The Mandalas of the Lo Jampa Lhakhang
The Byams pa lha khang and the Thugs chen lha khang provide a major source of painting illuminating the activity of Newar artists in Tibetan ethnic areas and upon the stylistic development of the Tibeto-Newar school.
sMon thang is the principal town of the ancient kingdom of gLo, perhaps better known by its Nepali name - Mustang (see also Helmut Neumann, "Luri Stupa", p.178-85. gLo is located in western Nepal to the north of the Annapurna and Daulagiri massifs - and thus north of the Great Himalayan divide - in the upper reaches of the Thag Khola (Kali Gandaki) valley.
In recent history access has been forbidden to outsiders.
In the twentieth century only a select few have penetrated the area, including Prof.
Tucci, who in his 1952 visit was unable to photograph successfully.
Not withstanding the mell ifluence of the phrase "Tibeto-Newar school", I recommend it as the appropriate term that best indicates the radical and pervasive artistic influence that the Newars brought to Tibet throughout the second period of dissemination of the buddhadharma - and particularly after the wane of the Indian Pala influence (thirteenth - fifteenth century).
Secondly, it can serve as an umbrella term for the diversity of Newar-derived styles found at gLo sMon thang, Sa skya, Zhwa lu and rGyal rtse, various other sites in the province of gTsang, and also in most of the thankas painted in the area during the period of Sa skya ascendancy.
Thirdly, it indicates that Newar style superseded the pre-existent Pala and Central Asian influenced styles found at Zhwa lu and Grwa nang, and became the basis of the fully developed Tibetan style of the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
n considering Newar cultural influence in gTsang, very briefly, it should be understood that throughout Tibetan history geographical proximity and unobstructed access across the Himalayan divide provided easy lines of communication between the Kathmandu Valley and gTsang and that similar Tibeto-Burman languages, a shared religion, and economic interdependence, created a special relationship between the Newars and the Tibetans.
More specifically, in the sphere of art the Newars were the undisputed masters of paint in the central Himalayan areas, and their reputation in Tibet - underpinned by the genius of Aniko - was always high and never higher than in the fifteenth century.
The Newar artists' journeyman motto was - and still is - "have brush, will travel" and as documented, they travelled to Sa skya and to Ngor and, as we may deduce, to every site in gTsang where Sa skya wealth formed a magnet (see Lo Bue and Ricca, 1990, pp.24-35).
It was a Newar master painter, Devananda 2, who was commissioned to decorate the middle floor of the Byams pa lha khang in gLo sMon thang by a Sa skya hierarch during the second quarter of the fifteenth century.
It is probable that even if no Newars from the Kathmandu Valley worked at rGyal rtse (and that is not excluded by the absence of Newar names) then the Newars were represented by their katsara cousins.
Some katsaras were completely assimilated by Tibetan society. Others formed Tibeto-Newar communities in Lha sa and in settlements along the trade routes, such as those at Lha rtse and gNas rnying, villages that were the domicile of many of the rGyal rtse sku 'bum artists.
Then concerning Tibeto-Newar style in general, the evolution of the fully developed Tibeto-Newar styles in gTsang - and I use the word loosely to include the kingdom of gLo - was a process of relaxation of the strictures that governed the classical Newar style of the Early Malla Period and also assimilation of other styles and idioms - particularly that of the Chinese.
This was done by Newar artists transcending the conventions that had caged them in their Valley home, or by katsaras and their Tibetan brethren spurning the tradition that had produced them, to create a new vital religious art that allowed the visionaries of Tibetan Tantra a greater scope and range. We will see some modifications of this "classical" Newar style in the Byams pa lha khang. We find a further development of it at rGyal rtse.
"During the last half of the thirteenth century the kings of Gung thang, because of their close ties to Sa skya and hence to the Mongols, came to rule the thirteen hundred-groups of mNga' ris [including gLo] from their capital at rDzong kha."
(Jackson, 1978, p.211)3. In the early fourteenth century gLo was conquered by the resurgent Khasa Mallas of the Jumla kingdom, but it was reconquered by a general named Shes rab bla ma towards the end of the century, and for his reward the Gung thang king gave him the fiefdom of gLo and Dolpo.
Under A ma dpal, Shes rab bla ma's grandson, the power of gLo reached its height. From gLo sMon thang A [[[ma dpal]] controlled much of Eastern mNga' ris, including Gu ge and Pu hrang, and also Thag to the south.
