May 7, 2014

Temple Banner with Pilgrimage Sites and Scenes from the Svayambhu-purana (Ancient Text of the Primordial Buddha)

Temple Banner with Pilgrimage Sites and Scenes from the Svayambhu-purana (Ancient Text of the Primordial Buddha)


Gum tempera and gold on cotton

Overall: 39 x 130.2 cm (15 3/8 x 51 1/4 in.)

Gift of Mrs. A. S. Ingalls 1954.788



During annual festival days in Kathmandu, horizontal cloth banners are hung on courtyard walls in Buddhist monasteries, where monks and lay people gather to watch ceremonial performances. Exposed to the elements and crowds of people, such banners rarely survive intact. This piece is a fragment of probably half of a complete banner.
The paintings illustrate a story from a Nepalese text about the primordial Buddha named Svayambhu, meaning “self-created,” whose stupa, the white hemispherical monument seen three times in the lower register, is a sacred center in the Kathmandu Valley. In the upper register are pilgrimage places in and around Kathmandu, located along the Bagmati River and its tributaries. In the lower register is the story of a king, shown on horseback at the lower left, who gathered an assembly of serpent deities, depicted as seated human figures with snake heads behind them. A Buddhist master then performed a tantric ritual with the serpents in order to bring rain to the drought-ridden land.
The inscriptions in Newari, the language of Nepal, name and locate each sacred site and its proximity to the Kathmandu Valley. Some inscriptions cite the benefits of worshiping there, and others give the name and color of the serpent deities. One of the inscriptions, on the pink ground at the lower right, provides the date when it was made.

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