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The Life Of Buddha Narrated In Traditional Thangka Paintings

The thangka paintings of the Life of Buddha narrates the most relevant episodes of the life of Siddhartha known as the “Twelve Great Deeds of the Buddha’s Life”.
These artworks are not meant to be just an illustration of the main events of the historical Buddha, but they are considered to be a visual representation of several philosophical aspects of the Buddhism, especially the progress towards the achievement of spiritual enlightenment.

Buddha Painting Masterpiece

Center detail of the Life of Buddha thangka painting

Using as a reference one of the most beautiful masterpiece in our collection, we will explore in this article the twelve topic events of the life of Siddhartha Gautama that can be divided in three distinct phases:
- His descent on earth, the birth and the young years as a prince.
- The realization of human suffering and his quest for a solution to overcome his suffering.
- The fulfillment of his search and his commitment to spend the rest of his life teaching others how to achieve enlightenment for themselves.

1. Buddha’s promise to descend on earth.

According to the Buddhist cosmogony the universe and all dimensions of the existence are divided in six different realms depicted in another important thangka painting: the Wheel of Life.
Before the Buddha was born into this world as Shakyamuni, he was a bodhisattva in the Tushita heaven, home of the contented gods.
As a prime example of bodhisatva, moved by compassion against the human realm, Buddha decides to manifest himself in this reality with the intention to teach the Dharma and save people from spiritual misery and suffering.
This episode is represented by the Buddha, surrounded by other divinities, making his promise holding a golden bowl (in some cases a lotus flower) symbol of the purity of his intention.

Buddha descending on earth

Buddha in heaven and his descent on earth

Thus, Buddha, looking down upon the sentient beings suffering and, in accordance with his bodhisattva status, decided to descend to the earth and spread the word of Dharma.

2. Mayadevi’s Dream.

Buddha’s descent to this world is represented by his mother, the princess Maya Devi, dreaming a white elephant.
The legend says that during one night of full moon, Maya Devi dreamed to be taken by four devas (spirits) to a lake in the Himalaya. There she encountered a white elephant that ripped the right side of her belly with his tusks.
Finally the elephant disappeared and the queen awoke, knowing that she had been delivered an important message, as the elephant is a symbol of greatness in Nepal.

Maya dreaming elephant

Princess Mayadevi dreaming the white elephant

The elephant is also symbol of strength and intelligence and his color is associated to the gray clouds that carry the rain able to give life to the soil. So the white elephant, in this allegory, is an emblem of fertility and at same time of immaculacy.

3. The Birth of Buddha.

After ten months of pregnancy Maya Devi went to her father’s kingdom and deliver the baby with the assistance of her mother. However on the way to her childhood home, she decides to stop in a beautiful garden in Lumbini and take a rest underneath a blossoming sala tree.
The story says that Buddha was born from her mother’s right side while she was standing grasping a branch of the tree.
This peculiar position assumed by Maya Devi influenced the female iconography all over Asia. The sinuous gesture is been adopted by traditional dance choreographic and inspired several generations of artists.
The depiction of the event also shows the presence of the Hindu gods Indra and Brahma at the time of birth.
Buddha was immediately able to walk. In fact he took seven steps forward and at each step a lotus flower appeared on the ground.

Maya and Buddha

The birth of Buddha

He was named Siddhartha Gautama. In Sanskrit Siddhartha means ” the One who achieves his goal”.
The princess Maya Devi will die seven days after Buddha was born.

4. Buddha’s early years and his wordly life.

Little is known about the early life of prince Siddhartha.
Because his father had been warned that the boy might abandon his palace and his royal destiny to follow a spiritual path, the young Siddhartha lived a comfortable and sheltered life. He received the finest education and mastered all lessons taught to him. In his younger years he also excelled in sports, particularly riding the horse and with the bow.
He had the reputation to be also physically extraordinary attractive.
When he came of age and assumed royal duties, prince Siddhartha became a true man of the world and had a retinue of many queens and attendant ladies.

