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Pratapaditya Pal: Roshan Sabavala’s Tryst with Himalayan Art

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Lot 71: Visions of Khedrup Jey
Distemper on cloth
19th or 20th Century
18 ½ x 13 ⅛ in. (47 x 33.5 cm.) each (3)

The three paintings constitute a rare and complete set of thangkas depicting the Five Forms of Tsongkhapa (1357 - 1419) as visualised by his disciple Khedrup Geleg Pal Zangpo (1385 - 1438), known as Khedrup Jey. The central painting depicts the master seated in his characteristic posture of vajraparyankasana, with hands in dharmachakramudra holding the stems of flowers bearing his emblems, the sword and manuscript, and wearing the yellow Pandita cap of the Gelugpa order that Tsongkhapa founded at the beginning of the 15th century: a mendicant monk is portrayed at the centre of the lower register flanked by seated Tibetan hierarchs, probably monks of the ancient Nyingmapa whose teachings Tsongkhapa revitalised in his new Gelugpa order. Two more of Khedrup Jey’s visions are depicted on another painting in the series, with Tsongkhapa seated on a throne supported by gods and goddesses, and the master as Manjushri seated on the blue lion. The final two revelations are depicted in the third painting where Tsongkhapa appears as a Mahasiddha wielding a sword and riding a tiger, and as a monk in the form of bodhisattva Samantabhadra seated in lalitasana on the back of a white elephant.

The Five Visions were visited upon Khedrup Jey after his master’s death. The student felt a great loss at the demise of his tutor, missing him greatly, and engaged in an extended retreat to concentrate on the teachings he had received while his master was alive. Tsongkhapa appeared to him over a five-day period in forms that Khedrup Jey was able to recognise as that of an enlightened being, thus immune to death, and in this way he was able to reconcile his master’s passing.