Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Kshitigarbha - (Bodhisattva)

ས་ཡི་སྙིང་པོ། 地藏菩萨
(item no. 65766)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1700 - 1799
Lineages Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Peaceful

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Kshitigarbha, Bodhisattva (Tibetan: 'phags pa sa'i snying po. English: the Essence of the Earth): one of the eight principal Mahayana students, or 'heart sons,' of the Buddha Shakyamuni. This composition belongs to a set of nine paintings. Each composition depicts one of the eight bodhisattvas and would likely have either Shakyamuni or Amitabha Buddha at the center of the set. (See the Kshitigarbha Main Page).

The figure of Kshitigarbha is slightly left of the central vertical axis of the composition and the open negative space is predominantly on the viewer's right side. Those two compositional details indicate that this specific painting was intended to hang on the viewer's left of the central painting and most likely in the R3 position. Tibetan and Himalayan paintings that are hung as sets count from the proper right and left side of the central deity in the painting set - not the right and left side from the viewer's perspective.

Kshitigarbha is green in colour, peaceful in appearance, with one face and two hands. An extremely large halo, seemingly transparent, surrounds the head and shoulders. He has the typical look of a bodhisattva figure, a youth of sixteen years in age, following the model of Indian devas and devis (gods). Adorned with an elaborate crown, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, anklets and a jewel studded belt, he wears an upper garment across the shoulders, blue and pink in colour, the lower dress in predominantly red and yellow. In the right hand he holds the stem of a flower which blossoms above the right shoulder. The left hand is extended forward atop the knee and the thumb presses on the first finger. Seated in a very relaxed posture with the legs slightly touching at the crossed ankles, he sits atop a low flat throne with a dragon adorned backrest and wish-fulfilling jewels adorning the legs and front.

Behind the seated Kshitigarbha are a stand of trees with three long trunks exposed, all different in species. To the viewer's far left are shrubs, creepers and vines. On the right side are two species of flowers with the blue most dominant along with grasses, delicate, as if being moved by a light breeze.

In the foreground are three figures, a monk and two laymen, evidenced by their garments and style of hair. The three are engaged in the making of incense sticks. Each stage of the process is depicted from the bags of raw ingredients on the left, to the mixing, squeezing into sticks, packaging in neat rows and finally placed upright in a fancy Chinese style incense burner. Surrounding the workers are thirteen brightly coloured wish-fulfilling jewels along with an elephant tusk, rhinoceros horn, ingots of gold and one of silver.

Originating with the Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva Pūrvapraṇidhāna Sūtra, Kshitigarbha has remained primarily a character of the Mahayana Sutras. Kshitigarbha is particularly associated with bringing help and comfort to those in the underworld realm of hell beings. There are very few Tantric texts and rituals that include him and because of that he does not have a fixed and readily identifiable iconographic appearance like Lokeshvara or Manjushri.

Kshitigarbha is rarely if ever depicted alone in painting or created as a single sculpture. He is almost always included as one of the Eight Great Bodhisattvas typically appearing with the others seated below Amitabha Buddha in the Sukhavati pure realm or with Shakyamuni Buddha.

Jeff Watt 7-2013

Making Incense:
A. Bags of gathered raw material
B. Preparing and mixing the ingredients
C. Pounding and smoothing the herbs and plants
D. Piping the incense
E. Rolling and trimming the sticks
F. Boxing the incense
G. Incense burner with upright sticks

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 4
Buddhist Deity: Kshitigarbha (Bodhisattva) Main Page
Subject: Bodhisattva Non-iconic Forms
Painting Set: Eight Great Bodhisattvas (Kham Group 1)
Painting Set: Eight Bodhisattvas (Kham 2)