His son, A mgon bzang po, maintained the pre-eminent position of gLo. Although the dates of both are lacking, it is certain that these two princes ruled gLo during the first half of the fifteenth century.
At the back of the middle floor lhakhang, on the right side of the door upon entry, underneath the red lokapala, and below the verses of homage, are two verses dedicating the merit of "the patron, brothers, son and queen" in constructing the sacred representations of the Buddha's Body, Speech and Mind - statues, murals, stupas, books etc - to transporting them to the level of the omniscient Buddha4.
It may be deduced from this that A ma dpal and A mgon bzang po ("spiritual brothers") and A mgon bzang po's son and daughter-in-law, Tshangs pa bkra shis and queen, were the patrons of the construction of the Byams pa lha khang, the great Byams pa image and the yogatantra mandala murals of this middle floor lhakhang.
A verse within the long inscription on the left side of the door upon entry, underneath the chain of vajras below Vajrahumkara, describing vajrayana practice, contains a eulogy of the masters who spread the buddhadharma in mNga' ris.
Here a verse, seemingly of prophecy that may be interpreted as history, foretells the birth in "Lho gtod" of a father and son whose names begin with an "A", and who were spiritual brothers, who would support Buddhism and suppress Bon.
Besides a builder and a teacher he was a great scholar and systematiser of the tantras. His extensive research resulted in a major work of classification called the rGyud sde kun btus in thirty-two volumes which included twenty-two sadhanas of twenty-two Buddha deities, classified according to the four divisions of tantra.
He disseminated the practice of these tantras through empowerment, instruction and also by commissioning the painting of sets of mandalas on the walls of rGyal rtse sku 'bum and also in the Byams pa lha khang in gLo sMon thang.
Thus it seems probable that the Byams pa lha khang was built and, less certainly, decorated in the period between his second and third visits - between 1424 and 1435.
Thus the work on the murals of gLo Byams pa lha khang overlapped with the painting of both the gTsug lag khang and the sKu 'bum at rGyal rtse. 1429, incidentally, was the year of the foundation of Ngor Evam chos ldan.
The Byams pa lha khang, and the Thugs chen lha khang, suffered decay during the period of gLo's decline and stagnation under Gorkhali rule, and of their large monastic complexes only a few chapels remain. The Byams pa lha khang today comprises a three floor building fronted by an assembly hall ('du khang) open to the sky at its centre (Fig.1).
At the front of the assembly hall a door leads into the circumambulatory passage ('khor sa) that surrounds the ground floor lhakhang.
Including its throne base it is approximately 50' high. Panjaranath (Gur dgon), the Sa skya protector, is enshrined in the throne base. The walls of the ground floor lhakhang are bare, but the circumambulatory passage contains interesting examples of Tibeto-Newar work.
Although there is no epigraphical evidence, these murals were probably painted in the fifteenth century period of the building's foundation - but not by the technically more proficient atelier of the Newar Devananda that painted the mandalas of the middle floor lhakhang.
The upper floor lhakhang, accessed by ladder from the assembly hall roof, is painted in a plethora of Tibeto-Newar styles, which most likely also date from the same period.
The mural decoration consists of forty mandalas, approximately four feet in diameter, twenty in a lower and twenty in an upper row, around the walls of the lhakhang, with fourteen(?) smaller mandalas forming an intermediary row.
The intervening space is filled with figures of bodhisattvas, lineage lamas and floral motifs. On both sides of the doorway four(?) lokapalas, one above the other, stand guard. The murals are in a good state of preservation.
However, due to the exigencies of light and access only the lower row has been photographed. Above courses of vajras and Buddha-deities (approximately four feet above the floor) are verses of homage to the Buddha-deities of the lower row of mandalas. In most cases these verses permit precise identification, although a few on the right side of the lhakhang are illegible7.
The principal of these mandalas, the Vajradhatu mandala (rDo rje dbyings kyi dkyil 'khor) (Fig. 2), known descriptively as the Mandala of the Thousand Buddhas, is located to the left of the Byams pa image that gives the lhakhang its name.
The verses beneath it identify it as the Guru Mandala, "the root mandala of the mahayogatantra", and "the basic instructor and trainer in the root tantra". Ngor chen Kun dga' bzang po is identified here as the Lama of this tantric lineage.
