Buddhist Feminine Divinities beloved and adapted by Mongols and Buriats:
Texts, Iconic Images, Traditions (lugs), Holy Sites
by Surun-Khanda D. Syrtypova
Institute of Ecology & Evolution, Russian Academy of Sciences. Moscow, Russia
June 26, 2014
text and images © Surun-Khanda D. Syrtypova
(click on the small image for full screen image with captions.)
The significance of the cult of Tārā is exceptionally high in Tibet and Mongolia, as well as in Buriatia. Numerous research works dedicated to the cult of Tārā are already published. However I think that the regional features of female deities are still poorly understood and there is still much room for interesting studies on the adaption of cults to the different historical, cultural, and geographical specifics of different regions of the Buddhist world. This will allow us to determine which traditions of ancient Indian teachers and masters took root in Mongolia and Buriatia, and how they were developed or transformed according to local conditions. This research draws attention to amazing masterpieces of Buddhist art created by artists of the peripheries of the traditional territory of Vajrayana Buddhism.
In addition, we should note that there is a new trend in Buriatia to discover the manifestations of Buddhist goddesses in natural objects, which are now defined as the points of energy force- sacred sites.
We know dozens of main Feminine Deities in the Pantheon of Tibeto-Mongolian Buddhism. These can be divided into three main classes – Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, Dākinīs,[1
] and Dharmapālas. There is only one Feminine Great Dharmapāla - Śrī Devī, or Palden Lhamo (Tib.: Dpal ldan lha mo, Skt.: Śri Devī, Mo. Ökin tngri). Of the Eight (Ten in Mongolian tradition) Great Nirvanic Dharmapālas (Tib.: ‘Jig rten las ‘das pa’i srung ma)[2
] she is the only independent female deity. Palden Lhamo with her entire feminine escort has embodied a number of female guardians of Buddhism[3
]. Dākinīs (Tib.: mkha’ ‘gro) are the epitome of feminine tantric energy, usually they manifest and realize their potential powers in partnership with masculine deities or adepts.
In my paper I will focus on the cult of goddess-bodhisattvas that are worshiped by Mongols and Buriats (Sitā Tārā, Śyāma Tārā, Sitātapatrā, Sarasvatī, Uṣṇīṣavijayā, Marīcī, Kurukullā, Prajñāpāramitā etc.). Ārya Tārā (Tib. ’Phags pa sgrol ma, Mo. Dara eke) is variously considered as a manifestation of the Buddha, Bodhisattvas, Yidam, Dākinīs and Guardian deities. So the significance of the cult of Tārā is exceptionally high in Tibet and Mongolia, as well as in Buriatia. Numerous research works, such as the English translation of Tāranātha’s “History of the origin of Tārā tantra”, the monographs by Stephen Beyer and Martin Willson, as well as many guide-books for practitioners and others dedicated to the cult of Tārā have already been published.
These works contribute much to the understanding of the cult of Tārā. The identification of regional worship features of various female deities, however, are still poorly understood and rarely studied. There is still much room for research on the adaptation of the cult to the different historical, cultural, and geographical characteristics specific to different regions of the Buddhist world.
In this sense it is interesting to compare:
1) the classical canonic sources with the regionally used ones; and
2) the data found in the traditional written sources of the cult (tantra – Tib.: rgyud; sādhana – Tib. sgrub thabs; hymns – Tib. bstod pa, ritual offerings – Tib. cho ga, gser skyems, etc.) and the visual expression of the tradition in paintings, sculptures, iconic fine art of a particular region.
This will allow us to determine which traditions of ancient Indian teachers and masters took root in Mongolia and Buriatia, and how they were developed or transformed in the local conditions. As result of this research, we find amazing masterpieces of Buddhist art created by artists of the peripheries of the traditional territory of Vajrayāna Buddhism (figs. 5-18, 19-30).
In addition, we should note that there is a new trend in Buriatia to discover manifestations of the Buddhist goddesses in natural objects, which are newly defined as points of energy force or sacred sites (figs. 31-32).
I studied the practice of worshiping of divinities in specific cultural-historical and geographical conditions from different sources:
1) Written documents - doctrinal, canonical texts (sūtra, tantra, sādhana, lo rgyus, bstod pa, cho ga, gser skyems, etc.) that were used by priests and adepts. The large numbers of ritual texts spread among the population shows the extent of adaption of the Buddhist cult in the region of study. The language of religious texts, including sādhanas, remains Tibetan among Mongolian peoples through the last three centuries.
