Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Sarasvati (Indian Goddess & Buddhist Deity) - Red (2 hands. Shakyashri Bhadra)

དབྱངས་ཅན་མ། 辯才天女
(item no. 35113)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1800 - 1899
Lineages Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Peaceful

Gender: Female

Interpretation / Description

Sarasvati, Red, according to the tradition of Shakyashri Bhadra and Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen. In Tantric Buddhism Sarasvati is classified as a meditational deity. Within Meditational Deities she belongs to the category of 'wisdom producing deities' along with well-known others such as Manjushri, Maitreya, White Achala and White Vajravarahi.

The colour red plays a role in the Tantric function, ritual practice and meditation undertaken. (See Colours in Himalayan Style Art).

"...the goddess Sarasvati, with a body coral in colour, like the colour red. (With) one face and two arms. The right hand holds a wish-fulfilling jewel and the left, a mirror of wisdom. The right leg is extended and the left drawn in. (With) large swelling breasts and adorned with a crown of jewels, a short necklace, bracelets, anklets and a long necklace and the like, and wearing a flowing lower garment and various silks; youthful, sixteen years of age, serious, peaceful and smiling, with a charming manner. Immeasurable rays of light shine forth. Perceiving the lack of inherent self-existence, the inside of the body is like a clear reflection." (Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen, 1182-1251).

"...the goddess Sarasvati with a body coral in colour, like a mass of heaped particles blazing with a radiance wreathed by a thousand rising suns. Very beautiful, peaceful, smiling, a charming youth of sixteen years. The right hand extended in salutation holds a wishing jewel and the left a bright clear mirror of pristine awareness. The two feet at play, the right extended and left drawn up, on a lotus and moon; adorned with beautiful silks and jewel ornaments; the union of luminosity-emptiness like the reflection of the moon in water." (Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, 1820-1892).

At the right and left sides of the central Sarasvati are eight further forms of Sarasvati. Descending on the viewers left is a red Sarasvati with one face and two hands titled 'Sarasvati Arising from the Manjushri Cycle.' Followed by Red Sarasvati with three faces and six hands. followed by a peaceful seated white Vajra Sarasvati with a book supported on an utpala flower. Followed by another white Vajra Sarasvati holding a book in the left hand.

Descending on the viewers right from the top is Orange Sarasvati holding a sword and a book similar in appearance to Arapachana Manjushri. Followed by white Sarasvati in a five deity configuration. Followed by Vina Sarasvati, white, holding a lute - stringed instrument. Followed by Vajra Sarasvati, red in colour, with three faces and six hands according to the Krishna Yamari [Tantra].

At the top center is Lama Tsongkapa (1357-1419) with Gyaltsab Dharma Rinchen (1364-1432) on his proper right and Je Duldzin Dragpa Gyaltsen (1374-1434) on his proper left.

At the bottom center is Shri Devi Magzor Gyalmo, blue in colour, wrathful, riding atop a mule, an attendant at the front and at the back. Magzor Gyalmo is the wrathful protector aspect of the goddess Sarasvati. Most forms of Shri Devi are manifestations of Shri Lakshmi. Only this form as Magzor Gyalmo is a manifestation of Sarasvati.

Jeff Watt 7-2014


ODE TO SARASVATI by Kalidasa

Free from the clouds of the twin mental veils, your wisdom is a sun, thousand-rayed, that conquers the dark hosts of ignorance, delusion and confusion and at whose dawn the lotuses of science open wide with anthers cool, fragrant and sweet. There does my mind, the bee, sip honey which shall in time, I pray, be honey to nourish all living beings.

Steady as the ocean of omniscience are you and, like a mountain of gold, never moved by the butterflies of strife nor by demon mobs nor by the gales of time. Like a damsel of sixteen years are you, lovely and playful in mood, with body and limbs adorned by many gems of the gods: goddess of the sea, Sarasvati, whose rising from the ocean thrilled the blue-throated One - to you I bow! In compassion dispel the darkness of ignorance from my mind.

Lovely daughter of celestial musicians whose voice steals away with our minds, from the thrumming movement of you hands, too, the words and sounds of Brahma arise. To you I bow! Through your sweet discourse bestow on me highest wisdom in poetry and logic, grammar, wise sayings and in every science. With sixty tones is your voice endowed that gladdens even him whom your presence awes - why then do you bestow upon me no songs that content the ear nor the Vedas' sweet hymns nor the power to capture and hold others' minds?

Your mind like a great ocean, is utterly still, still swept by tidal waves of compassion to remove the sufferings of living beings: long may that ocean of tones, the one mine of jewels that grant every wish, give succour to these whom confusions distress and quickly fulfill also the hopes of the dull who live ever starved by their own delusions. With the full, unclouded disc of the cool-rayed moon, shine through the darkness of our tightly closed minds and make them, like waterlilies, blossom wide with the sweet dew spreading upon their anthers.

Utterly flawless indeed is your body, unblemished by faults and adorned by the signs of perfection; all-pervading is your voice, possessed of Brahma's own tones and free from cacophony's taint; with transcendent wisdom is your mind endowed, vast and unbound in every subject of knowledge. Then bestow, Sarasvati, attainments supreme upon this singer of praises who praises you

[Written by Kalidasa. sGrub Thabs Kun bTus, vol.2, fol.450-453. Translated into Tibetan by Jayasena and Bhikshu Chorab. Translated into English by (c)Jared Rhoton (Sonam Tenzin). India. Early 1970's]

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