|1500 - 1599
|Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
|Shelley & Donald Rubin
Hvashang, the Chinese patron to the Sixteen Great Arhats.
Hvashang is a human figure, dark in complexion with the right hand holding a crystal 'mala,' a garland of beads for counting prayers. In the left hand he holds a bowl of precious substances as an offering to the arhats. Adorned with opulent robes he is seated in a casual fashion under an elaborate canopy. The key iconongraphic features are his portly size and the bead mala, which can be in either hand, along with a bald head and leisurely posture.
At the top center is the primordial buddha Vajradhara, blue in colour with the two hands holding a vajra and bell at the heart. To the right is the Indian mahasiddha Virupa, brown in colour with the right hand held up in a wrathful gesture holding the sun in the sky. Behind is the yogini Sukhasiddhi holding a parasol above the head of Virupa. To the left is the Tibetan lama Sakya Pandita in his standard iconographic form with the two hands performing the Dharma Teaching mudra (gesture) holding the stems of two utpala flowers which blossom at both ears. Supported on the blossoms are a sword of wisdom and the Prajnaparamita sutra. He wears the full robes of an ordained monk and the red hat of a pandita. At the bottom are ten figures engaged in various activities undoubtedly relate to the life story of Hvashang, the central figure in the painting.
Hvashang, meaning a 'Chinese monk,' is an historic figure who was sent by a Tang Emperor of China to invite the buddha Shakyamuni to visit China. Since the Buddha had already passed away the invitation was then relayed to the 16 great arhats. After that time, all paintings of the buddha Shakyamuni and the 16 arhats in the Himalayan and Central Asian region have included the patron Hvashang. Although he is regarded in most historical accounts as a monk he is also commonly referred to as a patron, or the patron to the 16 arhats, because he presented the invitation and was the representative of the Emperor of China. However neither liturgies of the meditation practice of Shakyamuni Buddha and the 16 Arhats made popular by both the Lord Atisha and the Kashmiri pandit Shakyasribhadra include Hvashang.
This particular painting belongs to the Sakya School and likely belongs to a larger set of paintings which include the buddha Shakyamuni and the 16 arhats along with the lay attendant Dharmatala and the Four Direction Guardians. The style of painting shows a strong Chinese influence seen in the ornate designs and background landscape.
Jeff Watt 6-98