Art collected by Dalai Lamas exhibited in US

IANS, March 22, 2005

New York, USA -- Some of the finest works of art from India, Nepal, Tibet and Mongolia collected by the successive Dalai Lamas are being displayed here for the first time, reports UPI.

More than 100 works of art have been exhibited in California and Houston, before being moved here. The exhibition will be on till May 8.

The unprecedented exhibition of art has resulted from a tie up between the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in California and three cultural institutions in Tibet's capital Lhasa -- the palace collection, the Tibet Museum that opened in 1999, and the Norbulingka Summer Palace collection.

The Dalai Lama had to leave the art collections of Tibet behind when he fled the country in 1959 after its occupation by China. He now lives in India.

A number of Buddhist texts meticulously inscribed and brilliantly illustrated on palm leaves are included, along with musical instruments such as conch-shell trumpets mounted in gilded silver flanges decorated with dragons in high relief.

The exhibition also has art works produced in the imperial workshops of the Chinese emperors, especially during the reign of the Ming Emperor Yung-lo (1403-24).

There are also art works from the Xixia Kingdom in eastern China that was destroyed by Genghis Khan in 1227.

Yung-lo and other Chinese emperors sent lavish gifts to the Dalai Lamas who held sway over Tibet as religious and temporal rulers for six centuries.

Perhaps the most lavish of Yung-lo's gifts is a gilded copper mandala, a religious knickknack of rare beauty in the form of a lotus with articulated petals that originated in Indian art of the Pala dynasty.

When the petals are opened they reveal a deity associated with death known as the Vajra Terror. He is a formidable sight with nine heads in the form of a buffalo's head, 34 arms and 16 legs. When the petals are folded up they are held together by an elaborate crown. It is as much a work of engineering as a work of art.

An example of Xixia art is a 13th-century wall hanging known as a tangka, arguably the finest of many gorgeous tangkas in the show and so exquisitely woven in silk that it might be taken for a painting.

It portrays a fierce blue-skinned demon-slaying deity Achala (The Immovable One) brandishing a sword in a powerful composition that represents one of the highest achievements of Buddhist art.

Some beautiful textiles are used in framing the deity's image, including one that has a floral pattern of Persian origin, another example of cultural cross-pollination.

The exhibit is arranged thematically, beginning with objects used in Tantric Buddhism including painted, woven and appliquéd tangkas, sculpture and ritual objects.

Other sections deal with the cultural history of Tibet, including portraits of kings, heroes and revered teachers, and the luxury goods enjoyed by the Tibetan nobility, whose right to wear conspicuous finery was protected by sumptuary laws.

There is a gilt copper crown from Nepal in the form of a pleated cap set with semi-precious stones and sceptres wrought of metals and jades.

The oldest object in the exhibit is a 7th-century gilded Nepalese statuette of Buddha Shakyamuni wearing a transparent robe.

The most recently made object is an early 20th-century gilded statuette of the deity Chakrasamvara and his consort in sacred erotic union known as "The Circle of Bliss."