Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Arhat/Sthavira (Buddhist Elder) - 16 Elders: Vanavasin

གནས་བརྟན། 罗汉
(item no. 88594)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1600 - 1699
Lineages Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Anna Maria Rossi & Fabio Rossi
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Person

Appearance: Arhat

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Vanavasin the Elder (Tibetan: pag pa ne ten, nag la ne, Sanskrit: Arya Sthavira Vanavasin): the 3rd arhat from the set of sixteen great elders (sthavira/arhat).

"In the mountain cave of Seven-leaves is the noble elder Vanavasin, surrounded by 1,400 arhats; homage to the One with a pointing gesture and holding a fly whisk." (Sakya liturgical verse).

The iconographic form normally ascribed to Vanavasin has him performing a pointing gesture with the right hand and holding a fly whisk in the left. This depiction follows the Tibetan verse which is believed to be translated from the original Sanskrit 'Praise to the Sixteen Arhats.'

This composition would have been part of a twenty-three painting set. Typically, the full group would include Shakyamuni Buddha, the two foremost students Shariputra and Maudgalyayana, the Sixteen Elders, the attendant Dharmatala, the patron Hvashang and the Four Guardians of the Directions: Vaishravana, Virupaksha, Dritarashtra and Virudhaka. There are twenty-five figures in the group but only twenty-three paintings in the set. With painted compositions, the two foremost students are almost always depicted standing alongside Shakyamuni in a single composition.

The composition, layout and colour scheme of this painting is based on a set of paintings commissioned originally by the Yongle Emperor in the early 15th century. Many copies of this famous set were created in later centuries and even copied by other influential Buddhist Emperors such as Qianlong in the 18th century.

At the top center is the female deity of longevity, White Tara. "...with a hue white like an autumn moon - radiant like a stainless crystal jewel, shining with rays of light, one face, two hands, and having three eyes; with the conduct of having sixteen years of age. The right hand is in the gesture of supreme generosity; the left holds with the thumb and forefinger the stem of a white utpala to the heart with the petals blossoming at the ear. Representing the Buddhas of the three times the single stem is divided into three, in the middle is a blossoming flower, the right in fruition, the left in the form of a bud; adorned with various jewel ornaments; having various silk upper garments and a lower garment of red silk; seated with the legs in vajra posture. The palms of the hands and feet each have an eye - the seven eyes of pristine awareness." (Sachen Ngagwang Kunga Lodro, 1729-1783. sGrub Thabs Kun bTus, vol.1, fol.65-73).

Jeff Watt 2-2017

Related Items
Thematic Sets
Arhat: Vanavasin (Imperial Palace Composition Style)
Arhat/Sthavira: Vanavasin Main Page
Painting Set: Arhat/Sthavira (Yongle Style Miscellaneous)
Collection of Anna Maria Rossi & Fabio Rossi