2) Objects such as iconic paintings and sculptures, and other objects of fine art from different collections of Russia and Mongolia. The visual aspects of a cult, pictorial and sculptural images, serve as supports for visualization by an adept in meditation; they are also an important way to popularize the cult among the local population.
3) Oral myths, legends, tales of deities prevailing among the lay people. These show how widely the cult was spread.
4) Holy places or points of energy force - geographical sacred sites where the divine feminine forces are spontaneously manifested – often as self-appeared (Tib. rang byung) images. Yanzhima (Tib. dByangs can ma) goddess in Yarikta country of Barguzinskaia valley, Tārā the Mother Stone or Uṣṇiṣavijayā on the Nojei lake of Aginskii Buriat district in Transbaikalia. This is one of the most distinctive ways in which a cult takes root in a particular environment.
Manuscripts and Xylographs
Our study of the cult of feminine divinities among Buriats is based on Tibetan texts that are stored in the Center of Oriental manuscripts and xylographs of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (in the following abbreviated COMX IMBT SB RAS) in the capital city of Ulan-Ude.[4
] These texts were used by Buriat monks before the Buddhist temples and monasteries were shut down and ultimately destroyed in the 1930s. About 20% of the xylographs were printed in regional monasteries (Mo. Datsan, Tib. grva tshang). With the destruction of the temples, the libraries of Buddhist literature were also lost. Only about 2% of these books have survived until today[5
For the topic of my research I selected relevant manuscripts and xylographs out of six thousand ritual texts of Tibetan literature (of the thor bu category) from the book depository in COMX IMBT SO RAS. I found about 600 items devoted to female deities, that is about 10% of the whole collection of ritual texts. The majority of them are devoted to the cult of White and Green Tārā, Twenty-one Tārās, the Guardian deity Palden Lhamo, and Sitātapatrā. Some of the texts are about Sarasvatī, Marīcī, Kurukullā, Pañcarakṣā, Uṣṇīṣavijayā, Simhamukhā, Vajraḍākinī, Jñānaḍākinī, Prajñāpāramitā, etc. The article format does not allow me to consider all these goddesses, so in the following I will focus only on materials referring to Tārā.
The Cult of Tārā had been practiced among the Buriats in the following main forms:
1) Performance of the "Maṇḍala Śiva" ritual, which means offering the maṇḍala to the Twenty-one Tārās (Tib. rJe btsun sgrol ma'i maṇḍala bzhi ba),
2) Recitation of the "Hymn for the 21 Tārās» (Tib. rJe btsun sgrol ma phyag tshal nyi shu rtsa gcig),
3) Recitation of the "Hymn for Khadiravaṇī Tārā» (Tib. rJe btsun seng ldeng nags sgrol gyi bstod pa),
4) Recitation of the "Hymn for Cintāmaṇi Tārā» (Tib. sGrol dkar yid bzhin 'khor lo'i bstod pa),
5) Recitation of the mantra “Om tā re tu tā re tu re svāha” as much as possible.
The texts for the rituals and daily practices were block-printed in various Buriat monasteries and temples. For example, the text "Mandal shiva" was printed in the Dzhidinskii, Aninskii, Tsugolskii datsans respectively; the "Hymn to the Twenty-one Tārās" - in the Tamchinskii, Chisanskii, Tsolginskii, and Tsongolskii datsans. The "Hymn for Khadiravaṇī Tārā" and the "Hymn for Cintāmaṇi Tārā" were block-printed in the printing houses of the Chisanskii and Tsongolskii datsans[6
Contributors of the main texts
Detailed analysis of the literature allows us to determine the circle of authors of Tibetan texts, and thus the line of tradition transmitted from teachers of ancient India, medieval Tibet and Mongolia. The dominant cult tradition of the Twenty-one Tārās is of the lineage by Dipaṅkara Śrījñāna Atiśa (Tib. Jo bo a ti sha, Atiśa, 982-1054).
Of course, for Mongols and Buriats a particularly important role belongs to Tāranātha’s (1575-1634) tradition, because the Bogdo Gegen Jebtsundamba Qutuɣtu – Zanabazar - was considered his reincarnation. Tāranātha’s "History of the origin of Tārā Tantra" is extremely popular. What is most important is that Tāranātha revived the old sources and published a huge treatise of 483 folios entitled "Precious source of the sādhanas of the oceans of Yidams" (Tib. Yi dam rgya mtsho'i sgrub thabs rin chen 'byung gnas), which goes back to the ancient Indian Sādhana texts.