The significance of this tantra and its Guru Mandala to the systematisers of the Sa skya School - particularly Bu ston Rin po che and Ngor chen Kun dga' bzang po - may be gauged, for example, from its commanding place in the gNas brtan lha khang at Zhwa lu, the dedication to it of a lhakhang in the rGyal rtse gtsug lha khang, and also from the rGyal rtse sku 'bum itself which illustrates the Sarvatathagatatattvasamgrahatantra, and its supplementary explanatory tantras, in the lhakhangs below the harmika (but see also Richardson, 1990, pp.271-275).
But what is evident from a comparison of Newar mandala paubhas and Sa skya school mandala thankas ("Ngor mandalas") is that the Tibetan mandala style is derived directly from the Newar and that in the period of the Tibeto-Newar school only minor distinctions are evident between them in composition or style.
At the centre of the Vajradhatumandala (Fig 3) is the Tathagata Vairocana (rNam par snang mdzad), white, four-faced, in bodhyagrimudra, the mudra of supreme clarity and purity. Vairocana is surrounded in the four directions by subsidiary mandalas of the other four Tathagatas.
The gates represent the four sense organs of sight, sound, taste and smell and each is guarded by one of the Guardian Kings (Caturmaharaja). In the design of the mandala walls and gates, note the uncluttered composition, the fine line of the detail, and the wall to wall scrolling.
The detail of the mandala gate shows the makara holding in his mouth a spoke of the visvavajra upon which every mandala is laid. shows a detail of a comparable mandala from the rGyal rtse sku 'bum, which can serve to illustrate the development of style within the Tibeto-Newar school.
In the rGyal rtse mandala, the stupas in the upper register of the mandala wall have become piles of jewels; in the register below, the ornaments show a more pronounced Tibetan style; below that the full Newar Kirtimukha motif has been lost; and below that again the style of scrolling has been modified.
The makara here has an added touch of realism, as indeed wrathful deities in general increasingly tend to as the style evolves. And finally the brilliant gold scrolling outside the gate replaces the more sombre green.
Similar products of such unfettered imagination may be found in the Tibeto-Newar murals of the Tathagatas in the bKa' 'gyur lha khang at Zhwa lu (Vitali, 1990, pls.71 & 72) and in the Yuan-influenced painting in the ground floor circumambulatory passage (Vitali, 1990, pls.58 & 59).
The majority of mandalas subsidiary to the principal Vajradhatumandala represent Vairocana in his krodha forms, or in his aspect as peaceful Vajrapani (Phyag rdor), in the centre of various emanatory retinues.10
These retinues are often gods and demigods of the Hindu spiritual world, who have been coerced into serving the buddhadharma in their various capacities by the yogin visualizing them as emanations of Vairocana in his heart centre.
The mandalas chosen for illustration here, appearing at the back of the lhakhang, are also to be found in two lhakhangs of the rGyal rtse sku 'bum, where they correspond to descriptions in the Durgatiparisodhanatantra, an explanatory tantra of the Tattvasamgrahatantra (see Lo Bue and Ricca, 1993, pp.280-81).
The white stole flying above the deity's shoulders and around his arms is a convention of the Tibeto-Newar school unknown in the Kathmandu Valley until it was introduced from Tibet (see Lo Bue & Ricca, 1993, pp.78-79); the tiger skin around the Buddha-deity's waist has a fantastic stylized design of Tibetan origin - undoubtedly an innovation of artists unfamiliar with tigers; the green silk shawl is another Tibeto-Newar innovation; the flaming aura out of which he steps has the usual Newar scrolling, but the tongues of flame are stylized with an insistent spikiness to be found frequently in the rGyal rtse sku 'bum.
Further, note the heavy black outline that also appears around trees and vegetation after the time of Grags pa rgyal mtshan at Zhwa lu, and which is found in the circumambulatory passage on the floor below.
The nine-fold Bhairava retinue is derived from the saiva tradition, where their consorts, or saktis, are the Navamatrka, the Nine Mother Goddesses. Bhairavas and saktis are here depicted in peaceful mode, but the Bhairavas' residences are usually cremation grounds.
The Sitaganesa, "White Ganesa", holding an axe and seated upon his vehicle the rat, is executed in fine Newar style (Fig.9): the artist is evidently familiar with the appearance of the elephant and this Ganesa contrasts strongly with the depiction of the more mythic type of elephants found in the Thugs chen lha khang and at Zhwa lu, for example. Note again the angular lotus petal stylization and also the modified scrolling.
