Entries Tagged as arhats
Arhat (Tibetan: ne tan): a Sanskrit term for Buddhist saints, more correctly in Tibetan meaning elder or 'sthavira' in Sanskrit. The arhats represent the earliest followers of the Buddha, always found depicted in a group of sixteen, they are painted on cloth, wall murals, and fashioned of metal, stone, clay, or wood.
An early iconographic source for the individual descriptions of the arhats is the verse text Praise to the Sixteen Arhats attributed to the Kashmiri teacher Shakyashri Bhadra of the 12th/13th century.
The earliest known paintings in Tibet are found as wall murals in Dratang Monastery in Central Tibet. However, the Dratang arhat paintings do not appear to depict the group of sixteen which gain popularity in Tibetan art some time later.
arhats · updates
The Direction Guardians, or Four Guardian Kings, or the Four Heavenly Kings, reside on the innermost ring of islands (the lower slopes) around the four sided mythical Mount Sumeru, the center of the idealized Buddhist and Hindu world. Vaishravana (North), Dhritarashtra (East), Virudhaka (South), Virupaksha (West).
There are many names commonly used in English for this group of four figures, Four Direction Kings, Four Guardians of the Directions, Four Kings, Four Kings of the Directions. In Tibetan they are generally referred to as the Four Great Kings (gyal chen shi). Despite all of the different names they are still the same group of four figures commonly represented in Himalayan and Tibetan art.
Four Guardian Kings:
2. Virudhaka, South
3. Dhritarashtra, East
4. Virupaksha, West
These four figures represent the first Indian gods incorporated into the Buddhist narrative. The Four Guardian Kings came before Shakyamuni Buddha just after the Buddha achieved enlightenment under the bodhi tree. The four offered, each individually, a black bowl made of sapphire or lapis lazuli to the Buddha. The Buddha accepted the offer and the four bowls miraculously became one bowl. This is the black bowl that is typically seen in the lap of Shakyamuni in painting and sculpture.
The Four Guardian Kings are typically found with the group of Shakyamuni & Sixteen Arhats in painting and sculpture. They are commonly found as mural paintings at the entrance way of a Buddhist temple. Although primarily associated with the idea of Hinayana Buddhism, the Four Kings are found in Vajrayana Buddhism as secondary figures, attendant deities and minor figures in the outer rings of mandalas. They are especially common in the mandalas of the lower Tantras of Yoga, Charya and Kriya where they are generally located at the four doors to the celestial; palace in the middle of the circular mandala.
- Medicine Buddha Mandala
- Pancha Raksha Fifty-six Deity Mandala
- Vajrapani & the Four Guardian Kings Mandala
- Tara, Seventeen Deity Mandala
Of the Four Guardian Kings, only Vaishravana is singled out and employed as an individual meditational deity in Vajrayana Buddhism. Aside from his place and depiction in the group of four he is most commonly depicted as Vaishravana Riding a Lion. He has a number of other forms and is primarily employed as a wealth deity.
arhats · updates
Hvashang, the Chinese patron to the Sixteen Great Arhats, although appearing under the iconographic category of 'Arhats' Hvashang is not an arhat himself. He belongs to the Tibetan and Chinese narrative of the Sixteen Great Arhats.
Hvashang (along with Dharmata), in Himalayan and Tibetan and art, is ONLY depicted in compositions along with Shakyamuni Buddha and the Sixteen Arhats. These depictions can be in a single painting containing all of the figures or created in sets of paintings up to twenty-three in number. Both Hvashang and Dharmata are narrative figures belonging to the iconographic story of Shakyamuni and the Sixteen Great Arhats. They are never employed as meditational deities. (See Hinayana Buddhism represented in Tibetan Art).
Hvashang is a human figure, often dark in complexion with the right hand holding a crystal 'mala,' a garland of beads for counting prayers. In the left hand he can hold a bowl of precious substances as an offering to the arhats, or a persimmon fruit. Adorned with opulent robes he is seated in a casual fashion. The key iconographic features are his portly size and the bead mala, which can be in either hand, along with a bald head and leisurely posture, surrounded by numerous small children sporting and playing.
Hvashang, meaning a 'Chinese monk,' is considered an historic figure who was sent by the Tang Emperor of China to invite the Buddha Shakyamuni to come and visit China and the Imperial Court. Since the Buddha had already passed away the invitation was relayed to the Sixteen Great Arhats. From approximately the 16th century onwards most paintings of the Buddha Shakyamuni and the Sixteen Arhats depicted in Himalayan Style Art have included the patron Hvashang. In mos paintings earlier than the 16th century Hvashang is conspicuously absent.
