PARNASHAVARI OR ARYA JANGULI
PARNASHAVARI OR ARYA JANGULI
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF ARDESHIR M. HEERAMANECK
A COLLECTOR'S EYE - DENSATIL REDISCOVERED
'His avocation was his vocation; he lived for art; it was his work and his play... His state of mind alternated between exhilaration over a new acquisition and anxiety over their payments. An early accident left him with only one eye unimpaired. But as Cezanne said of Monet, "What an eye!'"
- Perry Rathbone, Director, Boston Museum of Fine Arts from 1955 -1972 (Alice N. Heeramaneck, Masterpieces of Indian Sculpture from the Former Collections of Nasli M. Heeramaneck, United States, 1979, foreword, unpaginated)
Nasli and Alice Heeramaneck are globally acknowledged as two of the most important collectors of Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art. Their names today are synonymous with various museums to which they bequeathed parts of their collection. These include the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University and the National Museum, New Delhi.
'One may well ask who was this man, so sure of eye and sharp in judgment, a man endowed with discernment altogether remarkable.' (ibid.)
As explained in the introductory essay, Nasli left India in 1922 to explore ways to set up the family business outside the country, 'where he took full advantage of the expanding market for Indian art in those capitals and here he continued his education as a connoisseur in the British Museum and Bibliotheque National.' (ibid.)
Shortly after, he was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy, an Anglo-Ceylonese philosopher, who is today recognised as one of the most important figures in the history of Indian sculpture. He would remain Nasli's primary mentor and guide throughout his life. At that time, Dr. Coomaraswamy was just beginning his association with the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where he was instrumental in building the first collection of Indian Art at an American institution. Dr. Coomaraswamy remained the curator at the Museum until he died, and was an 'ever-present inspiration' to Nasli as he built his own collection.
A few years after Dr. Coomaraswamy moved to Boston, Nasli moved to New York where he would live and work until his death. In 1939, he married Alice Arvine, a New Haven born portrait painter who would share his passion for art for the next thirty-two years. Together, they built a world-renowned collection of Asian art. In addition to appreciating works individually, Nasli was equally preoccupied with building multiple collections based on region and related aesthetics. In his lifetime he was able to assemble significant groups of Indian sculpture, Indian miniature paintings, Tibetan Buddhist bronzes, and of course, Chinese ceramics. These would then be sold or donated to various institutions around the country. As his wife Alice says in a series of books dedicated to her husband's collecting genius,'he was a man who deeply desired to share with others the pleasure that he derived from his objects, and it was his firm wish and determination that every fine object which he managed to secure might find a permanent home where it would hopefully remain forever available to the public.' (ibid., Author's Notes and Acknowledgments, unpaginated)
In 1988, Alice Heeramaneck donated eighteen thangkas to Yale University in her and Nasli's name, in honour of her parents. To this day, her gift remains the heart of the Art Gallery's Tibetan holdings. From 1969 to 1974, the Heeramanecks made several donations to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In the introduction to the book the Art of Tibet: A Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection, Dr. Pratapaditya Pal states 'the Museum's Tibetan holdings make up one of the most significant and comprehensive collections of Tibetan art outside that country. The core of the collection was acquired from the Nasli and Alice Heeramaneck Collection.' (Pratapaditya Pal, Preface, Art of Tibet, Los Angeles, 1990, p. 11) Time magazine called the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's 1969 purchase of a portion of the Heeramaneck thangkas 'the single most important art purchase since World War II.' Nasli also donated a collection of Pre-Columbian objects to the National Museum in New Delhi in memory of his father Munchersa, a group that remains unique to any museum in Asia.