The identification of Vajrapani and Vajrasattva is a convention of the Durgatiparisodhanatantra. Vajrapani with a canopy of nagas is seated in the centre of his Astamahanaga retinue of naga and nagini couples .
The cult of the naga demigods is historically and contemporarily strong in the Himalayas from Kashmir to Assam and especially in the Kathmandu valley where the Eight Nagas are worshipped by both Buddhists and Hindus.
This mandala, in a very similar style, has been preserved in the Tshe dpag med lha khang at Zhwa lu: but the mandalas of that lhakhang are dated to Bu ston's period there in the 14th century (Vitali, 1990, p.110).
There is no symmetrical four-petalled lotus as the seat of the principal and retinue - rather, vajra walls separate the nine sections. Vajrasattva wears long silks with a geometric pattern similar to his retinue.
His lower garment has the Chinese ankle length, hanging in Chinese-style folds.
This painting shows the innovative creativity of the artists of the Tibeto-Newar school when treating subjects out of their tradition - a quality perhaps better illustrated by their treatment of Panjaranath (Gur dgon), for instance, the Sixteen Arhats or the Mahasiddhas.
A comparison with a Vajrapani from the rGyal rtse sku 'bum shows remarkable similarity. The dwarfish figural proportion and short necks, the hair-knots, and the stylization of the auras' tongues of flame, indicate a unity of style;
but at the same time the more decorative blue stole, the snowlion shawl, the Tibetan Garuda between Vajrapani's feet holding the intertwined therianthropic naga couple in his mouth, can serve to show the greater loosening of Newar composition and style at rGyal rtse. Vajrapani's lotus throne on its stalk and the naturalistic floral composition below are a remnant of Pala style.
To conclude, as an example of the Newar penetration of the Tibetan artistic sphere, as a link in the development of the mature Tibetan style that was the basis of the later sman ris school, and as an inspired rendering of the Tattvasamgrahatantra mandalas by Tibeto-Newar artists, the murals of the middle floor of the Byams pa lha khang are without compare. It is unfortunate at this juncture that political conditions have prevented a more thorough study of the Byams pa lhakhang and a complete photographic record. It is to be devoutly hoped that the fabric of the building be preserved.
2. The verse identifying the master painter is found - in diminutive script - beneath the Vajradhatumandala. His name is given as Bal po Dhe ba Lha dga'. Bal po is his title, "Newar"; Dheba is the Sanskrit or Newari deva; Lha is a Tibetan translation of deva, and dga' is a rendering of ananda. Thus this Newar master's name was probably Devananda. Within the Dasadikpalamandala another inscription immortalizes a Tibetan artist called Chos kyi dbang phyug.[BACK]
3. David Jackson's "The History of Se-rib", 1978, and "The Early History of Lo (Mustang) and Ngari", 1976, provide the best secondary sources of gLo's history to date and I have relied upon them in the following passages. [BACK]
4. rGyal ba'i sku gsung thugs kyi gtsug lag 'di / mthong thos reg pa tsam gyis grol ba dang / phyag sogs bskor ba tsam gyis grol ba dang / yid la bsams pa tsam gyis grol bar shog // 'Di bzhengs [gzhin in Tucci) dge ba rab dkar dri med des / sbyin bdag sku mched sras dang gtsun mor bcas / 'gro kun sgrib sbyangs tshogs gnyis rab rdzogs nas / kun mkhyen rgyal ba'i go pang myur thob shog // These and the following transcriptions were made in 1992.