Buddha youth

Young prince Siddhartha in the palace

In the second part we explore the episodes that led Siddhartha to start his ascetic life and his quest for a solution to human suffering.

Endless Knot Symbol

Art and Monuments One Year Later. Rubin Museum #HonorNepal

The following is a brief video tribute to the Nepalese cultural heritage in honor of the anniversary of the 2015 Earthquakes.

For more information about the Rubin Museum of Art, including the Honoring Nepal installation and gallery programs, please visit rubinmuseum.org
Honoring Traditional Art of Nepal

End of 2015 in Nepal: Blockade and Aftershocks.

Eight moths ago a devastating earthquake changed the life of many here in Nepal.
Even if our school and workshops were severely damaged we tried our best to help who lost everything and suffered more this disaster.Support Nepali Artists
We shared this effort with the help of volunteers and donors from all around the world and this was possible also thanks to the contribution of our customers and friends.

During the following months many of our artists had to go to their villages to assist their families and try to fix their houses as they could.
Both these difficulties and the psychological implications of personal traumas, slowed down our work with the orders and we are truly sorry for the long delays.

Today the earth is still shaking (almost weekly) our damaged buildings but, sadly, this is not the only concern that people are fearing at this time.
In fact, since almost three months now, we have been facing an even more critical situation because of the blockade to the import of gas, petrol and other goods from India.
This is severely affecting the economy of the whole country, especially small business like ours, but majorly the people that are still in a very precarious conditions and who cannot afford to buy goods on the black market at a price 4 or 5 times higher.

Very little has been reported by the international media about the current crisis in our country and how the blind political game between the Indian and Nepali governments is effecting our daily life.
From an article of Associated Press posted few days ago:

The blockade of a key border point with India is leaving Nepal with only about 15 percent of its normal supply of gasoline, diesel and cooking fuel, and creating shortages of other goods including food and medicine.

Since most of Nepal’s imported goods flow through India, many businesses are being squeezed by the blockade. They are having a tough time paying rent, utility bills and employee salaries.

Because of these difficulties we decided to use our small resources to take care of our team of artists, especially our young students that we host in our school.
In fact, because of the cold temperatures at night here in Changunarayan and damages in the structure, we cannot use the school at this time and we decided to arrange a better accommodation for them.
At the same time we are trying to help also our master artists and their families, and the contribute of our customers is really important for them.

We hope that this blockade will end soon and with it the humanitarian crisis that many are facing. This would help our small business and school as well.
Again we apology for the delays.
Thanks for your patience, support and understanding.

Blessing
The team of TraditionalArtOfNepal.com

Supporting Micro Businesses in Nepal

Supporting the cottage industries in Nepal Since the devastating earthquakes of April and May 2015, Nepal has seen a downturn in tourism. April and May are normally busy months for tourism, and so for many Nepali, these are the months (along with the winter), when they will make their income from selling handmade items from the country’s many cottage industries. Changunarayan is one such village that relies heavily on tourism to support some of its residents, with as many as 300 tourists per day coming to visit the temple in high tourist season. Right now it is monsoon, and it is post-quake Nepal; a different Nepal. Tourists are hesitant to come with aftershocks still a fading but very real feature of being in this country. I have been here for ten days now, and we have had one decent aftershock so far and plenty of rain and very hot days. I have walked through the Thamel district with street peddlers desperate to have me purchase their products – fuelled with stories of their brother, mother, sister, son, daughter or father who died in the quake. Whether or not this is a marketing ploy to have me take pity and purchase, is anybody’s guess, but it certainly is difficult to say no when there is clearly such a need at this time to sell product. Changunarayan is home to many small businesses selling traditional handcrafted items such as the Thangka paintings, carved wooden masks and wooden puppets. The Thangka and masks are produced on-site in Changunarayan and provide an apprenticeship for young artisans looking to gain a craft that will provide an income for their future. There are also small shops selling pashmina, yak wool blankets and other handcrafted items such as notebooks, tea, gift cards and lampshades. Many of these items are sourced from nearby villages, which help grow and support the network of artisans making products as their main source of income.Thangka painting in Changunarayan is big business. The painting school has also provided many young women the chance to start a career in painting Thangka.