The Fourth Panchen Lama Blo-bzang chos-kyi rgyal-mtshan (1570 - 1662) was one of the root teachers of Öndür Gegen, as the first Jebtsun Damba Qutuɣtu Zanabazar is also called. His works were very popular among Mongolian Buddhists and Buriats as well. The Fourth Panchen Lama followed the tradition of Sūryagupta (Tib. Grub chen nyi ma spas ba). One of his texts is the "Sādhana of Tārā called `The Fulfiller of all desires’" (Tib. sGrol ma'i sgrub thabs dgos 'dod kun byung zhes bya ba bzhugs so). Apart from the importance of this tradition in the history of the cult of Tārā, there is very little known about Sūryagupta[7
]. Ācārya Sūryagupta lived presumably in the 7th-8th centuries and he founded the most specific tradition of the realization of the twenty-one Tārās, where every single emanation has a distinguishing shape, posture, gesture, attributes, colors; whereas in the Atiśa / Tāranātha tradition the emanations all resemble the Green Tārā in form.
One of the most popular hymns of Tārā in Buriatia is the hymn by the ancient Indian Ācārya Matricheta. This hymn is widely known in Tibet, Mongolia, and in Buriatia. The words of the text were learned by heart not only by monks, but also by many lay worshippers of the goddess. Matricheta (Skt.: Mātṛceṭa, Tib. Matra ce ta - mother’s servant)[8
], who lived ca. the second century, is known in Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism under the name of Lovon Pavo (Tib: Slob dpon dpa' bo). He was a disciple of Āryadeva, who in turn was a close disciple of Nāgārjuna. However, it seems that there is more than one person named Matricheta present in the history of Tibetan Buddhism and of the cult of Tārā as well.
Many important Tibetan and Mongolian authors contributed to the development of the cult of Tārā, such as Panchen Lama Blo-bzang chos-kyi rgyal-mtshan, sGo-mang blo-bzang tshul-khrims rgya-mtsho, Khalkha Damtsig Dorje (Tib. Hal ha dam tshig rdo rje), Agvan Yeshe Tubden Rabzhamba (Tib. Ngag dbang ye shes thub bstan rab 'byams pa), lCang lung paṇḍita Blo bzang bstan pa'i rgyal mtshan and others[9
The fact that an extensive Garchak (Tib. dKar chag, table of contents or list of sources) was published in Gandan Monastery demonstrates the important role of the Tārā Goddess and her various emanations for the Mongols. This Garchak was published in two volumes, which contained a summary of the most popular xylographs of the cult of Tārā in Mongolia. The Garchak consists of 146 titles of texts [10
]. What is notable is that the regional monastic printing-houses had catered to the needs of the local population, and printed the most requested and favored texts. The most published authors were Tuugan Darma Vadjra (Tib. Thu’u bkvan Blo bzang chos kyi nyi ma, 1737-1802), the second Janja Rolbi Dorje (lCang skya Qutuɣtu Rol pa’i rdo rje, 1717-1786), Lharamba Dambijaltsan (Tib. lHa ram pa bsTan pa'i rgyal mtshan) and others. Those texts were used in Buriatia as well. The main difficulty here is to identify correctly the authors, because the authors’ names shown in the colophons could be just short names, nicknames and pseudonyms.
Identification of Mongolian native authors has begun only recently. Nowadays much is done by modern Mongolian researchers, but there is much more still to be done[11
]. In 2004 R. Byambaa initiated the multivolume edition of a catalogue of Mongolian contributors to Tibetan Buddhist Literature. As Byambaa notes, he found about 500 Mongol native authors of Tibetan Buddhist texts, among them 97 persons alone who had “Ngag dbang” (Agvan in Mongolian pronunciation) as part of their name. Byambaa includes in this list Buriat and Kalmyk authors as well. The National Library of Mongolia began publishing a catalogue of books by Mongolian authors which are stored there, and in 2013 the first volume of Sog po mkhams pa rnams kyi bod skad du brtsams pa’i gsung ‘bum gkar chag (“List of collected works composed in the Tibetan language by Mongolian scholars”) was issued. This volume contains a catalogue of 8815 works by ten Mongolian authors contained in nearly 200 volumes. At the same time scholars of the Institute of Language & Literature of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences prepared a catalogue of xylographs printed in the Mongolian language[12
]. The Gandan Monastery continued its research und published the results in the magazine Lavain Egshig. The scholars added 17 more newly discovered names of Mongolian native authors. So it can now be reasonably argued that the list of known Mongolian Buddhist authors of earlier periods who wrote in the Tibetan language contains 300 names[13
Mongolian authors who made a particularly significant contribution to the development of the cult of the goddess Tārā should be noted specially.
