Friday, January 6, 2012

Gems from the National Museum- New Delhi, Sir Aurel Stein Collection – Part 4

The rich haul of paintings, which Sir Aurel Stein was able to collect from the caves of the 1000 Buddhas, represents the great cultural traditions of the people along the silk route. These paintings also show the tremendous Indian influence on the arts of this region. Here are few more fine works of art, which have been displayed at the National Museum, New Delhi.
 Bodhisatva ; Painted silk banner

Stein describes this banner as “Upper end with head-piece and side streamers lost ; three bottom streamers (out of four) preserved, of faded light green silk ornamental with flower and leaf motifs in black paste. Painting slightly cracked, otherwise in excellent condition and very clean. Stands three fouths to left upon two lotuses, hands clasped before breast with thumbs (?) and first fingers interlocked, and remaining fingers of right hand folded over left ; but dress different, consisting of under-robe and large mantle like Ksitigarbha (Bodhisatva of hell beings), etc. Bodhisattva coiffure and all Bodhisattva jewellery are here, however, retained. Face carefully drawn ; with minute curling moustache and imperial in black, urna ( red dot on forehead) in red, and inside of ears (pierced but hardly elongated) in same. Under-robe falls in loose folds about ankles ; jewellery comparatively simple, tiara consisting only of white fillet with branch ornament in centre supporting two crimson lotuses with blue centres ; and tasselled ores. at ears.
Colouring very bright and exceptionally fresh; mantle brilliant crimson, barred with black as in “Ch. i. o03, and lined with ultramarine blue; under-robe pea-green bordered with dark pink and lined with scarlet; and same colours repeated in halo, canopy, and jewels. Lotus under right foot has double row of petals, shaded and outlined with dark pink ; that under left has single whorl of curling petals, coloured light green or blue on outer edge, dark pink or orange within, and light blue or green in centre ; bands of colour divided by narrow black and white lines; upper-side of one petal corresponding to upcurled underside of next. Yellow cartouche (ellipse indicating text within) for inscription to left of head, blank. Workmanship carefully’ finished throughout. Painting 2′-1” X 6-7/8”, length with streamers 5′-1″ ”
Thousand armed Avalokitesvara
This is a very large silk painting with Chinese inscriptions, representing Thousand-armed and Eleven-headed Avalokitesvara (Kuan-yin), seated, with attendant divinities. Stein has described this painting in great details as “Complete and in good condition, with brown silk outer border and inner painted border of continuous lozenge pattern. Background in lower half of picture has green to represent lake, from which Avalokitesvara and his attendants rise on clouds of dark purple vapour. That of upper half is light blue for air, in which hang small groups of attendant Buddhas on clouds, white, green, and red, and jewelled crimson canopy of central figure. Inscriptions in upper half are mostly legible, and allow the following figures to be identified : in upper corners, right and left respectively, small Bodhisattvas of Sun and Moon. Horses and geese do not appear, deities being seated on lotuses; but their distinctively coloured haloes remain—Sun’s orange-red, Moon’s white. Buddhas of Ten Quarters of Three Worlds (past, present, and future), a group of five seated on each side of Avalokitesvara’s canopy. Below comes main group of attendants, standing, four armed Kings on each side, and beneath each quartet a dignified figure in Chinese official dress but haloed, holding long-handled fan and attended by two boys. The inscriptions show these to be: Kings in upper row., on right Virupaksa and Virudhaka; on left Vaisravana and (viii) Dhrtarastra ; armed figures below, on right gods earth(?), on left gods of fire (?); personages in official dress, on right Brahma, on left Indra. Inscriptions in two latter cases at least were added after painting was finished. Brahma has square black head-dress like magistrates, and typically long narrow Chinese heard, moustache, and whiskers; Indra has coiffure and tiara of Bodhisattva. Boys wear long white under-robes and wide-sleeved crimson jackets ; hair tied in two bunches on top of head.In centre foreground a large draped altar, with sacred bronze vessels. In lake behind it stand two small Nagas , supporting each with upraised hand purple cloud on which rises white disc enveloping central figure. Nagas here are in armour like Lokapalas of banners, and bear no emblems of their serpent origin. On either side of altar, stand with hands in adoration on right white-bearded Sage, on left ‘Nymph of Shining Virtue’. Nymph wears Chinese women’s dress and coiffure-like head-dress. Lower corners arc filled by usual demonic ‘ fire-headed’ Vajrapanis, brandishing customary emblems, against background of flame; but that on left is almost entirely destroyed. Inscriptions relating to last six figs. are almost illegible. As regards workmanship, painting is not absolutely of finest quality, but with its still vivid pink, blue, and deep purple, and luminous white disc enclosing central figure, forms striking piece of colour design. Size 5′- 11” X 4′ 3”. (Inscriptions read by Mr. Yabuki.) ”
I consider this painting as one of the master pieces of the New Delhi Museum.
Avalokitesvara Silk Painting
Stein describes this painting as “Large silk painting, with Chin. inscriptions, showing upper part of Avalokitesvara (Kuan-yin), evidently standing, without attendants. Painting considerably broken and surface damaged, but fine example of ‘Indo-Chinese’ style of Bodhisattva. Workmanship of same graceful and refined quality. Shown with gentle inclination of body to left shoulder. But latter line here counterbalanced by pose of head, which is leant over right shoulder, the eyes looking down and backwards, to left. Of willow spray in right hand only few hardly intelligible lines remain. Halo of plain circular rings of dark olive, red, and white; remains of canopy visible above. Instr. in 5 IL on large cartouche on R. 2′ 5-1/2” X 1′ 11-1/2”. ”
 Avalokitesvara Painted on cotton fabric