In an article concerning the Heeramaneck thangkas at Yale, Perry T. Rathbone, the director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston from 1955 -1972 describes the couple's approach as '...not only helpless but heedless: helpless to resist if the object appeals, heedless of the cost.' The article continues '...as a result, they built up extensive holdings in Indian, Tibetan and Nepali sculpture, Ancient Near Eastern and Islamic art, and most importantly, arguably the world's best collection of Tibetan thangkas.' (Perry T. Rathbone, 'Heeramaneck Thangkas at Yale, himalayancollections.commons.yale.edu) Echoing these thoughts, Earl A. Powell III, former director of LACMA, describes the collection in his foreword to Dr. Pal's Art of Tibet which catalogues the Museums holdings of Tibetan art: 'The development of these holdings was given its basis with the acquisition of the highly important Nasli and Alice Heeramaneck Collection of Indian, Nepalese and Tibetan Art, which began in 1969... In the area of Tibetan art, the Museum's collection is unmatched outside of Tibet itself.' (Pratapaditya Pal, op. cit., Foreword, unpaginated)
The Heeramaneck's largely purchased their collection of thangkas from Giuseppe Tucci, the 20th century's foremost scholar of Tibetan art. Similar to his close association with Dr. Coomaraswamy for Indian art, Nasli was keen on learning from and working with the best scholars in their respective fields. In the early 20th century, Tucci was a pioneer in the field, frequently travelling to Tibet to make purchases. In the 1950s, Tucci put a portion of his thangkas up for sale in New York; none sold until the Heeramanecks purchased the entire group. It is likely that Nasli Heeramaneck's close association with Tucci allowed him to acquire the following lot after the destruction of the Densatil site during the Cultural Revolution. Tucci was intimately involved with the documentation of the Densatil site, and it would have been natural for him to have encouraged his friend to acquire artwork from the site when it first appeared in India.
The Heeramanecks' insight and deep passion for Tibetan art is today recognised by scholars throughout the world. As Alice Heeramaneck said, 'Nasli's Himalayan collection probably surpasses any other in private hands.' (Alice N. Heeramaneck, op. cit.) She goes on to describe her husband's buying philosophy, 'His theory has always been to buy five, sell four, and keep the best for himself.' (Russell Lynes, 'After Hours: Bonanza for Boston', harpers.org/blog/tag/alice-n-heeramaneck)
It is therefore a great honour for Pundole's to be able to offer this superlative example of early Tibetan sculpture from the Heeramaneck family collection. The current sculpture was gifted by Nasli to his brother Ardeshir, and hence by descent.
The History of Densatil
The Kagyu tradition of Buddhist thought developed from the teachings of Naropa and Maitrepa. The founders of the sects are the three Great Masters: Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa. One the three principal students of Gampopa was Dorje Gyalpo (1110 -1170), who, after many years of personal study and teaching, went into retreat. He found solitude living in a small hut in Phagmodru, where the local ruler of the area supported him. Some of his former students followed him and he became known as Phagmo Drupa.
When Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo died in 1170, the monks performed the funeral ceremonies and cremated him. His remains were placed in a newly built stupa. Towards the end of the century, his followers began the process of constructing a monastery at Densatil and decided that a main hall should be built around their teacher's thatched hut. His school, which came to be known as the Phagmo Drupa Kagyu school, became so powerful in Tibet that they founded a dynasty that lasted from the mid-14th century to the mid-15th century. Following the creation of the monastery, over the following three centuries, the monastery continued to enjoy generous patronage, and eight towering memorial stupas known as tashi gomang, or 'Many Doors of Auspiciousness', were constructed in the main hall of the monastery. Tragically, the site was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution in the second half of the 20th century, and little now remains, except for a small group of bronzes and relief fragments, which have been preserved in private collections and museums worldwide.
The first tashi gomang stupa built at Densatil was built to contain the remains of the abbot Dragpa Tsondru (1203-1267). Despite its complexity, seven more tashi gomang stupas were built for Densatil abbots over the following centuries: one in the 13th century, three in the 14th century, and three in the 15th century. The current lot relates stylistically to sculptures belonging to the third tashi gomang, built towards the end of the 14th century. Each of these memorial stupas consisted of a multi-tiered structure, topped by a stupa that contained the remains of a Buddhist adherent. The tashi gomang at Densatil were then adorned with thousands of deities cast in the round and placed on the various levels of the structure; the entire structure was then further decorated with thick relief panels.
In a recent exhibition at the Asia Society in New York, the basic structure of a tashi gomang stupa was described in the following manner: 'A magnificent lotus flower rose up from the bottom-most tier, or the pool, to accommodate a structure of different tiers. The tiers were recessed and stepped, accentuating the central axis of the structure. They were adorned on all sides with numerous free-standing deities and panels with deities represented in relief. The deities depicted were arranged according to their sanctity: the higher they were placed on the structure, the higher their religious status. From bottom to top the tiers were the Tier of Protectors of the Teachings, the Tier of Offering Goddesses, the Tier of Buddhas, the Tiers of Tantric Meditational Deities, and the Lineage Tier.' (published online at asiasociety.org/new-york/exhibitions/golden-visions-densatil-tibetan-buddhist-monastery)
The fifth tier of each tashi gomang stupa, had a central section, occupied by three female deities who were flanked on both sides by two groups of dancing offering goddesses, with four deities in each group. The sixteen offering goddesses that flank the triad symbolise the offerings of form, taste, touch, and thought; of music, dance, and song; and of flowers, light, sweet perfume, and incense. The bronze in the current lot would have belonged to the triad of deities that were placed in the middle of the tier. The triad of deities included at its centre Parnashavari, flanked by Marici and Janguli.