Being in a small village like Changunarayan where traditional handcrafts are nurtured made me draw parallels with New Zealand and our own traditional crafts such as Maori wood carving, weaving and painting. New Zealand also has a very strong artisan culture; supporting potters, craftsmen jewellers, painters, clothing designers, sculptures and numerous handcrafts and locally made items. One of the worst things about opening the gates to free trade with China has meant the majority of New Zealand designed items are made off-shore. I am a keen advocate for supporting New Zealand made products. What a domestic market does for the country is create an investment in its people. When we source cheap, easy to reproduce products from China or India, we slowly but surely fritter away the skills needed in a labour force to keep the economy healthy. Nepal has suffered immensely from large earthquakes, so this small country needs it’s cottage industry’s to be supported through tourism. It needs to be able to re-invest in it’s people and find value in the local traditional artisans. I had five items of clothing made last week in Sankhu – the town where we have been doing earthquake volunteer work building shelters. In Nepal, women who wear the traditional clothing, have these items made from scratch. A seamstress will measure you up and make to order. Fabric is cheap and the variety is outstanding. Consequently there is a multitude of seamstresses (and tailors for the men) to be found, along with fabric shops. My five items included three tops in traditional Nepali style and two pairs of pants also in the same style. For fabric and construction the total cost was 37,000 Nepali Rupee – approximately $50 New Zealand dollars.Note that she sews on a treadle sewing machine!!

I was very happy with my clothing and the seamstress was very happy with my extravagant spend (five items at once is a big deal!). I sure hope that Nepal does not sell out to ready-made outfits sourced from India or China. I remember when my mother used to make my clothes. I also remember making my own clothes and also for my children. I remember when fabric shops were a common sight; when a seamstress or tailor would “suit you up”, and I also remember when “The Warehouse” came to town and ruined all of that. The lure of cheap stuff right now has eliminated New Zealand’s autonomy as a manufacturer and producer of everyday items. What this does is add more impetus to keep wages low; after all anyone can afford to shop at The Warehouse right? Sadly, only the middle to upper class can afford to shop New Zealand made and possibly in reality, only the upper class can really afford to do that. My hope for Nepal is that it will retain its wonderful traditional artisan culture and celebrate the wonderful quality products that are produced here.

Cashmere products for sale in Thamel. These are locally produced in Bhaktapur.

Felted products are everywhere in Nepal; ranging from purses to bags to booties and mobiles.

I would love for the rest of the world to see these products too and support Nepal’s growth by mindfully choosing Nepalese products over Chinese products. One of the beautiful aspects of being in this country is seeing these artisans going about their work – especially when it occurs in a small village like Changunarayan. That can only ever be good for a village such as this as it adds value to the experience of visiting for tourists, and embeds cottage industries into the character of small traditional communities.

Today I went shopping in Changunarayan to buy gifts. I spent 8500 Nepali Rupee (approximately $120 New Zealand dollars). For that I got the following:
One pair of pants
Two T-shirts
One long-sleeved shirt
One set of locally made gift cards
Eight “purses” of Himalayan tea
Four lampshades
Two stunning yak wool blankets
Six 100% pure cashmere “Pashmina” scarves/shawls
One wooden puppet

It feels wonderful to be able to support a small community by spending my money here. In Thamel (Kathmandu) I would be paying “tourist” prices and the street peddlers would be purchasing products from small villages where the items are produced (like Changunarayan) anyway and adding their mark-up on top.
You really do get a lot of “bang” for your buck in Nepal, but the impact of that buck spent, spreads far wider and deeper than a dollar spent in New Zealand.Kerenza Clark

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Our Art School is hosting several young students coming from remote villages of Nepal and talented artists affected by the devastating earthquake in 2015.

We also contribute to the restoration of our village and other humanitarian projects by supporting our local NGO. If you want to volunteer in Changunarayan please contact Kay Garnay for Nepal.

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