Michael Henss reproduced Prof. Tucci's partial and ill-ordered transcriptions in his Mustang: Tibetisches Koenigreich im hohen Norden Nepals, 1993, pp.160-167, which show slight but unexplained variations. [BACK]
5. Khyad par mnga' ris g-yas ru lho'i stod / dge bcu 'dzom pa'i gnas bde blo'o 'dir / gsang ba'i bdag po'i rnam phrul las byung ba'i / a'i mtshan can yab sras [sku?] mched 'khrungs / gzhan sde nag po'i phyogs rnams pham mdzad cing / rang sde dkar po'i las rnams rgyas mdzod pa'i / stobs chen gang gis sangs rgyas bstan pa ni / 'dam du bying 'dra 'gyen 'degs phyir du / thams cad mkhyen pa phyogs....dang / rdo rje 'dzin pa kun dga' bzang po sog[s] / ...mkhas sgrub.....nas / bstan pa dar shing rgyas pa'i ..mdzod // [BACK]
6. Sangs rgyas phun tshogs, De bzhin gshegs pa thams cad kyi bgrod pa gcig pa'i lam chen gsung ngag rin po che'i bla ma brgyud pa'i rnam thar glegs bam gnyis pa las rDo rje chang Kun dga' bzang po'i rnam par thar pa legs bshad chu bo 'dus pa'i rgya mtsho yon tan yid bzhin nor bu'i 'byung gnas (Lam 'bras bla ma'i rnam thar pp.475-585), publishing data unavailable, see pp.537-540. [BACK]
Left-1 (rear wall) rDor sems (Vajrasattva) with klu chen brgyad (Astamahanaga) retinue; L-2 Rab brjid khro chen Me ltar 'bar ba)] (Jvalanala) with bza' brgyad (Astagraha) and rgyu skar (Naksatra) retinue; L-3 rDor sems (Vajrasattva) Rigs rnams kun gyi bdag with phyogs skyongs bcu (Dasadikpala) retinue;
L-10 (front wall) rTsa rgyu[d] rtsa.ba'i 'gro 'dul (]]Vajradhatumandala\\); Right-10 Chos dbyings gsung gi dbang phyug (Dharmadhatuvagisvara); R-9 (right side wall) gSang ldan (gZhon nu) 'Jam pa'i dbyangs (Manjughosa);
R-8, R-7, R-6, R-5 are illegible; R-4 Spyan ras gzigs...'Od dpag med pa sems dpa' (Avalokitesvara); R-3 (rear wall) Khams gsum rnam rgyal (Trailokyavijaya) as Mi skyod rdo rje khro bo (Aksobhyavajra); R-2 Khro bo'i rgyal po Me ltar 'bar ba (Mahakrodha Jvalanala) with Lha chen brgyad (Astamahadeva) retinue;
"Homage with body, speech, and mind to the Lama of the lineage of the root Vajradhatumandala of the glorious mahayogatantra." "Homage to the Lord of Dharma Kun dga' bzang po." 'Jigs pa'i hung sgra des bsgrogs shing. [BACK]
Francke, A. H., Antiquities of Indian Tibet, Part II, S.Chand, New Delhi, 1926.
Gyatso, Sonam, Tibetan Mandalas: the Ngor Collection, Kodansha, Tokyo, 1983.
Henss, Michael, Mustang: Tibetisches Koenigreich im hohen Norden Nepals, 1993, Fabri Verlag, Ulm, 1993.
Jackson, D.P., "The Early History of Lo (Mustang) and Ngari" 1976, Contributions to Nepalese Studies, Vol 4 no.1, 1976.
------- "The History of Se-rib", Kailash, Vol Vl, no.3., 1978.
Lo Bue, Erberto & Ricca, Franco, The Great Stupa of Gyangtse, Serindia, London, 1993.
------- Gyangtse Revisited, Casa Editrice Le Lettere, Torino, 1990.
Richardson, H.E., "The Cult of Vairocana in Early Tibet," Indo-Tibetan Studies, Tring, 1990.
Vitali, Roberto, Early Temples of Central Tibet, Serindia, London, 1990.
Fig.1. gLo sMon thang and the Byams pa lha khang looking north
Fig.2 The Vajradhatumandala, the principal mandala.
[Fig.3 Detail of the Vajradhatumandala showing the Thousand Vajrasattvas, mandala wall and gate.]
Fig.4 Detail of the Vajradhatumandala showing the makara and gate
[Fig.5 Detail of a rGyal rtse sku 'bum mandala gate]
Fig.6 Amoghasiddhi and Vajrasattva in rondels, with floral motifs
Fig.7 Detail of the Trailokyavijaya mandala showing the Red Bhairava couple above and Mahadeva with consorts below
Fig.8. The Jvalanala mandala with Astamahadeva retinue
Fig.9 Detail of Jvalanala mandala showing Sitaganesa
Fig.10 The Vajrasattva/Vajrapani mandala with Astamahanaga retinue
Fig.11 Detail of Vajrasattva mandala showing naga couple
Fig.12 The Vajrapani mandala with Caturmaharaja retinue
Fig.13 The dharmapala Mahakala, a protector of the doorway
[Fig.14 A Vajrapani from the rGyal rtse sku 'bum.]