Ritual Objects (gyentsog)

18th century
Distemper on cloth
81.2 x 61 cm - 32 x 34 in

In the tradition of gyentsog (sets of ornaments) painting, the central deity is evokedby the portrayal of his/her vacant garments, ornaments and attributes. Here, for example, a voluminous robe,flayed tiger-skin dhoti, garland of headsand five-skull tiara indicate the Dharmapala Mahakala, to whom the work isdedicated. Surrounded by adazzling display of ritual objects, animals and deities, profusely dispersedacross the lush landscape and sky behind, he is an enigmatic yet powerfulpresence. In addition to Mahakala,smaller empty robes on his left suggest the inclusion of two additional dharmapalas. Beneath him, a series of kapalasare filled with the blood and entrails of enemies, and a group of lowtables are covered with an abundance of offerings. On either side of these gifts, a splendid variety of animalsincluding elephants, tigers, lions, mongooses, horses, and birds, amongstothers, are a delightful addition to the composition. Banners, purbas,musical instruments, and other auspicious Buddhist symbols are painted invibrant colors throughout. Bordering the scene at top, a frieze of human skulls is depicted above agarland of intestines interspersed with flayed human skins.

Thankas of this genre were often hung overBuddhist altars as symbolic offerings that were a more permanent presence thanother types of donations. Althoughdedicated to a variety of deities, gyentsogpaintings are similar in style and format. The finely detailed composition and vivid palette of thepresent make it an excellent example of its type.[1]


[1] For a similar gyentsogthanka depicting Lha-mo, see Pal (1969), no. 33. See also Bazin et al (2002), nos. 66-70 for additionalrelated examples.