Curiously, in Himalayan and Tibetan art Hvashang is always depicted as a layman wearing jewelry and fancy silk robes. Although he is referred to in some historical accounts as a monk he is more commonly described as the patron, or the patriarch to the Sixteen Arhats, because he presented the invitation and was the representative of the Emperor of China. However neither of the two early Tibetan liturgies of the ritual practice of Shakyamuni Buddha and the Sixteen Arhats, made popular by both the Lord Atisha and the Kashmiri Pandit Shakyashribhadra, include the patron Hvashang.
In Chinese Buddhism depictions of a figure similar to Hvashang are believed to be the Buddha Maitreya and are commonly found as an individual painting, mural or sculpture throughout China.
arhats · updates
Dharmata (Dharmatala) the upasaka of Central Asian or Chinese origin - the layman attendant to the Sixteen Great Arhats. Dharmata, although always appearing in relation to the Arhats, is not an arhat himself. He belongs to the Tibetan and Chinese narrative of the Sixteen Great Arhats.
Dharmata, considered by some to be an emanation of Avalokiteshvara, belongs to a thematic set of paintings known as 'Shakyamuni Buddha and the Sixteen Great Arhats.' The full group comprises twenty-five figures: the buddha Shakyamuni, together with the two foremost disciples - Shariputra and Maudgalyayana, the Sixteen Great Arhats, the attendant Dharmata, the patron Hvashang and the Four Guardians of the Directions; Vaishravana, Virupaksha, Dritarashtra and Virudhaka.
Dharmata (along with Hvashang) is ONLY depicted in compositions with Shakyamuni Buddha and the Sixteen Arhats. These depictions can be in a single painting containing all of the figures or created in sets of paintings up to twenty-three in number. Both Hvashang and Dharmata are narrative figures belonging to the iconographic story of Shakyamuni and the Sixteen Great Arhats. They are never employed as meditational deities. (See Hinayana Buddhism represented in Tibetan Art).
arhats · updates
Shakyamuni Buddha and the Sixteen Arhats are the most common painting subject found in Himalayan art. The Buddha and arhats can be depicted all together in one composition or spread over several compositions of three, five, seven, eleven or twenty-three paintings in total. The complete complement of figures in a set is twenty-five. (See the Arhats Painting Sets Outline).
arhats · painting · Sets
Whenever working with arhat paintings or sculpture it is always necessary to refer to a list of names and figural images to help with identification. This can be done in several ways, either by simply referring to a Tibetan text such as the Praise of the Sixteen Arhats
where each arhat is named and described, or by looking at a single arhat painting
, or set of arhat paintings, where the iconography is clear and the names are written beneath each figure, or to look at a set of block print images that have both the images and names for each of the arhats. These are the general approaches to identifying arhat figures when there are no identifying inscriptions on the works themselves.
I hesitate to mention one other approach, but shall do so anyway. An alternate approach is to have memorized all of the arhat names in both Tibetan and Sanskrit and know all of the depictions and attributes for each of the sixteen arhat figures plus knowing the several different systems, or variations, for visually depicting the arhats. The Arhat Resource Page
is not necessary with this approach to identifying arhats.
For basic arhat identification the Arhat Resource Page
presents first the individual block print images from the Three Hundred Icons
published by Raghu Vira and Lokesh Chandra. These images are especially valuable because they provide both the Tibetan name and the Sanskrit name for each of the arhats. Following these essential tools for the identification of arhats are the important Arhat Pages and topics both on the HAR site and as external resources. Navigation is provided as screen capture images along with links.
arhats · iconography
These paintings which appear to be executed in an obvious Chinese black ink technique
are somewhat controversial. They are claimed by some to be the work of the 10th Karmapa Choying Dorje
. It is true that Choying Dorje experimented with different techniques and styles
a clear example of which is his version of the Buddha's life story
. However, it will be left up to the 10th Karmapa experts to determine if he also did Chinese black ink compositions.
There are three of these paintings known to be in North America. Eleven paintings remain in the Himalayan Regions. Two paintings belong to a private collector. Those two are a Guardian King and the attendant Dharmatala, therefore the remaining three Guardian Kings and Hvashang are each painted in a separate composition. The centerpiece of the set, Shakyamuni Buddha, is unaccounted for but is likely to be in a composition with Shariputra and Maudgalyayana standing at the right and left side. These calculations if correct would mean that the full set of paintings is twenty-three in number.
arhats · collections