Gonpo is most likely the donor or commissioner of the painting. The actual artistry and work of creating the painting was done by a Karshodpa meaning an artist from the village of Karshod. This particular village in Kham, Tibet, very close to Karma Gon Monastery and renowned for its artists. The painting is the first, or principal, painting from a set comprised of eleven compositions - an eleven painting set of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas according to the Indian system of Abhayadatta and drawn according to the iconography of Jonang Taranata (1575-1635).
The words "from a Situ model" can also be translated as "...in a Situ style." However, it is not known which Situ is being referred to here. None of these Situpa lamas are known for having a "Situ style." It is likely not the 8th Tai Situ Chokyi Jungne (1700-1774) based on stylistic elements of the painting and more likely to be one of the three later Situpas. Again the style is not particular to the time of 9th Pema Nyingche Wangpo (1774-1853) either because of comparable paintings that are inscribed and dated from later in the 19th century. The 10th Pema Kunzang Chogyal (1854-1885) and the 11th Pema Wangchug Gyalpo (1886-1952) are probably the lamas of the day when this painting was commissioned - based on stylistic elements and comparable paintings with datable inscriptions. It is also possible that the eleven painting set was an original idea of a Tai Situ whereas the one painting, three or five painting sets were ideas of others.
It is also reasonable to consider that the image of the painting shown above is copied from a model either in the possession of a Situpa, belonging to the labrang (estate) of a Situpa, or copied from an example in the holdings of Palpung monastery or another monastery under the administrative jurisdiction of one of the Situpas or Palpung Monastery. All of these sources are possibilities to explain the words "...from a Situ model." An example of an almost identical earlier composition is known from the collection of Nenang Pawo Labrang, see painting HAR #99215 for a comparison. It is almost certain that the figures depicted in the HAR #65420 were traced from another painting such as HAR #99215.
Top center: Buddha
Center: Vajradhara and Bhagavani
A. Acahala (bottom left)
B. Chaturbhuja Mahakala (bottom right)
"The principle [figure] is Vajradhara. Representing the Ishtadevata [Meditational Deities] is Krodha Achala [Wrathful Immovable One], blue, kneeling. Representing the Dharmapalas [Dharma Protectors] is Chatrubhuja Nata [the Lord with Four Hands]."
1. Luipa (top left)
"With a thin body, a bluish complexion, in front - live fish in a heap for eating, the hair piled up along with chest hair."
2. Lilapa (middle left)
"Seated on a throne in the appearance of a king, surrounded by a gathering of a minister, queen, and the like."
3. Virupa (top right)
"Renowned, an extraordinary man, a garland of flowers on the head, without other adornments, the right hand in a wrathful gesture, the left holding a wild ox horn filled with liquor for drinking."
4. Dombhi Heruka (middle right)
"The body complete with bone ornaments, the right hand holding a poisonous snake as a whip, with the head of the snake hovering, the left side of the body is embraced by the consort, riding atop a tiger."
(Translated description from the text of Jonang Taranata grub thob chen po brgyad cu rtsa bzhi'i 'bri yig).
Jeff Watt 1-2006