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The Buddhist lama Padmasambhava as Guru Drakpochey
Place of Origin: Tibet
Date: approx. 1475-1525
Object Name: Thangka
Materials: Colors on cotton
Dimensions: H. 10 3/4 in x W. 5 1/8 in, H. 27.3 cm x W. 13.0 cm (image); H. 20 3/4 in x W. 9 1/2 in, H. 52.7 cm x W. 24.2 cm (mount)
Credit Line: Gift of the Connoisseurs' Council
Department: Himalayan Art
Collection: Painting
Object Number: 1992.344
On Display: No

Description

Label: Padmasambhava, the "Precious Teacher" (Guru Rinpochey) who transmitted Vajrayana Buddhism to Tibet in the ninth century, sits at the top left of this thangka. Guru Drakpochey, the Great Fierce One at the center of this painting, is a visionary form adopted by Padmasambhava to overcome obstacles to meditative progress. Opposite Padmasambhava sits Pema Lingpa, a lama from Bhutan who rediscovered the Drakpochey visualization in the 16th century.

On the back of this thangka a golden inscription praises a text called Lotus Skull Rosary. This is the precise text from which the Guru Drakpochey visualization derives, and its composition is attributed to Padmasambhava. But the Lotus Skull Rosary did not appear in public until the fifteenth century, when it was "discovered" by the lama at the top right of the thangka, Pema Lingpa. According to the story, Pema Lingpa awoke from a prophetic dream to meet an old monk who offered him a scroll. On it, he found the cryptic letters called khandro. Merely seeing these letters allowed Pema Lingpa to find and decode a text hidden five hundred years before by Padmasambhava. Texts hidden and discovered in this manner are called "treasure" (terma).

More Information

Exhibition History: "Words as Art" Rotation, 7/23/2012
Label: Padmasambhava, the "Precious Teacher" (Guru Rinpochey) who transmitted Vajrayana Buddhism to Tibet in the ninth century, sits at the top left of this thangka. Guru Drakpochey, the Great Fierce One at the center of this painting, is a visionary form adopted by Padmasambhava to overcome obstacles to meditative progress. Opposite Padmasambhava sits Pema Lingpa, a lama from Bhutan who rediscovered the Drakpochey visualization in the 16th century.

On the back of this thangka a golden inscription praises a text called Lotus Skull Rosary. This is the precise text from which the Guru Drakpochey visualization derives, and its composition is attributed to Padmasambhava. But the Lotus Skull Rosary did not appear in public until the fifteenth century, when it was "discovered" by the lama at the top right of the thangka, Pema Lingpa. According to the story, Pema Lingpa awoke from a prophetic dream to meet an old monk who offered him a scroll. On it, he found the cryptic letters called khandro. Merely seeing these letters allowed Pema Lingpa to find and decode a text hidden five hundred years before by Padmasambhava. Texts hidden and discovered in this manner are called "treasure" (terma).
Exhibition History: "Words as Art" Rotation, 7/23/2012
Resources:

Video: Time Travel in Two Tibetan Thangkas (Part 1 of 2): http://youtu.be/uCNCNfsFmXc
Video: Time Travel in Two Tibetan Thangkas (Part 2 of 2): http://youtu.be/vr5D0mzyiLk

Jeffrey Durham, Curator of Himalayan Art at the Asian Art Museum, discusses two iconic masterworks in the museum's collection of Himalayan art. A lecture presented by the Society for Asian Art on May 1, 2015