Pair of Manuscript Covers

Pair of painted wooden manuscript covers. The exterior of one cover bears the image of Ganesa as the central figure; with one foot on his vehicle, the rat, Ganesa dances to the drumming of his father, Siva, supported by the emblematic bull, and Bhairva, supported on a cadaver. His mother, Parvati, standing on her lion vehicle, appears to be offering something to the dancer. The interior of this cover shows a king of Patan seated on a throne supported by lions and what seems to be a tiny Garuda, reference to Nepalese royalty as Vishnu incarnate. Opposite the king a brahman priest appears to be expounding from a manuscript, such as these covers would have protected. Between them is Rato Macchendranath (Matsyendranatha), a syncretic diety known to Buddhist Newars as Bunga-dyah and considered to be a particular manifestation of Avolokitesvara. The god is depicted standing on a bull, goose/swan, and sunbird, vehicles of three paramount Hindu gods, Siva, Brahma, and Vishnu.

The obverse of the bottom cover depicts the goddess Sarasvati supported by two vehicles, a goose and makara; she is flanked by lotus-borne goddesses. The reverse of this cover depicts a brahman priest holding a manuscript in one hand and making offerings to a pair of royally decorated elephants, mother and baby.

Maker(s)
Patron: Srinivasa Malla (r. 1661-1684)
Historical period(s)
17th century
Medium
Opaque watercolor, gold, wood
Dimensions
H x W x D: 12.6 x 25.5 x 1.1 cm (4 15/16 x 10 1/16 x 7/16 in)
Geography
Nepal
Credit Line
Anonymous gift
Collection
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Accession Number
S1995.91a-b
On View Location
Currently not on view
Classification(s)
Manuscript
Type

Manuscript cover

Keywords
Brahma, Buddhism, bull, dance, Ganesha, Garuda, goose, lion, makara, Nepal, Parvati, portrait, priest, Sarasvati, Shiva, Vishnu, WWII-era provenance
Provenance

From 1967 to 1995
Private collector, purchased in Patan, Nepal, in 1967 [1]

From 1995
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, given by a private collector in 1995

Notes:

[1] According to the donor, these covers were purchased on October 8, 1967 in Patan, former capital of the Patan Kingdom, Nepal, and once protected a now unidentifiable but surely brahmanical text. They entered the United States in early 1970 (according to Provenance Remark 1, Vidya Dehejia, March 16, 1995, in the object record).

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Dr. Mary Shepherd Slusser American, 1918-2017

Description

Pair of painted wooden manuscript covers. The exterior of one cover bears the image of Ganesa as the central figure; with one foot on his vehicle, the rat, Ganesa dances to the drumming of his father, Siva, supported by the emblematic bull, and Bhairva, supported on a cadaver. His mother, Parvati, standing on her lion vehicle, appears to be offering something to the dancer. The interior of this cover shows a king of Patan seated on a throne supported by lions and what seems to be a tiny Garuda, reference to Nepalese royalty as Vishnu incarnate. Opposite the king a brahman priest appears to be expounding from a manuscript, such as these covers would have protected. Between them is Rato Macchendranath (Matsyendranatha), a syncretic diety known to Buddhist Newars as Bunga-dyah and considered to be a particular manifestation of Avolokitesvara. The god is depicted standing on a bull, goose/swan, and sunbird, vehicles of three paramount Hindu gods, Siva, Brahma, and Vishnu.

The obverse of the bottom cover depicts the goddess Sarasvati supported by two vehicles, a goose and makara; she is flanked by lotus-borne goddesses. The reverse of this cover depicts a brahman priest holding a manuscript in one hand and making offerings to a pair of royally decorated elephants, mother and baby.

Label

King Shrinivasa Malla (1661-1684) received spiritual merit for commissioning this sacred manuscript, a pious act that is reiterated in his portrait as a devotee bearing a lotus offering. The similarity between the lotus blossom and the king's red-tinged eye visualizes a poetic metaphor of ideal beauty that first emerged in ancient India. Although we cannot name the king's Brahmin priest depicted on both covers or the royal elephant receiving the priest's offerings, they were undoubtedly well known at the Nepalese court. These images also may have been viewed as portraits.

Both paintings are located on the interior faces of the wooden covers. The outer covers, which were the visual focus of devotees during rituals, bear representations of deities.

Published References
  • Dr. Mary Shepherd Slusser. Nepal Mandala: A Cultural Study of the Kathmandu Valley. 2 vols, Princeton. pl. 68.
  • Pratapaditya Pal. Nepal: Where the Gods are Young. Exh. cat. New York. pp. 134-135, pl. 94 a-b.
Collection Area(s)
South Asian and Himalayan Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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