Tibet (Zhalu monastery)
Inks and color on paper; 25 3/8 x 5 7/8 in. (64.4 x 14.9 cm)
Anonymous Gift, 1986 (1986.509.1a,b)
These two pages from an illuminated manuscript contain a collection of invocations (dharani, "that which supports") for various deities transliterated into Tibetan from Sanskrit. Retaining the original Sanskrit sound is important, even for Tibetans reading the text who do not understand Sanskrit, because mystical power is attached to the sounds themselves. Interestingly, the pages were written by different people as evidenced by the distinct styles of writing. That the pages were used is suggested by the handwritten note in script across the bottom of one.
These paper pages are much larger in size than their Indian palm-leaf predecessors, although they are roughly the same shape. At either end of each page are well-executed and lively depictions of Buddhist deities with identifying inscriptions underneath. One page depicts Buddha Shakyamuni and a group of four deities. They are, clockwise from upper left: a four-armed Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom; Shadakshari Avalokiteshvara, the personification of the mantra of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion; Vajrapani, a bodhisattva who represents the concentrated power of all buddhas; and Mahakala, a fierce protector of Buddhism. The other page depicts Vajradhara (left), the supreme Buddha, and Vajrapani, the thunderbolt bearer (right).