Himalayan Art Resources

Arhat/Sthavira: Main Page & Arhat/Sthavira Appearance (Elder)

Arhat/Sthavira Masterworks Page

- Art History

- Iconography

- Religious Context


Arhat (Tibetan: ne tan) versus Sthavira: a Sanskrit term for Buddhist saints popularized in the late 19th century by Western scholars with reference to figurative art painting and sculpture. The correct Sanskrit term for these sixteen Buddhist figures is 'sthavira', meaning 'elder.' The sixteen represent what are believed to be, within the tradition, followers of the historical Buddha.

Sanskrit: Arhat

The group of sixteen are based on an early 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]), always found in a group of sixteen, they are painted on cloth, wall murals, and fashioned of metal, stone, clay, or wood. An early iconographic source 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 arhat paintings do not appear to depict the group of sixteen which gained 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 images below are single paintings not yet matched with sets:
The images below are paintings that currently remain as singles, the only known survivors of larger sets. As new art collections are catalogued into the HAR database it is hoped that many more of these paintings will be re-united with others from their original sets.

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Jeff Watt 3-2000 [updated 6-2015, 4-2017, 12-2019]