<< previous image || Desire & Devotion || next image >>

Manjusrinamasamgiti Manuscript with Covers
12th century
Manuscript: ink on palm-leaf,
each page 2 x 11 in (5.1 x 27.9 cm) (not illustrated)
Cover: wood with pigments
2 1/8 x 11 ½ in (5.4 x 29.2 cm)

The manuscript consists of palm-leaf folios with the Sanskrit text written in Newari script on both sides. The text appears to be complete and is accompanied by several folios of a later, probably seventeenth-century, copy. The colophon identifies the work of the Manjusrinamasamgiti (Chanting the names of Manjushri)(see Wayman 1985 for a translation and study of the text). Composed probably in the eighth century, this text was especially popular in Tibet and Nepal, where the bodhisattva of wisdom is associated with the creation myth of the Kathmandu Valley.

While the text should be of interest to Buddhologists because of its early date, more important to art historians are the two wooden covers with their paintings. The inside of both covers is adorned with images of deities that are superb examples of the twelfth-century Newari style of painting. The manuscript has no post-colophon statement, but, because of the paleography of the script, a twelfth-century date is incontestable, and stylistic comparisons of the paintings with dated works of the period make the contemporaneity of the two covers certain. The style marks the highpoint of the Newari tradition of miniature paintings, with exquisite detailing, rich but subtle coloring, and elegant figural forms painted with delicate lines conveying full modeling.

On each cover, there are three figures below canopies, separated by a pair of brass pots with flowers, all painted against a red background. On the upper cover, the central frontal figure is Vasudhara. The flanking bodhisattvas tilt towards the goddess and are clearly in attendance with fly-whisks in their right hands. The red figure holding the red lotus is Lokeshvara, and the yellow bodhisattva holding the blue lotus is Maitreya.

All three figures on the second cover are represented frontally except for the white bodhisattva, who sways gracefully with his legs loosely crossed at the ankles. The figure on the left is clearly a preaching Buddha, no doubt Shakyamuni himself. The eight-armed bodhisattva on the other side of the central figure is Amoghapasha Lokeshvara, a popular deity with the Buddhist Newars. The central figure with six pairs of arms is Namasamgiti, who is undoubtedly the personification of the text, like the goddess Prajnaparamita. Except for his complexion, he fits in every detail the description of the deity included in an iconographic compilation by the nineteenth-century Newar pundit Amritananda (see B. Bhattacharya 1958, p. 207). In the text he is white, but here he is yellow or golden, which is the preferred complexion of Manjushri. The gestures and attributes are as follows (beginning at the top): the first pair of hands above his head are in anjalimudra (salutation or offering); the second pair display the reassurance gesture; the third pair hold the sword and the skull-headed staff (khatvanga); the fourth pair display the tarpanamudra (also an offering gesture); the fifth pair have the kshepanamudra (sprinkling water); and the final pair in the samadhimudra (meditation gesture) hold the vessel of nectar.

The importance of the two covers cannot be over emphasized. The representations of Namasamgiti and Amoghapasa Lokeshvara may be the earliest known in Nepali art so far and, for that matter, in all Buddhist art. Space does not permit a discussion of other aspects of the iconographic programs of the two cover here, but it is worth noting the intriguing presence of Vasudhara, the goddess of wealth, on the bottom cover attended by two of the leading bodhisattvas (for five illustrated pages of a slightly later Namasamgiti manuscript in Los Angeles, see Pal 1985, p. 200, no.P5)

all text and images © The Trustees of the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore

<< previous image || Desire & Devotion || next image >>