A RARE PAINTING FROM THE LAMDRE LINE OF TWO SAKYA MASTERS

A double-lineage painting by Lamdre

Two enthroned lamas gaze toward the center of this square composition depicting a large number of human teachers and deities. The two central figures don the garb of esteemed llamas and hold lotus stems in each hand – a vajra and the bell rests on those held by the teacher on the left while a flaming sword and a book rest on those held by the teacher on the right. Unlike the other characters in this composition, their identities are not revealed by inscriptions and their iconography is common. The deities in union perched on a lotus between the heads of the two lamas are also not labeled, although easily recognizable as Chakrasamvara and Vajrayogini. Three labeled teachers float on lotuses in the negative space between the top of the central lamas throne backrest and the upper register of figures. The upper register is made up of human teachers and deities labeled with the primordial Buddha Vajradhara in the center. Columns filled with images of additional labeled teachers descend from either side of the composition. The lowest register represents human figures labeled at each end and a multitude of labeled deities appear between them: Maha Ganapati, Kurukulla and Takkiraja (“The Three Reds”), followed by Gonpo, Lhamo and Yellow Jambhala. The first eight figures of one of the double lineages shown here (counterclockwise starting with Vajradhara), are easily identifiable on the basis of the inscriptions: Vajravarahi, Mahasiddha Laksminkara, Mahasiddha Virupa, Mahasiddha Avadhutipa, Newar pandit Devakaracandra, Newar pandit Paindapatika and Hungdu Karpa (also known as ‘Varendraruci’). The inscriptions of the remaining characters are not only shortened versions of their names, but are also quite abraded (in keeping with the great age of this object), making it impossible to determine with certainty their identities at that time. Fortunately, the first eight lineage holders fit perfectly into the lineage of Chinnamasta Vajrayogini (see Taranata’s Rinjung Gyatsa, pp. 1175-1176) it is therefore safe to assume that this part of the composition depicts a Chinnamasta lineage. The essential holders of the Lamdre lineage (Skt. Margapala) are included in it, such as the main ancestor Virupa and the final and patron figure, Kunga Lekpa. The second lineage, which appears on the right side of this table, is opaque to the first. One obstacle to illuminating this transmission line is the challenge of determining who is the ultimate lineage holder on that side (the number in the lower right corner of the composition). While the inscription below it begins with “by as sem”Meaning“ bodhisattva ”in Tibetan, the rest of the inscription is illegible. However, the greater difficulty in determining which teaching transmission is integrated here is not due to the lack of clarity of the inscriptions (they are not abraded like those on the left side), but rather to the abbreviated forms of the names which can be interpreted in a variety of ways and the lack of resources, including these names. The last lineage holder on the left side (the figure distinguished by a yellow meditation cushion and its unique mudra) is on the contrary easily identifiable both by the inscription just below him and by the dedicatory inscription containing his name on the back of this table.
An inscription on the reverse side of this beautiful painting – under the standard dedication verses of the Dependent Ascension Heart Sutra (Tib. Rten ‘brel snying po) and the syllables of the Lantsa seeds – indicates that the present painting was sponsored by “Jangphugpa Lama Kunga Lekpa” for the fulfillment of the wishes of his two gurus. While the dates of the life of the patron Jangchubpa Kunga Lekpa are unknown, a number of allusions to the esteemed professor place him in the first half of the 15th century (probably born in the late 14th). It is said, for example, that he took the novice vows, with Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo (born 1382 – died 1456) to the fourth Ngor Khenchen, Kunga Wangchuk (born 1424 – died 1478; see his biography on TreasuryofLives.org). Additionally, according to Sharchen Yeshe Gyeltsen’s biography (written by the aforementioned Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo), Kunga Lekpa once requested Sharchen’s presence at Jangphug Monastery in Yeru (Tsang Province). Sharchen’s documented visit to Jangphug where he gave teachings just before his death, tells us that the dates in Kunga Lekpa’s life coincided with those of Sharchen – and Sharchen is depicted as a senior guru (upper right corner ) in this painting. Finally, Kunga Lekpa is named by inscription as the patron of a Yamari mandala in the Shelly and Donald Rubin collection, illustrated on Himalayan Art Resources, item no. 1041, which cannot be dated later than the 15th century for various reasons. David Jackson corroborates these dates of life for Jangphugpa Lama Kunga Lekpa in his exhibition on the Mandala of Yamari in The Nepalese heritage in Tibetan painting, pp. 187-190, and provides the most detailed customer information available:
He was certainly one of the most respected tantra teachers of his generation. Around 1419, he received the longest and most detailed version of the instructions for the Way with the fruits. [Lamdre] that Ngorchen ever gave, when Ngorchen visited Tingkye (gTing skyes) and Changphuk [Jangphug] in the south of Tsang. Sixteen years later, Changphukpa [Jangphuga] took part in the monastic ordination of Kunga Wangchuk at the palace of the Sharpa lamas in Sakya, led by Ngorchen. After that, Kunga Wangchuk studied the three Hevajra tantras under Kunga Lekpa at Changphuk (Byang phug), or the North Cave, which I presume was located south of Ngor near Tingkye … Kunga Lekpa of Changphuk was the one of Ngorchen’s most esteemed early advanced disciples. In the mid-1430s, his mastery of tantra was so highly regarded that the supreme expert in tantra, Ngorchen himself, entrusted him with the training in tantric exegesis of his nephew Kunga Wangchuk (who later became the fourth abbot of Ngor) . He certainly prospered during this time, although he may have lived even longer.

