Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Shakyamuni Buddha - with Sixteen Elders (Arhats)

ཤཱཀྱ་ཐུབ་པ། 释迦牟尼佛
(item no. 760)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1700 - 1799
Lineages Uncertain
Size 68.58x48.26cm (27x19in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# P1998.17.7
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Person

Appearance: Buddha

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Shakyamuni Buddha (Tibetan: sha kya thu pa, sang gye, English: the Enlightened One, Sage of the Shakya Clan) together with the two foremost students Shariputra and Maudgalyayana and the 16 Arhats surrounding, and Dharmata, Hvashang and the worldly Kings of the Four Directions along the bottom.

Sanskrit: Buddha Shakyamuni Tibetan: Sang gye sha kya tu pa

In the classic pose, formal in appearance, gazing forward with eyes slightly closed, the blue-black hair on the head is piled in a topknot (Sanskrit: ushnisha) crowned with a small gold ornament. The earlobes are long and pierced from his youth as a prince. A white dot (Skt.: urna) adorns the forehead between the eyebrows. The right hand is in the earth witness mudra (gesture) extended across the knee. The left hand is placed in the mudra of meditation in the lap. Wearing orange coloured patchwork robes, lined with green, constructed from strips of discarded cloth, the right arm is bare and the left covered in the fashion of a Buddhist monk. With the two feet crossed in vajra posture, right over left, atop a moon disc and multi-coloured lotus seat above a snow lion supported throne he is surrounded by a radiant circle of blue light and an areola of dark green. The backrest is composed of the 'six ornament' design. On each side at the bottom left and right are elephants supporting a blue snow lion, a small boy, a makara (sea creature), naga - with a human upper torso and at the top a single garuda bird biting down on a snake. Symbolically the 'six ornaments' have many meanings such as the six perfections and the like. Standing in front is a gold eight-spoked Dharma wheel rising from a golden floral base.

Standing at the left side of the throne is Shariputra holding in the right hand a monk's staff and in the left an upraised black begging bowl, wearing orange coloured robes and having an areola of red light. At the right is Maudgalyayana holding the same objects and attired in similar dress.

Along each side are the 16 Arhats. Descending from the top left are [1] Angaja holding an incense bowl. [2] Vanavasin with the mudra of explication and holding a fly whisk. [3] Vajriputra with the right hand performing the mudra of explication. [4] Pindola Bharadvaja holds a book. [5] Rahula holds a jewelled tiara with both hands. [6] Kanakavatsa holds a jewelled lasso in the hands. [7] Abheda holds a stupa. [8] Chudapantaka has both hands in meditation.

Descending on the right side are [9] Ajita with the head covered and the hands in the meditation mudra. [10] Kalika holding a pair of gold earrings. [11] Bhadra performs the mudras of explication and meditation. [12] Pantaka performs the mudra of explication and holds a book. [13] Bakula holds a mongoose. [14] Nagasena holds a vase and staff. [15] Kanaka Bharadvaja has both hands in meditation. [16] Gopaka holds a book. Each is attired in various robes, seated in a variety of postures on rectangular cloth mats.

At the bottom center are Dharmata and Hvashang. At the left is the layman Dharmata, chief attendant to the arhats. In the right hand is a flywhisk held upraised and the left holds a gold water flask. The form of the Buddha Amitabha hovers in the sky in front. An ornate red carrying case sits at the side and a large tiger stands in front as a faithful companion to the layman and protector of the arhats. Attired in a cloak of rich blue brocade and various garments, he sits in a relaxed posture. On the right side is Hvashang, the patron to the arhats sent by the Chinese Emperor to invite the Buddha Shakyamuni to the imperial court. He is round and portly holding in the right hand a persimmon fruit and a mala of prayer beads in the left hand. Three small children play at the side.

At the bottom left are the Direction Kings, Virudhaka, blue in colour, holding a sword and Dhritarashtra, yellow, holding a lute. At the right side is Virupaksha, red, holding a snake lasso and stupa, and the leader, Vaishravana, yellow, holding a victory banner and a mongoose. Attired in the garb of warriors with ornate headdresses, they sit in relaxed postures surrounded by swirling brown smoke.

The Lord Atisha (982-1054) and Kashmiri pandita Shakya Shribhadra (1127-1225) popularized the ritual service and offerings to the Buddha Shakyamuni and 16 Arhats.

Jeff Watt 8-99

Related Items
Thematic Sets
Subject: Foundational Buddhism Main Page (Hinayana)
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 8
Shakyamuni Buddha with 16 Arhats
Shakyamuni Buddha & the Sixteen Elders (Single Composition)
Tradition: Buddhism Main Page
Arhat/Sthavira: List of Elders & Related Figures