Khu re Khambo Agvankhaidav Nomun khan (Tib. Ngag dbang mkhas grub, 1779-1838)
wrote several lengthy compositions devoted to Tārā: a commentary on a hymn to Khadiravaṇī Tārā (Tib. rJe btsun seng ldeng nags sgrol la bstod pa mkhas pa’i gtsugs rgyan gyi ‘grel pa mkhas pa dga’ byed ches bya ba bzhugs so (gSung `bum, Kha, fol. 1a-29a); Sādhana of Tārā (Tib. rJe btsun sgrol ma’i sgrub thabs ‘dod dgu mchog sbyin bzhugs so (Ca, fol. 1a-5a); Hymn to Tārā (Tib. rJe btsun ‘phags ma sgrol ma la bstod cing gsol ba ‘debs pa’i rab tu byed pa autpal ‘phreng ba zhes bya ba bzhugs so (gSung `bum, Ca, fol. 1a-5b). He also copied Tāranātha’s work "The History of Tārā Tantra". Agvankhaidav was born in Mandal-Tolgoi of Toola river valley to the family of a simple cattleholder. From early childhood he was sent to study in Bkra shis chos ‘phel grwa tshang in Ikh-Khuree. At the age of nineteen, he went to Tibet to continue his education in Gomang datsan of Drepung monastery and graduated with the degree of rab ‘byams pa. When he was 32 years old, he had to return home from Lhasa as directed by the Bogdo gegen IV (1775-1813) and later became a deputy abbot of Ikh Khuree. Agvankhaidav’s collected works (Tib. gsung ‘bum) consist of five volumes that contain 166 compositions.
Chin Suzuktu Nomun Khan (Tib. Blo bzang nor bu shes rab, 1701-1768)
made an outstanding contribution to the development of Buddhism in Mongolia and to the cult of many female Buddhist goddesses as well. His gsung ‘bum were printed in Beijing and consist of seven volumes with 355 texts. Texts about female deities have a special place in his legacy - there are about 50 texts, which cover more than 500 folios. The greatest number of texts is related to the Tārā goddess and her various manifestations. In his works, Chin Suzuktu Nomun Khan introduced various known traditions and methods of realization of Tārā (Bari lotsāva, Sūryagupta, Kache Paṇchen, Kadam). He paid attention to all main emanations of the goddess Tārā (Sarasvatī, Kurukullā, Marīcī etc.). Lobsang Norbu Sherab (Tib. Blo bzang nor bu shes rab) was born in 1701. In his childhood, he entered Tashilhunpo monastery in Tibet and became a disciple of the Paṇchen Lama Blo bzang ye shes. In 1732 he was invited to Ordos where he built the temple "Shar Zuu". In 1745, he came back home which was on the territory of modern Bayan-Khongor aimag, Galuut somon in Mongolia. There he built several stūpas and temples and organized a community with hundreds of followers. For his great service and contribution to the popularization of religion, the Jebtsundamba Khutukhtu bestowed on him the title "Erdeni Noyon Tsorji" and promoted him to the category of Khutukhtu[14
]. In 1755, he was appointed to Amursana’s country to teach people, for which he received the title of "Chin Suzugtu Nomun Khan" and a special seal written in four languages that documented his elevation to the highest rank[15
The third Janja Khutukhtu Ngag dbang blo bzang bstan pa’i rgyal mtsan (1770-1845)
] made an outstanding contribution to the development of the cult of Śrī Devī (Tib. Dpal ldan lha mo) and her different forms.
Agvandorj (Ngag dbang rdo rje (XIX c.)
, the author of a 14-volume work, wrote an enormous treatise about Sarasvatī goddess in 208 folios.
Visual Sources - iconic images (sculptures, thankas, etc.)
