Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Teacher (Lama) - Marpa Chokyi Lodro

བླ་མ། 喇嘛
(item no. 33257)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1600 - 1699
Lineages Kagyu, Karma (Kagyu) and Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Private
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Person

Appearance: Lay Person

Gender: Male

TBRC: bdr:P2636

Interpretation / Description

Marpa Chokyi Lodro, Translator (1012-1096 [P2636]): founder of one of the two schools named Kagyu (the Oral Tradition) in Tibetan Buddhism. The painting is attributed by inscription to the artist Choying Dorje (1604-1674 [P1382]) who was also a prominent religious and political figure with the title of 10th Gyalwa Karmapa.

Central Composition: Imagined in an outdoor location with verdant landscapes set against a rocky cave adorned all around with variously coloured wild flowers Marpa appears at the center of the painting. He is wearing a white inner shirt and blue outer garments with a belt (sash), teal blue in colour. Wrapped around his legs is a meditation cloak, also light blue in colour, leaving his black boots with white soles visible in front with the bottoms pressed together. Around his neck is a string of prayer beads (mala) with the slightly larger Guru Bead hanging to the proper left side. He has short cropped hair and dark round earrings, possibly representing agate stone. In the raised right hand Marpa holds a black buffalo horn filled with fermented alcohol. The left hand is placed atop the left knee while his gaze appears to be slightly upward.

Kneeling at the right side is Dagmema the principal wife of Marpa. She is holding a large cup in her raided right hand and a vessel in the left hand clutched to the side of the body. Attired in a green upper garment, a multi-coloured lower dress, along with flowers in the hair, she kneels in front surrounded by offerings that appear to be arranged in preparation for a ganachakra Feast (tsogkor).

On the left side is a male figure believed to be Milarepa. He is holding a cup with both hands, small blue earrings, wearing a pack on the back, a black clay cooking pot on the outside, and large black boots and leggings. What appears to be possibly a brown dog is lying down in front.

Between the two figures of Milarepa and Dagmema are various animals and offering substances. For the animals there is a goat, rooster, chicken and a fish. There are also eggs, vegetables, two large vessels and a large ritual food offering called a 'balimta' (torma) adorned with many white buttons.

Upper Composition: The upper portion of the composition depicts a cloudy sky with vignettes depicting three scenes related to Marpa's life and the early lineage narratives of the Kagyu tradition.

In the first of the vignettes at the top center there are five figures depicted. The large central image is of a dark skinned Indian-type yogi holding a string of prayer beads in the right hand. In the upraised left hand is a krishnasara deer antler used as a horn. He has a disheveled appearance, a single garment, large earrings and long hair in a ponytail at the back. Two female attendant figures, fully attired in green and blue, hold narrow necked vessels in their hands. A male figure in front is kneeling with the hands clasped in front in a gesture of respect. A fifth figure is barely perceptible at the lower left with only the head appearing above the cloud - craning upwards at the yogi figure. If the small kneeling figure in front is identified as Marpa then it is possible that the yogi figure can be tentatively identified as the mahasiddha Naropa.

The vignette slightly below to the left depicts two Indian yogi figures each holding a cup along with a single vessel. Below the two is a sleeping dog, brown in colour. The presence of the dog may indicate that one of the yogi figures is the mahasiddha named Kukkuripa who was known for having a female dog as his closest companion. Kukkuripa was also a direct teacher of Marpa during one of his visits to India.

The vignette on the right side depicts an Indian yogi pulling on fish entrails with the right hand while holding the fish in the left hand across the two knees in a relaxed manner. Typically this iconography is associated with the mahasiddha Tilopa the teacher of Naropa. A second figure sits in front holding a cup in the upraised right hand and a bowl in the left feeding a dog curled up in the lap. Based on the hairstyle and small earrings of this vignette figure compared with the central large Marpa figure then it is quite likely that the figure represented here is also of Marpa.

Lower Composition: At the bottom of the composition against a sparse green landscape with only a few rocky features there is a seated figure in a red garment and black boots pouring water from a bucket into a trough. The male figure holds an upraised blue drinking cup in the right hand. Behind the man or boy is a brown cat, or cat-like animal. The two horses, white and grey, bend their necks to drink from the trough.

Inscription: The painting has an inscription across the lower front which reads "This image of Marpa the Translator drawn by the hand of the Revered Choying Dorje was given to the heart-son Kuntu Zangpo." (mar pa lo tsa'i sku brnyan 'di rje btsun chos dbyings rdo rje'i phag bris thugs sras kun tu bzang po la gnang bying brlabs can. Kuntu Zangpo (1610-1684 [P1382]) was Choying Dorje's servant and secretary attendant during most of his life.

Iconographic Elements of the Painting: Size, Descending Order & Hierarchy:
- Marpa Chokyi Lodro, Dagmema, Milarepa and animals
- Upper Composition: three vignettes of mahasiddhas and Marpa
- Lower Composition: Solitary figure feeding horses
- Figures in Total (human): 13
- Figures in Total (animals): 17 or more

Artistic Elements of the Composition:
- Subject: figurative
- Composition Type: floating figure
- Painting Style: Choying Dorje
- Region: East Tibet, Yunan
- Date: circa 1670
- Inscription: lower front
- Artist: Choying Dorje

It should be noted that Marpa's tradition was called the Kagyu and then after his time it was known as Marpa Kagyu differentiating the tradition from the unrelated Shangpa Kagyu tradition founded by Kedrub Kyungpo Naljor (978/990-1127 [P39]) around the same time period.

Jeff Watt 9-2016

Front of Painting
English Translation of Inscription: This image of Marpa the Translator drawn by the hand of the Revered Choying Dorje was given to the heart-son Kuntu Zangpo.

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Artist: Choying Dorje & Atelier Works of Art (All Paintings)
Teacher: Marpa Chokyi Lodro (Masterworks)
Artist: Choying Dorje (Painting)
Teacher: Marpa Chokyi Lodro Main Page