Himalayan Art: Art of the Divine Abode

, University Teaching Gallery, Harvard Art Museums
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  • Miniature ___ (Part of a Buddhist Monk's Kit of 9 Implements)
  • Miniature Bow (Part of a Buddhist Monk's Kit of 9 Implements)
  • Four-circle Hevajra Mandala
  • Seated Sitatara (The White Tara)
  • Red Avalokitesvara (Padmapani)
  • Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra
  • Page from an album: Finding of a Dalai Lama
  • Page from an album: Finding of a Dalai Lama
  • Small Architectural Stupa
  • Unfired Clay Plaque in the Form of a Pipal Leaf with Seated Buddha Decor
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  • Tantric Temple Banner with Decoration of Auspicious Emblems
  • Miniature ___ (Part of a Buddhist Monk's Kit of 9 Implements)
  • Single-Pronged Vajra (?)
  • Finding a Dalai Lama
  • Seated Medicine Buddha (Sanskrit: Bhaishajyaguru)
  • Round Unfired Clay Plaque of a Seated Buddha
  • The Fox's Fear (painting, recto; text, verso), folio 314 from a manuscript of the Divan (Collection of Works) of Anvari
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  • Miniature Sword (Part of a Buddhist Monk's Kit of 9 Implements)
  • Miniature Trident (Part of a Buddhist Monk's Kit of 9 Implements)
  • Miniature Arrow (Part of a Buddhist Monk's Kit of 9 Implements)
  • Wooden Case (Contains the Buddhist Monk's Kit of 9 Implements)
  • Lamaist Votive Plaque with Seated Female Deity
  • Sâkyamuni Buddha and Scenes from the Lives of Lamaist Saints
  • Six-Headed Seated Bodhisattva with Hands Clasped in Front of Chest, Each Hand Grasping a Lotus Stalk, Each Stalk Culminating in a Lotus Blossom Surmounted by a Sutra in the Form of a Book
  • Seated Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara
  • Krishna and the Cowherds, Radha and the Gopis
  • Page from an album: Finding of a Dalai Lama
  • Kalasa or Vase Containing Small Buddha with Repousse Decoration
  • WOODBLOCK FOR PRINTING BUDDHIST TEXT
  • Miniature Vajrapasa
  • Miniature Spearhead (Part of a Buddhist Monk's Kit of 9 Implements)
  • Five-Pronged Double Vajra
  • Seated Lama Sonam Senge with Hands Held in Dharmachakra Mudrâ
  • Page from an album: Finding of a Dalai Lama
  • Page from an album: Finding of a Dalai Lama
  • Page from an album: Finding of a Dalai Lama
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  • Vinaya-Vaipulya Sutra (Binifangguang Jing) with Illustrated Frontispiece
  • Wooden Hand Drum with Tassel
  • Miniature Headed, Single-Prong Vajra (Part of a Buddhist Monk's Kit of 9 Implements)
  • Yamantaka in Yabyum
  • Lamaist Votive Plaque with Scene of Lamas and Deities
  • Eleven-Headed, Thousand-Armed, Thousand-Eyed Avalokitesvara
  • Small Architectural Stupa
  • Portrait of the Seventh(?) Dalai Lama Enthroned
  • The Temptation of Shakyamuni (painting, recto; text, verso), folio from an Ashtasahasrika Prajnapara Mita
  • Cymbal and
  • Prayer Wheel
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  • Page from an album: Finding of a Dalai Lama
  • Page from an album: Finding of a Dalai Lama
  • Unfired Clay Plaque of Sanskrit and Stupa
University Teaching Gallery, Harvard Art Museums

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The summit of snow which touched the sky
Is matchless insight without equal.
The sun and moon turning around its peak
Are meditation radiating wisdom and compassion.

Marpa Lotsawa (c. 1012–1097), from The Life of Milarepa (1992)

“Himalaya” literally means the abode of snow. Understood as a divine abode in Indic mythology and envisioned as the immortal realm of “Shangri-la” by later western interpreters, the Himalayas and the kingdoms therein abound with holy sites related to Hindu, Buddhist, and Indigenous belief systems, such as Bon. Art and architecture of the Himalayas developed to support the devotional and liturgical needs of communities among whom tantric Buddhism found ready support. The vibrant art and culture of the Trans-Himalayan region is as varied as there are mountain peaks, valleys, and glacial lakes.

Diverse artistic expressions and innovative religious iconographies across the region challenge colonial-era misconceptions of Himalayan insularity. The inspiration for spiritual transformation and devotion that flowed naturally from the mountainous environment bursts into a religious space in the form of brilliant paintings and exquisitely carved sculptures adorned with semi-precious jewels. This space of transformation was activated through the art of ritual, employing a complex system of ritual languages created to serve the needs of practitioners seeking transcendence in this life.

Drawn from the museums’ rich Asian art collections, this installation complements a Harvard undergraduate course that explores the art of the Himalayan region, focusing on the major cultural centers such as the Kathmandu Valley and Buddhist sites across the Tibetan plateau, while examining the history of reception and imagination of the Himalayas in the west. The course is taught by Jinah Kim, George P. Bickford Professor of Indian and South Asian Art. In addition to displaying painted scrolls that pictorialize Buddhist teaching and methods for tantric visualization, the installation includes a group of objects that exemplify the centrality of ritual for both mundane and soteriological gains. Also on view is a set of Chinese paintings dating from the 19th century that depict the installation ceremony of the ninth Dalai Lama.

The University Teaching Gallery serves faculty and students affiliated with Harvard’s Department of History of Art and Architecture. Semester-long installations are mounted here in conjunction with undergraduate and graduate courses, supporting instruction in the critical analysis of art and making unique selections from the museums’ collections available to all visitors.