Nepal, 13th century Distemper on palm leaf; with two illuminations and five lines of transitional Nagari script; with benign grahas depicted as elegant male divinities holding blue lotuses. 1 7/8 x 11 in. (4.7 x 27.7 cm)
This folio comes from a collection of dharanis or incantations. Traditionally dharanis are hymns addressed to the various Tantric Buddhist divinities in praise of them or for protection against various ills. Very few illuminated manuscripts of such texts survive from eastern India. Two leaves commissioned by a Nepalese visitor to the great monastery of Nalanda in Bihar (circa 1075 CE) with miniatures including a Prajnaparamita, Manjusri and scenes from the life of the Buddha are held in the Los Angeles County Art Museum (see, Pal, Indian Painting, Los Angeles, 1993, no. 3). Later manuscripts, almost exclusively from Nepal, normally show the divinity addressed, who are often minor divinities more akin to nature spirits as in this leaf.
The recto has a brief colophon at the end of the Candrapane Graha Matrika Dharani, a hymn addressed to the mother of the graha Candrapani. Grahas are malevolent spirits who cause illnesses, here appearing benign. The text is couched in the traditional form of Buddhist sutras with the Buddha himself expounding the doctrine to his intimates on the correct worship of the grahas (grahanam puja).
The fine gold illumination in this leaf is remarkable, and reflects the high regard in which Buddhist manuscripts were held. The depiction of the seated Buddha, with an ornate crown and armbands and displaying the mudra of preaching the law, is typical of Nepalese depictions.
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