Iconic cult items have been created in different Buddhist regions according to local priorities. We can identify Buriat material only by comparing it with the classical Tibeto-Mongolian patterns. Here, the main support for us are iconographic guides – Mo. Jatsa (Tib.: brgya rtsa) - reference books of descriptions and illustrations, compiled by Buddhist masters of earlier periods[17
]; and the most famous masterpieces of fine Vajrayāna art, which we shall now consider.
The first Jebtsundamba Qutuɣtu Zanabazar’s (1635-1723) unrivaled creations of Twenty-one Tārā sculptures were made according to Atiśa’s (Tāranātha’s) tradition (figs. 2-3; note that these two different forms of Tārā can only be distinguished by the facial expression)[18
], although the main teacher of Zanabazar was the Paṇchen Lama Blo bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan who practiced in the tradition of Sūryagupta[19
In 1810, the Seventh Paṇ chen Lama Blo bzang bstan pa’i nyi ma (1782-1853) initiated publication of a set of images for the advanced text of Tāranātha’s treatise. The work’s supervisors were Chos skye mkhas sgrub and Dge slong tshe ring. Many Mongolian artists such as Zhinba Lobsang (Tib. Zhing ba blo bzang), Lobsang Dashi (Tib. Blo bzang bkra shis), Agvan Sherab (Tib. Ngag dbang shes rab), Lobsang Choidar (Tib. Blo bzang chos dar), and Lobsang Tsepag (Tib. Blo bzang tshe phag) took part in creating hundreds of images of the deities. This iconographic guide, Rin ‘byung snar thang brgya rtsa rdor ‘phreng bcas nas gzungs pa’i bris sku mthong ba don ldan bzhugs so, is known under the short name of "Five hundred Burkhans" - Five hundred Buddhist Deities.
In the following pages I will for the first time introduce fellow scholars to a variety of art items found in private and public collections in Russia and Mongolia. They are preserved in regional museums, the scientific fund in Ulan-Ude, and also in some private collections in Moscow and Ulaanbaatar. I have also critically reviewed the studies of already well known Buddhist art items. From my studies of texts and images of Tārā that survived and have been stored in different collections I conclude that the tradition of Atiśa was dominant in the Buriat regions. [20
However, in Mongolian fine art we find a lovely example of the Twenty-one Tārās in Sūryagupta’s tradition, for example the icon from the private collection of A. Altangerel. (fig. 5) He owns a thanka of the Twenty-one Tārās painted in the 18th century. Size: 62,5 x 42,0 cm. (24¾ x 16½ inch). It is painted in Menri style that involves spatial perspective, air saturation, and landscape elements. In the tradition of Atiśa the twenty-one Tārā goddesses are depicted almost identically with the central deity Khadiravaṇī Green Tārā but in different colors, whereas in the tradition of Sūryagupta, as seen here, all the Tārās are depicted completely differently. The structure and composition of this scroll does not look similar to the Mongolian thanka known by the same name. In the center of the picture, the Green Tārā is painted sitting in lalitāsana on a big white lotus pedestal. Yellow Mārīcī and blue Ekajaṭī are depicted on the right and the left of the Green Tārā. The other sixteen goddesses are grouped inside of four bright circles and placed in four corners of the icon. Two Tārās are located under upper circles in the middle part of the canvas and two more in the middle bottom of the thanka. In total, there are twenty three goddesses. Atiśa and Tsongkhapa are arranged symmetrically in the upper part of the thanka, and above them, in the middle of clouds, sits Mahāsiddha Sūryagupta. The canvas is sheathed by pale green and pistachio silk stripes and framed by beige colored silk embossed with patterns.
Old Buriat painted scrolls and images of Tārā
Researchers usually deny the existence of a Buriat Buddhist style in fine art. But the painted Buddhist icons by old Buriat masters have such superior quality that this makes them recognizable. No doubt Buriat thankas are very similar to Tibetan and especially to Mongolian works. Nevertheless, anyone who is familiar with Buriat works can distinguish them without doubt among art items from other Vajrayāna regions.
Let’s look at some examples of Buriat thankas of Tārā in different collections in Russia. Many old Buriat thankas are kept in the Museum of History in Buriatia. The best of them were published by Ts. Badmazhapov in his two volumes Buddhist paintings in Buriatia
and Paintings of Vajrayāna
[Badmazhapov, 1995; Badmazhapov, 2003]. A significant number of items are stored in The State Hermitage, The Russian Ethnographical Museum, The Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography – Kunstkamera, The Museum of the History of Religion in St. Petersburg, and the Museum of Oriental Art in Moscow. Rather interesting and numerous works can also be found in many private collections of Russia and of course in the Buddhist temples themselves.
