Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Arhat/Sthavira (Buddhist Elder) - (multiple figures)

གནས་བརྟན། 罗汉
(item no. 52)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1700 - 1799
Lineages Uncertain
Size 79.38x50.80cm (31.25x20in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment, Fine Gold Line on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# P1994.9.6
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Person

Appearance: Arhat

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Hvashang (Tibetan: chen tren drup thob hva chang, English: the Greatly Accomplished Supplicant, Hvashang), the Chinese Patron to the 16 Great Arhats, along with 2 of the 4 Direction Kings, Virupaksha and Virudhaka.

Older in appearance, healthy and rotund, with a receding hairline, he has a moustache and small goatee. The right hand holds to the heart a mala, string of prayer beads. The left held upraised offers a persimmon fruit. Adorned with gold earrings and wrapped with an upper cloak of red and blue brocade, he wears a lower garment of orange, seated in a relaxed posture atop a deerskin mat. The head is encircled by a pink areola, and a tree with a canopy of leaves and blossoms provides shelter above. Four small children fair in complexion, energetic and robust, play at the side. A fifth sleeps behind.

At the upper right on turbulent waters, a teacher is seated in a boat greeted by a crowd of monks. At the left, against a mountain landscape and cascading waterfall, above a pond, two Garuda birds swoop down towards two naga figures, (symbolizing environmental balance).

At the lower left side is Virupaksha, King of the West, dark red in colour with a moustache and goatee. He holds in the right hand a writhing snake and in the left held to the side a small white stupa. Adorned with a crown of gold studded with jewels, earrings and hair ribbons, he wears a rich brocade vest and various coloured garments, trousers and boots, all emblazoned with pictures and designs. In a standing posture against dark billowing clouds of blue and pink, he has a ring of orange flame surrounding the head.

At the right side is Virudhaka, King of the South, dark blue in colour. He holds a sword in the right hand clutched to the side and a pink jewel upraised in the left; adorned in similar ornaments and attire. In a standing posture he is surrounded by dark brown smoke with a ring of orange flame and a pink areola encircling the head. At the left side a white offering goddess holds upraised a bowl of wishing jewels. At the right side is a wrathful blue attendant holding a trident. Below, two wild animals recline in caves on the lower side of Mount Meru. (The names are written in fine gold lettering at the sides or below each).

Hvashang, meaning a 'Chinese monk,' was allegedly an historic figure dispatched to India by a Tang Emperor 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. Regarded as a monk he is also referred to as a patron because he presented the invitation. Neither of the common liturgies to the meditation practice of Shakyamuni Buddha and the 16 Arhats, popularized by the Lord Atisha and Kashmiri pandit Shakya Sribhadra, make reference to Hvashang. Therefore it is likely that he is an iconographic concept imported from China at a later time.

Hvashang and the Direction Kings belong to a thematic set of paintings known as 'Shakyamuni Buddha and the 16 Great Arhats.' The full group comprises 25 figures: the buddha Shakyamuni, together with the two foremost disciples - Shariputra and Maudgalyayana, the 16 Arhats, the attendant Dharmata, the patron Hvashang and the Four Guardians of the Directions; Vaishravana, Virupaksha, Dritarashtra and Virudhaka.

Jeff Watt 6-99

Front of Painting
Wylie Transliteration of Inscription: pyan 'dren grub thob hva chang. rgyal po spyan mi bzang. rgyal po 'phags skye bo.

Related Items
Thematic Sets
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 2
Painting Set: Arhats: Multiple Main Figures
Arhat/Sthavira: Block Print Sets (Nartang)
Painting Set: Arhat Set XVIII