Sutra of the Auspicious Aeon (Bhadrakalpikasutra), two volumes
Tibet, Central Region
Late 15th–early 16th century
More than 450 folios of blue-black paper; script written in alternating gold and silver brush; first volume: 5 large and more than 400 small illuminations; second volume: 6 large and more than 500 small paintings
First volume: 23.5 x 64 x 11 cm (9 ¼ x 25 ¼ x 4 ¼ in); second volume: 23.5 x 64.5 x 7.5 cm (9 ¼ x 25 ½ x 3 in)

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


This exceptional two-volume manuscript of the Sutra of the Auspicious Aeon (Bhadrakalpikasutra) is lavishly illustrated: most pages are emblazoned on the verso with small Buddha images, stupas, mahasiddhas or dharmapalas. An inscription below the monumental gold 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 inscription concludes with the signature of the scribe, the ‘little scholar’ Khabten Chöpel.

Large illustrations at the beginning of the second volume depict Saskya Pandita, the founding father of the Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, along with Chögyal Pakpa, his nephew and ruler of Tibet alongside Kublai Khan in the thirteenth century. Thus, the manuscript must have been commissioned by a patron of the Sakya school. A dedication on the final leaf of the second volume, illustrated with a border containing twenty-six different Buddhas, wishes the patrons a long life without illness.

Allusions to the Indian origin of this manuscript format can be seen in the two red circles marked on each page, which reference the place in an Indian pothi manuscript where the pages would have been pierced and strung together. The pothi format may have been used to give the manuscript a more prestigious appearance by appealing to those familiar with the traditional South Asian format.