The Auspicious Aeon (Bhadrakalpikasutra)
Tibet, Western Region
Early 14th century
More than 500 folios of blue-black mulberry paper burnished with rice powder; script written in gold brush; first volume: 6 large and more than 500 small illuminations; second volume: 4 large and more than 500 small illustrations
First volume: 25.5 x 69 x 14.5 cm (10 x 27 ¼ x 5 ¾ in); second volume: 23 x 65 x 16 cm (9 x 25 ½ x 6 ¼ in)

Books of Wisdom - Eleven Rare and Complete Tibetan Buddhist Manuscripts from the McCarthy Collection, Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong (25 November 2017-27 January 2018)

Tibetan Manuscripts, Sam Fogg, London (29 October–20 November 2009)


The Sutra of the Auspicious Aeon (Bhadrakalpikasutra) is a Mahayana sutra written between about 200 and 250 CE. The sutra recounts the names of the Buddhas to appear in the Auspicious Aeon, the present age, which is considered blessed due to the proliferation of Buddhist teachings. Iconographically, the sutra is an important text, as it provides a long description of the Buddhas with all of their attributes, as well as the circumstances of their birth, their special qualities, their disciples, their life spans, the duration of their teachings and the relics they will leave.

This beautifully illustrated two-volume manuscript is extremely rare because it is illustrated throughout. In addition to large depictions of Buddhas and bodhisattvas at the beginning of each volume, every page of the manuscript is decorated with miniatures showing the different Buddhas described in the sutra, along with illustrations of Tibetan-style stupas. As in the case of most Tibetan manuscripts of the highest quality, the mulberry paper was dyed black and the text area burnished with rice powder. The size and quality of manuscripts such as this example attest to the status of books in Tibetan culture as objects of great sacred and material value.

The painting style of the Buddhist deities – particularly, the treatment of the lotus-based thrones and surrounding aureola, jewellery and crowns, as well as the representation of the central and secondary figures – suggests that this manuscript was produced in Western Tibet in the early fourteenth century.An inscription below the monumental golden letters on the title page describes the beauty of the manuscript, comparing the colour of the paper to the blue of the sky, the paintings to the colours of the rainbow and the writing to the gold and silver hues of the sun and the moon. The verse also mentions the sponsors who paid for the production of the manuscript.