Painted linen banner, retaining headpiece border of brown linen, but no streamers. Clean and good condition. Subject: Avalokadvara (?), standing facing spectator, with hands in adoration. Colouring dull crimson, grey, slate-blue, and green. 3′ 3” (with head-piece) X 1′ 1”
 Vaisravana, Guardian of North

Part of illustrated and dated Chinese book, containing representations of Four Lokapalas. Date given in text, A. D. 890. Only five leaves are preserved : last two of text, single, written on each side, and containing respectively 9, 9, 5, and 8 lines of Chinese characters. In detail the chief characteristics of the figure is as follows. Vaisravana, Guardian of North. Right hand holds halberd (A double edge axe like weapon), Left a miniature shrine. On head three-leaved crown. Wears no corslet (defensive armour), but tight-fitting coat of mail (chain armour); scales shown on body and skirts by star-shaped conventional diaper, on shoulders oblong. Attendant carries indistinguishable bottle-shaped object in right hand, and has head enveloped in wild beast skin, mouth and paws framing face. Colours chiefly red, green, slate-grey, yellow, and brown ; torn at edges of leaf, but condition otherwise good. Size of leaf 5-3/8” X 5-1/8”.
 Clay relief plaques depicting monks seated in various poses

After Stein’s first visit to the caves of the 1000 Buddhas, the self proclaimed Abbot of the shrine of 1000 Buddhas, Wang Tao-shih, was much impressed regarding value and importance of the artifacts from these he managed to make a sizable profit. Afterwords, he removed many small relievo plaques in stucco from the walls of the caves and kept them separately in a store room with him.
This is a collection of four figures of monks , seated with different poses.
  Button like small clay reliefs.
These were given by the Abbot to Aurel Stein as a gift to mark his cordial feelings.
These small plaques were given as votive (offered in fulfillment of a pledge) and are circular or pear-shaped and only about two inches wide. They are made from moulds and material used is unfired clay and show a Buddha seated in dhyanamudra with Stupas by his side or behind. Brähmi characters appear on all these little reliefs.
This brings to an end the the description of the wonderful collection at the National Museum, New-Delhi. This listing is by no means inclusive of all the items from the Aurel Stein collection with the Museum. I have listed some of the items which were on exhibition on the day I made my visit and those I could photograph.
For any person interested in the culture of the Silk route and the profound impact of the Indian culture on this a visit to the national Museum in New-Delhi is a must.
9 May 2011

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