We may have a look at old Buriat thankas from the paintings collected by Russian officials during the period of their first meetings with Siberian peoples and their religion. For example, there are the collections of Gerhard Friedrich Müller (1705-1783), Baron Paul Schilling von Canstatt (1786-1837) and others. G.F. Müller – a Russian historiographer of German origin, spent the years from 1733 to 1743 in the Siberian regions. During that time he collected a significant number of archive materials and different kind of items, and he wrote the fundamental work “History of Siberia”. Some painted scrolls were made specifically for him by Buriat masters as copies of temple icons to fill his collection[21
]. (figs. 7a,b,c,).
The thanka images of Tārā in the possession of Buriat Buddhists can be divided into several types according to the figure of the main god (Tib. gtso bo) and the composition of figure: 1) White Tārā, 2) Green Tārā, 3) Khadiravaṇī Tārā, 4) Lebrema Tārā (Tib. Legs ‘bris ma ‘phags ma sgrol ma ljang, Ārya śyāma tārā), 5) Twenty-one Tārās, 6) Potalaka Tārā, 7) White Tārā in the group of the Trinity of Longevity (Tib. Tshe la rnam gsum), and others.
The first who wrote about Buriat thankas was L.N. Gumilev, the scientist who is famous for his Theory of «Passionarity». The book “StaroBuriatskaya zhivopis” (Old Buriat paintings) was a result of his work with the big amount of Buddhist thankas gathered at that time in Kustkamera in Leningrad. Gumilev was not an expert in Buddhist iconography and his work suffers from many mistakes and incorrect statements, but he had grasped the soul and originality of Buriat paintings. Despite the abundance of mistakes in his book “StaroBuriatskaya Zhivopis”, L. Gumilev published several genuine Buriat old thankas and sculptures. We can find there the old Buriat images of the Tārā goddesses (figs.8, 10). Some old scrolls of Tārā are also among the pictures published by Badmazhapov. (fig. 9).
Buriat thankas of the early XVIII-XIX centuries can be identified by the following distinctive features:
1) The distinctive range of colors. Spectrally similar shades are used, and there is no additional multicolor brightness, which is characteristic of traditional Mongolian thankas. Colors are more muted and deep.
2) The old Buriat masters preferred dark blue backgrounds and a combination of dominant blue and green hues.
3) The older scrolls are very simple. The composition of the paintings is simple and tends to symmetry. There are few details, which concentrates the viewer's focus on the main and largest figure.
4) The absence of landscape and decoration details in the painting fills the space with air and gives the impression of a hovering, non-earthly deity.
5) The old canvases were primed very carefully, which gives the impression that the picture was painted in oil.
6) The faces of deities have Buriat anthropological features and mien.
The Masterpieces of Buriat Buddhist fine art:
Wooden sculptures by Sanji-Tsybik Tsybikov
The examples of Buriat fine art have very specific characteristics, beyond their similiarities with Mongolian fine art. The best works of Buriat artists are surely recognizable not only in the whole Tibeto-Mongolian fine art, but also amongst the Buriat Buddhist art. Unfortunately, the vast majority of religious objects was lost in the period of political repression and militant atheism in Russia. But even the few artifacts that we can find today speak of the existence of outstanding artists in the Buriat Buddhist art, the further development of which was tragically interrupted in the 1930s.
The Orongoyskaya School founded by Sanji-Tsybik Tsybikov (1877-1934) is widely known. (fig. 18). The wooden sculptures by the Orongoi masters supported the religious needs of the Buriat datsans of the Selenga valley in Buriatia. Tsybikov’s sculptures were carved usually of cedar wood [Bardalleva, 2005: 8-12]. They were large enough in size and were made in general style of carving and painted with a harmonious combination of warm shades and soft colors. The faces with large features are very expressive and dramatically individualized. The master used asymmetry in detailed ornaments and the curls of the hair.
