Buddha Shakyamuni with Sixteen Arhats
15th century
Distemper on cloth
89 x 75 cm (35 x 29 ½ in)

Himalayan Art Resource (, item no. 23566

Seated in bhunmisparshamundra on a double-lotus base over a lion throne, wearing multicoloured robes and holding a bowl in his left hand, surrounded by a golden halo in raised pastiglia, flanked by two attendants and further lineage figures, with multiples of himself in various mudras above, interspersed with stylised green and red clouds, a consecration in a red stupa on the verso.

The central figure is of Shakyamuni Buddha with the two principal disciples standing at the right and left sides, Shariputra and Maudgalyayana. Shariputra was, at least on one occasion, declared to be the Buddha’s true spiritual son and his chief assistant in turning the Wheel of Law, and became renowned for his teaching as an Arhat (“foremost in wisdom”). Maudgalyayana was the most accomplished of all the Buddha’s disciples in the various supernormal powers that could be developed through meditation, including being able to use mind-reading techniques for detecting lies from the truths, transporting himself from his body into the various realms of existence, and speaking with ghosts and gods. He is traditionally  attributed with the ability to walk through walls or on water, fly through the air and move at the speed of light.

To the immediate right and left sides of the Buddha’s head are the previous and next Buddhas of this age, Dipankara and Maitreya. Aside from these two figures, the upper four registers (combined with the central figure) contain the Thirty-five Confession Buddhas according to the system of Ayra Nagarjuna.

As an emblem on the front of the throne is a seated figure of Lokeshvara. On the right and left sides are an elephant and a lion. Approximately half way down the composition in the vertical registers are twelve of the Sixteen Great Arhats, with six descending on the right. The bottom of the painting has been trimmed, and would have depicted the remaining four arhats and possibly other figures.