Himalayan Art Resources

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

གནས་བརྟན། 罗汉
(item no. 7892)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1800 - 1899
Lineages Gelug and Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Private
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Person

Appearance: Arhat

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Four Elders (sthavira) from the group of Sixteen Great Elders: Bakula, Chudapantaka, Rahula and Pindola Bharadvaja. This composition belongs to a set of seven paintings.

The artist of this painting (and the other six missing compositions) is known as Khazi Lhazo, the 'Artist of Khazi Village' in the Chamdo region of East Tibet. His proper name is either Tsering or Tsetan Puntsog and he originated from a village named Tsogo, next to a lake of the same name. As a young monk he belonged to Pasho Monastery under the authority of Tatsag Jedrung Rinpoche, Yeshe Tenpa'i Gonpo (1760-1810). Khazi Lhazo was active as an artist from the late 18th century into the first quarter or first half of the 19th century. His exact dates are not currently known. This particular painted composition is the only known work to exist from the set of seven paintings created by Khazi Lhazo.

The group of Sixteen Elders are based on an early Indian Buddhist text possibly dating to the 4th century titled the Arya Nanda Mitra Avadana Nama (Tibetan: 'phags pa dga' ba'i bshes gnyen gyi rtogs pa brjod pa [TBRC W1PD95844, pp.1407-1419]). The Sixteen Elders are always found in a group of twenty-five figures which include Shakyamuni Buddha, , they are painted on cloth, wall murals, and fashioned of metal, stone, clay, or wood. An early iconographic source, popular in Tibet, for the individual descriptions of the elders is the verse text 'Praise to the Sixteen Elders' attributed to the Kashmiri teacher Shakyashri Bhadra of the 12th/13th century. The earliest known paintings in Tibet are found as wall murals in Dratang Monastery in Central Tibet. However, the Dratang paintings do not appear to depict the group of sixteen which gained in popularity some time later. Aside from Rahula, the son of Shakyamuni Buddha, there appears to be little evidence to support the existence of these sixteen elders individually or as a group.

The Sanskrit term 'arhat' is commonly used in both the East and West among art historians to describe these Sixteen Elders. The actual correct term for these sixteen Buddhist figures is 'sthavira', meaning 'elder' in Sanskrit. The sixteen represent what are believed to be, within the tradition, the earliest followers of the Buddha.

In this particular composition there are four prominent figures and several secondary attendant figures. The Elder Bakula, with his body partially turned, is seated in the upper third of the composition atop an elaborate throne adorned with gold makara head ornaments. In the two hands he holds a jewel spitting mongoose. An attendant monk stands in front holding a large plate filled with red coral and wish-fulfilling jewels. Additional jewels are piled at the side along with two elephant tusks. A rocky outcropping and a single lush tree acting as a canopy frame the upper corner and top of the composition.

"To the noble elder, the great Bakula of Northern Kuru, surrounded by a retinue of 900 arhats; to the feet of all those I bow." (liturgical verse).

In the sky at the upper left is Green Tara, a female Buddhist Tantric deity, as if perched on the branches of a delicate tree.

At the middle left is Chudapantaka with a bald head and a downward looking gaze. In the two hands he holds a mala, string of prayer beads made of rudraksha berries. He sits atop a cloth mat that appears to be floating above the ground supported only by wafting currents of air.

"On Vulture Peak Mountain is the noble elder Chudapantaka, surrounded by 1,600 arhats; homage to the One with the two hands placed in meditation." (liturgical verse).

The Elder Rahula sits at the middle right of the composition, youthful in appearance, gazing forward. The proper right hand is extended to the side and the left supports a crown in the lap. He sits atop a square throne with a blue backdrop while an attendant, supporting a box for the crown, patiently kneels at the side.

"On the Island of Priyangku is the noble elder Rahula, surrounded by 1,100 arhats; homage to the One holding a jewelled tiara." (liturgical verse).

At the lower right is Pindola Bharadvaja stroking his bearded chin with the right hand while holding a tree branch supporting a folio text with the upraised left hand. He sits atop a relatively plain cloth seat while observing a monk attendant and noble examining a black begging bowl. At the far left side a layman attends to an over-sized pink lotus blossom

"On the Eastern [continent] of Purva-Videha is the noble elder Pindola Bharadvaja, surrounded by 1,100 arhats; homage to the One holding a book and begging bowl." (liturgical verse).

All of the elders wear colourful patchwork robes following a Chinese artistic style. Three of the elders portrayed here, along with the other sixteen, save for Rahula, are typically depicted as middle aged or elderly. Rahula, being the biological son of the historical Buddha, is almost always shown in a youthful appearance.

There are many special and unique characteristics in the painting style of Khazi Lhazo such as the charcoal-like coloured stone outcroppings, translucent wish-fulfilling jewels, elaborate surreal throne seats and extraordinarily detailed brocade textile robes. These are only a few of the most obvious features that are found in compositions depicting teachers, elders and peaceful deities.

Several other sets of paintings depicting the Sixteen Elders by Khazi Lhazo are known to exist with only a few or single compositions identified. Those sets portray either single figures or dual figures per composition. Khazi Lhazo is also famous for creating sets of compositions depicting the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas, Gelug Protector Deities, Tsongkapa and his principal students and the Tatsag Incarnation line. Khazi Lhazo was a prolific artist by all accounts. Depending on the total number of paintings in some of the known sets it is calculated that Khazi Lhazo created upwards of 150 compositions.

Many artists have copied the iconographic inventions of Khazi Lhazo but few have been able to replicate the painting style, brushwork, colour and composition. All of the art of Khazi Lhazo are masterworks, all of them are unique among the various Tibetan painting styles making Khazi Lhazo one of the most important of the late Tibetan artists.

Jeff Watt 10-2017

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Arhat/Sthavira: Painting Masterworks (Miscellaneous)
Artist: Khazi Lhazo & Derivative Styles Page
Collection: Private 1
Painting Set: Arhats: Multiple Main Figures
Arhat/Sthavira: Main Page & Arhat/Sthavira Appearance (Elder)
Subject: Masterworks (Painting Traditions & Styles, 繪畫傳統與風格)