The sculptures' pedestals have the characteristic shape of a single lotus, with an odd number of wide, large petals. The figures have broad shoulders, a powerful torso, low necks, plastic soft hands with delicate fingers and very full palms. The Sarvavid Vairocana Maṇḍala was constructed according to the canonical texts of the Narthang Kanjur. The feminine divinities of the maṇḍala by Tsybikov do not show sexual features, such as large breasts; they are depicted similarly to the main male Tathāgata Buddhas. The female deities have the same bodhisattva decorations as their male companions (earrings, bracelets, necklaces, belts, silk scarfs, the specific crowns with 5 separated petals[22
]. (figs. 20-23).
Sanji-Tsybik Tsybikov (1877-1934) was born in 1877 in Oshor Bulak ulus, near the village of Verhnyaya Ivolga in Buriatia. He studied at the Yangazhinskii datsan (founded in 1831), graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy (Tib. mtshan nyid grva tshang), was promoted to the dge shes degree and then to the rank of ‘ga bcu. His root teacher was Khambo Lama Dashi Dorji Etigelov (1852-1927), who is famous now for his ‘imperishable’ body. S.-Ts. Tsybikov is famous as a painter, architect and sculptor. He was the founder of the first professional Buriat school of art - Orongoyskie Darkhany. The Orongoyskaya school developed a recognizable style of its own, a special technology which combined: wood carving, stamping and hammering on metal, paper maché, work with clay and paintings. His favorite art material was wood, especially cedar[23
The Buriat Tārā – silver Djokonda in St. Petersburg’s Museum
Several Buriat silver sculptures are now stored in the museums of St. Petersburg and represent yet another Buriat school of art. There we can see other techniques. These items, created in other Buriat regions, represent a completely different style of art, which can be defined as the style of the Khori Darkhans. For example, the silver sculpture of White Tārā from the collection of the Russian Ethnographic Museum (fig. 29) or Amitāyus (fig. 30) and Buddha Śākyamuni from the collection of the Hermitage[24
] are made in the technique of hammering with stamping and casting some of the details and attributes. The aesthetics of the Khorinskii school is somewhat different from the Selenginskaya (Orongoiskaya) school. The metal and wood sculpture of the Khori’s masters show a special, very spacious, bulging and flat lotus pedestal with an odd number of petals. The faces are more subtle and delicate, the figures are very close to the aesthetics and proportions of the art of the great Zanabazar Öndür gegen (1635-1723). They have a strongly marked urṇa also.
The silver White Tārā of The Russian Ethnographic Museum is a true masterpiece, a unique treasure of Buriat Buddhist art (fig. 29). This sculpture was made on a special order for the imperial court of the Russian tsar. The sculpture was presented to the Crown Prince Nikolai II by Buriats in Atsagatskii datsan on his trip to the East in 1891. The silver White Tārā is of the highest level of artistic achievement; a Buriat Mona Lisa indeed. The sculpture has a wonderful peculiarity - she changes her expression of face and body posture when you change the viewpoint.
Unfortunately, the name of the master artist is not known. The reason for this does not only lie in the traditional anonymous character of Buddhist artists, but in the sad fact that the descendants of outstanding Buddhist leaders were forced to hide their kinship ties under fear of death during the persecution of religion and the ensuing political prohibitions. We only know that the artist was active in the early XX century because his other work – the Silver Buddha Amitāyus - was presented to Tsar Nicolai II on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the royal house of the Romanovs in 1913 (fig. 30). The statue of Amitāyus is kept at the State Hermitage museum of St. Petersburg among other precious items of Buddhist fine art. Yu. Elihina described the gifts that were presented to the royal house of the Romanovs and are now kept in the Hermitage. As already mentioned, some of them were presented to the Crown Prince Nicholai II in 1891 in Siberia, and the others on the occasion of the 300th royal house anniversary[25
] presented by the famous Buriat Khambo lama Dashi Dorji Etigilov in 1913.
I suppose, two silver statuettes - The White Tārā (fig. 29) and Buddha Amitāyus (fig. 30) were made by the same anonymous Khori Buriat master. Both the White Tārā – Silver Djokonda from the Russian Ethnographic Museum and Amitāyus from the Hermitage were made of the same material – silver, and in the same technique - hammering with the cast parts (crown, earrings, silk ribbon) in an identical system of proportion. They are almost similar in size, the Tārā naturally a bit smaller. The body of the sculpture was made of a single plate of silver. The sculptures of the Khori masters have a special, very spacious, bulging and flat lotus pedestal with an odd number of petals. Such peculiarity is common for Khori Buriat art items. Both sculptures are created in a consistent aesthetic style of the Bodhisattva image. They have a similar, very large, tall and broad cast crown, which is perfectly set adjoining the head of the sculpture without the slightest gap. The faces are subtle and delicate; the figures are very close to the aesthetics and proportions of the great Zanabazar. The anthropological features are common to the shapes of the Mongolian school – a strong torso, broad shoulders, a not too high neck. The wooden sculptures by the Khori Buriat masters have just the same qualities (figs. 26-28). It is puzzling why the Khori Buriat art school is not recognized by researchers.
