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Video: Dharmatala - Attendant to the Sixteen Elders
Tibetan: Ge nyen dhar ma ta
Dharmata (Dharmatala) the upasaka (Tibetan: ge nyen dhar ma ta) of Central Asian or Chinese origin - the layman attendant to the Sixteen Great Arhats. Dharmata, although always appearing in relation to the Arhats, is not an arhat himself. He belongs to the Tibetan and Chinese narrative of the Sixteen Great Arhats.
Dharmata, considered by some to be an emanation of Avalokiteshvara, belongs to a thematic set of paintings known as 'Shakyamuni Buddha and the Sixteen Great Elders.' The full group comprises twenty-five figures: the buddha Shakyamuni, together with the two foremost disciples - Shariputra and Maudgalyayana, the Sixteen Great Elders, the attendant Dharmata, the patron Hvashang and the Four Guardians of the Directions; Vaishravana, Virupaksha, Dritarashtra and Virudhaka. As a late addition, Dharmata was possibly attached to the group of Elders during the time of the Chinese Tang Emperor (9th - 10th century). Hvashang was the last of the group to be added in the 15/16th century.
Dharmata (along with Hvashang) is ONLY depicted in compositions with Shakyamuni Buddha and the Sixteen Elders. These depictions can be in a single painting containing all of the figures or created in sets of paintings up to twenty-three in number. Both Hvashang and Dharmata are narrative figures belonging to the iconographic story of Shakyamuni and the Sixteen Great Elders. They are never employed as meditational deities. (See Hinayana Buddhism represented in Tibetan Art).
"To the noble upasaka Dharmata, with the hair in a topknot and a load of books, gazing upward at Amitabha in the sky; homage to the One holding a fly-whisk and vase." (Sakya liturgical verse).
Note that HAR numbers #48, 69427, 79021 and 91019 appear to be based on the same original block print composition.
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Jeff Watt 9-99 [updated 10-2011, 10-2017, 1-2020]