The highly respected curator of this painting, Jangphugpa Kunga Lekpa, is known to have commissioned a number of Belri (“Nepalese Style”) paintings between 1415 and 1435, providing a possible date range for this same painting (Same, p. 190). The painting style is defined by a predominantly red and blue palette, the quintessential plant scroll pattern (called in Tibetan “cloud design of tree leaves”) and the use of registers. Although this style of painting is often associated with the Ngor Monastery, Jangphugpa had no official association with the Ngor Monastery and no official from Ngor is explicitly labeled as such in this composition – two facts that remind us that he this is not a “Ngor style” of painting. On the contrary, the monastery of Ngor is known to preserve the Belri painting style until the 16th century. Prior to the 16th century, however, Belri (“Nepalese Style”) had become a universal Tibetan style and this painting is a demonstration of the attraction to the great Sakya kingdom. Given these facts and without identifying inscriptions, it is not possible to determine who are the two professors hired at the center of this composition. In addition, this painting is probably part of a larger body of works depicting the holders of the Lamdre lineage as central figures and the associated lineages that surround them. Nevertheless, given the great influence he had on the Lamdre Practically speaking, it seems probable that one of the great central figures of this painting is the first Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo.
This commission from the tantric master, Jangphugpa, was clearly a long-term project for the anonymous artist. While it is impossible to rule out the possibility that the artist is a Newar, the hexagonal pattern that appears on the shirt of the great gray-haired professor on the left is rarely seen in Newar compositions, but frequently seen in Tibetans. . The quality and painstaking detail of the current painting tells us that this artist must have been familiar with the Belri styling with the help of Newar prototypes or a masterful Newar painter. Each halo, regardless of size, is detailed with the aforementioned scroll leaf pattern, while each halo in the deities and teachers halos is rendered with a beautiful gradation of blue or green. The minimal amount of blue background revealed between the small red halos that line the perimeter of the painting is also embellished with small dotted floral designs, resulting in a completely full and rich composition that requires further examination to be fully appreciated. The impact of the gemstone-like composition and color palette (derived from natural pigments) is nonetheless effective from a distance. These features, along with the use of registers, can be seen in a number of central 15th-century Tibetan paintings, including a Chakrasamvara Mahdala Assembly assembled by Guiseppe Tucci at Sakya Monastery published in Klimberg-Salter’s work. Discovering TibetTucci expeditions and Tibetan painting, Milan, 2016, p. 180, no. 47, and a painting by Mahasiddha Virupa in the Carolyn and Wesley Halpert Collection published on Himalayan Art Resources (Item # 90902), which features the exact same balustrades on either side of the central figure.

Inscription on the back in Uchen Tibetan script:
dpon chen sku mched di / byang phug pa: bla ma kun dga legs not: thugs daM gzhengs pa yin: maM ga laM //
For these two great authorities, Jangphugpa Lama Kunga Lekpa sponsored this for the fulfillment of their wishes. May it be auspicious!

The double-lined figures in the table are identified below (numbered according to the diagram):
1. Vajradhara
2. Vajravarahi
3. Mahasiddha Laksminkara
4. Mahasiddha Virupa
5. Mahasiddha Avadhutipa
6. Pandit Newar, Devakaracandra or Shunyatasamadhivajra, Pandit Newar from the 11th / 12th century [P4CZ10577]7. Pandit Newar, Paindapatika Jinadatta, 10th / 11th century [P4CZ15257]8. Hungdu Karpa alias Varendraruci
9. [unidentifiable]ten. [unidentifiable]11. [unidentifiable]12. Manglampa Chenpo, 14th century? [P6943]13. Sadonpa
14. [unidentifiable]15. Kunga Lekpa alias Jangchubpa Lama Kunga Lekpa
16. Kenchen Ta[shi] Chub [unidentifiable]17. Pandita Sadzana or Sazang Mati Panchen (1294-1376) alias Lodro Gyaltsen [P151]18. Kunpa Cho-rin [unidentifiable]19. Khasarpani
20. Dha Jangchub Sempa?
21. Shridhamaba?
22. Jangsem Dagyal, 12th century; “Master of the teachings of avalokitesvara; received the lam’bras teachings of sa skya pa directly from his chen kun dga ‘snying po “ [P1617]23. Nying Phugpa, student of byang sem zla rgyal [P8LS13773]24. Manglampa Chenpo, 14th century [P6943; duplicated on left side]25. Jangchub Wang, 15th century? [P3057]26. Jangchub’s leg [unidentifiable]27. Jangchug Choga [unidentifiable]28. Gyaltsen Tashi [unidentifiable]29. Wonchenpa [unidentifiable]30. Jamgyang Tashi [unidentifiable]31. Jangsem …. [unidentifiable]32. Sharchen Yeshe Gyeltsen (b.1359 – d.1406), BDRC P3094
33. Jangchub Senge, 14th century [P3964]34. Kal Wonpa [unidentifiable]

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