The horizontal folio from a Kalpasutra manuscript consists of seven lines of text to the left and center broken by a squarish gold symbol framed in a red line and cusped blue lines. Gold diamond shapes framed in red are at the sides, with a vertical red line between the one on the left and the text. Between the text and the right diamond shape there is a painting consisting of three registers of figures against a red ground. The top row depicts three laymen wearing crowns, the middle two monks and a nun and the bottom row three nuns.
Some of the earliest Indian paintings on paper are found in manuscripts of the Kalpasutra, a popular text that recounts the lives the jinas or “spiritual victors” of the Jaina religion. The paper was cut into horizontal pages, following a long tradition of palm-leaf manuscripts. In paper as in earlier palm leaf books, loose-leaf pages were flipped, bottom to top, as one read them; the verso (back or reverse side) of one folio would be seen with the recto (front side) of the following page.
Here monks and nuns sit in rows offering homage to one of the jinas or a teacher, who probably was depicted on the preceding folio. The convention of depicting the faces in profile with a projecting “further eye” is common in early painting throughout northern India. It is only in the early sixteenth century that this “further eye” disappears. This manuscript page is the earliest painting in the exhibition.
Leaf from a Kalpasutra manuscript with calligraphic text. Font size varies, and in the center of the leaf text wraps around a blank box of parchment with a red dot in the center. To the left of this main text block is a colorful illustration of an enthroned figure in a dotted robe flanked by devotees. Surrounding him are various auspicious symbols.
The Kalpasutra, which recounts the lives of the jinas, is a popular text of the Shvetambara sect of Jainism. Commissioning illuminated manuscripts was one way for a Jaina layperson to accrue religious merit, and Shvetambara temple libraries house many copies of manuscripts, embellished with exquisite paintings done in expensive pigments.
A portable painting, with gouache pigments on sized cotton, bordered by three strips of Chinese brocade. The painting is designed to be rolled up when not in use.
This painting is a diagrammatic representation of the transmission of teachings within the Gelugpa School of Tibetan Buddhism. Tsongkhapa (1357 - 1419), the founder of the school, wearing the Gelugpa yellow hat and flanked by two lotus blossoms, is seated at the heart of a vast array of figures. Below him, forming the mountain on which he sits, are row upon row of the meditational deities revered by the school, including Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and deified lamas (teachers), as well as the fierce ‘dharmapala’ deities (protectors of the faith). At the side, seated in large numbers on billowing clouds, are teachers in the Gelugpa lineage. The ascetic figures at the top center, above Tsongkhapa, represent famous Indian mahasiddas, yogis who have mastered tantric teachings.
There are many variants of such lineage diagrams among the schools of Tibetan Buddhism. They type is known by many names, including “Assembly Tree,” “Merit Field,” “Refuge Field,” or “Field of Accumulation”; in Tibetan, the generic term is “tsog shing.”
Circular tsuba, made of iron. It has two holes in the middle. Two figures, Kanzan and Jittoku, are carved on the lower right corner. Kanzan, who holds a scroll on his hand, and Jittoku, who holds a bloom stick and pointing to the sky, are looking upward. The two figures are carved slightly higher than the surface. On the back, there is the moon partially obscured by clouds. Gold and silver alloy inlays are applied to the moon and the clouds. Gold is also inlayed in their eyes, parts of the garments, and Kanzan's scroll. Shakudô (copper-gold alloy) is inlayed in Jittoku's bloom and his jacket collars.
Kanzan and Jittoku are Taoist eccentrics of whom little is known, but they are frequently represented (almost always together) in East Asian arts. Both lived in the monastery of Kuo Ching, spending most of their time in the kitchen, and speaking a gibberish unintelligible to anyone, resenting visitors, and noticing them only with insults. Kanzan holds a scroll, which he expounds to Jittoku, who stands by leaning on his broom. Both have a dwarfed and somewhat boyish appearance, but Kanzan's face is furrowed by age. (Reference: Edmunds, Will H. Pointers and Clues to the Subjects of Chinese and Japanese Art).
In this intensely lyrical painting from Bundelkhand in Central India, the great river is shown tumbling from the night sky. Ascetics sit cross-legged on the mountainside, offering their austerities to Shiva, while women come to venerate Ganga. The river teems with life—crocodiles, turtles, fish, and birds—while lions, leopards, jackals, monkeys, and rabbits cavort on its banks.
According to an ancient legend, the goddess Ganga (the personification of the River Ganges) once dwelt in heaven, and the earth suffered from drought. Through the prayers of Bhagiratha, the gods agreed to allow Ganga to descend to earth, but that brought about another crisis: if Ganga were to fall unimpeded, the force of the mighty river could destroy the earth. Bhagiratha then performed penances to seek the aid of the powerful Hindu god Shiva, who responded by catching Ganga in his densely matted locks of hair to break her fall.