In 1902 Andrei Rudnev[26
] was sent by Sergei Oldenburg[27
] to Transbaikalia (Russia) and Urga (Mongolia) specifically to study the technology of the regional Buddhist art and to buy, if possible, statues and painted scrolls. Rudnev gives us extremely important information about the foundry of Buddhist cult objects in the Hortuy area on the Khilok riverside near Tsolginskii datsan of Buriatia. This small foundry supplied other Buriat temples and monasteries with cast sculptures, ritual bowls (tsugutsa) and bells with vajras. Rudnev was an eyewitness of the making of the huge Buddha Maitreya statue for Gegetuiskii datsan. He refers to names of the best masters, winners of the art exhibition 1899 in Chita city: Ayushi Ludupov, Tsambol Khaidupov, Balshin Sedenov. He also maintained that the Buriat works were better than the Chinese, which were cruder, more massive and stout than the Transbaikalian ones. Tibetan items were extremely rare in Buriat temples [Rudnev, 1905]. Most probably, one of the three masters just mentioned was the creator of the silver goddess White Tārā.
Feminine divinities on rocks and stones of Buriatia
In recent years a new trend has appeared in Buriatia – the manifestation of self-born divine (Tib.: rang byung, Mo. aranjin) images in natural objects. Nowadays the goddess Sarasvatī Yanzhima image has become widely known. Many tourists and pilgrims visit her in Barguzinskaya Valley in the Yarikta area (figs. 31, 32, 33).
In the Aga Buriat district the so called “Mother Stone” has also recently been discovered. The local people consider it as a manifestation of the goddess Uṣṇīṣavijayā, or Norzhima and call it “Mother Tārā”.
It should be noted that Yanzhima was found in a place known for its ancient sanctuaries. Earlier in the 19th century there was a Buddhist monastery, Barguzinskii datsan, there. The datsan was built on the site of an archaic sanctuary - the Baraghan cult complex, which from very ancient times was worshiped by pilgrims to pray for offspring. Yanzhima (Tib. dByangs can ma) is the Buddhist goddess of art and wisdom, Sarasvatī. But now she is revered as a goddess of fertility and the patroness of motherhood. In 2005 the current head of the Russian Buddhist Traditional Sangha, Khambo lama Ayusheev visited the site and he discovered a dancing goddess image on a huge boulder (figs. 31, 32).
Although Buriat Buddhists used the classic texts of various traditions of the cult of Tārā (by Atiśa, Bari lotsāba, Sūryagupta, Kache paṇchen, Kadam lugs etc.), the written tradition of Atiśa prevailed. The visual representation of the Tārā Tantra can be found in painting and sculpture. The majority of fine art items also mainly belong to the tradition of Atiśa where the Twenty-one Tārā goddesses are depicted almost identically with the central deity Khadiravaṇī Green Tārā but in different colors. In the tradition of Sūryagupta, however, all Tārās are depicted completely differently. In paintings of the old Buriat masters of the 18th century there were obvious adherents of the Menri style originally developed by the Tibetan artist Menla Dondub (Tib. sMan bla don grub, 1450-1480). They preferred a dark blue background, and a combination of dominant blue and green hues. Landscape is present, but all the attention is focused on the central character, who was depicted simply, and very large in comparison to the background or any subsidiary figures.
A careful study of the best examples of the Buriat Buddhist art, the Orongoiskaya school of wooden sculpture and the Khori Darkhan school, suggests the development of an original Buriat Buddhist art style in Siberia in the XIX to early XX centuries. Unfortunately, the further political developments in Russia did not allow the development of this art process in full. Most of the Buriat Buddhist art items are lost or there is little known about them in the scholarly world. It is quite possible that further exploration of the regional peculiarities might lead to new discoveries of masterpieces by Buriat and Mongol artists.