Ulrich von Schroeder
The Kingdom of Nepal & Nepalese Schools in Tibet
The former kingdom of Nepal, nestled in the valleys on the southern side of the great Himalayas, is in many ways the passage between the hot, abundant plains of India in the south and the cold, arid desert plateau of Tibet in the north. Among Buddhists and Hindus, there existed a relatively peaceful co-existence of the manifold religious traditions. With the almost complete disappearance of Buddhism in India towards the end of the 12th century, the importance of Nepal, especially the Kathmandu Valley, as a vital centre of Buddhist studies and artistic production increased dramatically. The artistic traditions of Nepal, including architecture, sculpture, and painting, were strongly influenced by North-Eastern India. Of all the various crafts, Nepal achieved its greatest fame for its tradition of metalworking. In addition, from the 7th century onward, the Newars were the principal foreign craftsmen active in Tibet.
Among the Nepalese sculptures in the Alain Bordier Collection is a copper statue of the Bodhisattva Vajrapani dating from the 10th/11th century (19). Being subject to almost daily extensive ritual washing and handling in the Kathmandu Valley, a smooth surface is the result, and only few remains of the gilding have survived. In custody of a Tibetan monastery, a great deal more of its original mercury gilding and inset precious stones would have remained intact. This applies also to the image of a standing Tara with a blue lily flowering at the left shoulder (22). It should be remembered that lotus flowers are exclusively the attributes of Hindu goddesses, and lilies exclusively of Buddhist goddesses. N.B. the water lily (utpala) is a flower of the night and related to the moon; whereas the lotus (padma) is a flower of the day and thus related to the sun.
Another rare Nepalese statue represents Kubera or Jambhala. With the left hand he holds a mongoose (nakula) resting on the left knee. The mongoose is the jewel-spewing attribute of Kubera, Jambhala, Vaisravana and other deities associated with the cult of prosperity (24). The Newar were also great wood carvers, as illustrated by a delicate wood statue of Mahasri-Tara or “Tara of great fortune” (20). Although dating from the 15th century, a great deal of the original painted decoration appears intact.
From the earliest times, Newars from the Kathmandu valley were active as traders and craftsmen all over Tibet. Often combining their specialized manual skills with trade activities, they were especially famous as metalworkers. The Manjusri in the “attitude of royal ease”, made of a gilt sheet of hammered copper, can be attributed to the Nepalese Schools in Tibet (23). Newar scholars also played an important role in the transmission of Buddhist teachings to Tibet. During the “second propagation” of Buddhism in Tibet, many Tibetan monks visited the monasteries in the Kathmandu valley, many staying for many years in pursuit of their studies.
Increasingly from about the 12th century onward, Newar artists from the Kathmandu Valley were employed by the rulers of the Khasa Malla kingdom of Western Nepal, who had extended the territories under their control into Western Tibet (late 11th to mid 14th century). This artistic tradition is illustrated with the statue of a crowned Buddha Sakyamuni (21). Some stylistic features, such as the flowers above the ears, support this attribution. The workmanship of these statues reveals many similarities with works originating from the Kathmandu Valley, a characteristic that applies also to the paintings commissioned by Khasa Malla patrons (17).
19. Vajrapani. Nepal; transitional Period: 950–1050 AD
Copper with remains of gilt; hollow cast. Height: 41.5 cm
20. Mahasri-Tara. Nepal; early Malla Period: 15th century
Wood with original painted decoration. Height: 71.5 cm
21. Buddha Sakyamuni. Western Nepal; Khasa Malla: 14th century
Gilt copper; hollow cast. Height: 24.9 cm
22. Goddess Tara. Nepal; transitional Period: c. 11th century
Copper with remains of gilt; solid cast. Height: 24.2 cm
23. Manjusri. Nepalese School in Tibet: 13th/14th century
Gilt sheet of hammered copper. Height: 26.5 cm
24. Kubera or Jambhala. Nepal; early Malla Period: 13th century
Gilt copper; inset with precious stones. Height: 20 cm