The Densatil monastery and its contents has long been considered one of the greatest achievements of Tibetan culture, and the surviving bronzes represent some of the most treasured art of the period. Because the current bronze was part of the personal collection of Nasli Heeramaneck and remained in the family collection within India, it has never been published, so the rediscovery of this important Densatil bronze brings to light a masterpiece of Tibetan art that the world assumed had been destroyed.
PARNASHAVARI OR ARYA JANGULI
Gilt copper alloy inset with semi-precious stones
Densatil, Central Tibet
Late 14th century
Height 11 3/4 in. (29.9 cm)
Published on the Himalayan Art Resource website
(HAR item no. 7654).
The goddess, with six arms and three faces, stands on a single lotus pedestal in pratyalidhasana. In her raised right hands she holds a vajra and an arrow, in her upper left hand she holds the stem of a plant, her lower left hand is raised across her torso in tarjani mudra. Her faces, each with three eyes, are surmounted by an elaborate jewelled vajrasattva headdress, interspersed with the figures of the five Jina Buddhas, surrounding a central bell-shaped helmet, with a drop-shaped finial. She is adorned with ornate jewellery inset with semi-precious stones, and her full pleated skirt is patterned with leaf and flower motifs, further inset with semi-precious stones. Her billowing sash frames her entire body.
Numerous stylistic elements of the current bronze such as the large disk earrings inset with semi-precious stones which radiate out in concentric bands from a central stone, the double beaded bracelets with floral pendants, the gem inset terminals to her scarf, and the decorative treatment of the pleated skirt, make it possible to link the current bronze with the third tashi gomang erected after 1370 at the Densatil monastery. Notably, some finer stylistic elements, including the carved turquoise petals in the drop-shaped insets of the necklace and diadem, and the channels across the front of the headdress, necklace, armbands, anklets, belt and hem of the skirt, that are set with silver securing loops that once would have held pearls strung on wire, closely associate the current sculpture with another Densatil bronze figure of Parnashavari, now in the collection of Ann and Gilbert H. Kinney, (see Olaf Czaja and Adriana Proser, Golden Visions of Densatil: A Tibetan Buddhist Monastery, New York, 2014, p. 120, cat no. 24)
However, despite the unequivocal similarities to several Densatil bronzes of this period, and the clear association with the Densatil site, the identification of the deity in the current bronze remains somewhat problematic. The uncertainly of identification, lies in the fact that the iconographic attributes that identify both Parnashavari and Janguli are strikingly similar. In their six-armed forms, both deities hold a vajra, a lasso, a bow, and an arrow. The first holds a fan of leaves and the second holds a poisonous flower, both are dressed in a skirt of flowers, and both can be presented in a dancing posture.
Janguli is widely worshipped amongst Buddhists as a goddess of healing, who protects devotees from poisons, in particular snakebites. In her first manifestation, she has one face and four arms, her colour is white and she holds a snake. In her second form (as in the current sculpture), she is six-armed and has three faces and her colour is yellow. Konchog Lhundrub (1497-1557) describes Arya Janguli in the following manner, 'Arya Janguli, yellow, with three faces. Having a hood of seven snake heads. [Each face] possessing three eyes, the faces both smiling and fierce. Of the six hands, the right hands hold a vajra, sword and an arrow. The left, a wrathful [gesture] together with a lasso, a blue poisonous flower, and a bow. [She is] Adorned with flowers and snakes. Standing in a dancing manner.' (Bari Gyatsa, Konchog Lhundrub, republished on the Himalayan Art Resource, https://www.himalayanart.org/items/7654)
Whilst Parnashavari, the goddess who protects against contagious illness, is described in the following manner, 'Parnashavari, yellow, three faces, right white, left red, [each] with three eyes. Adorned with fruit, leaves and jewel garments. With six arms, the three right hands hold a vajra, axe and arrow. The three left have a wrathful gesture and hold a lasso, a fan of fruit and leaves and a bow. The hair is tied with a string of flowers.' (Mitra. rgyud sde kun btus. Volume 23, p. 156, republished on the Himalayan Art Resource, https://www.himalayanart.org/items/7654)
The current bronze clearly holds a vajra and an arrow, but the bow is missing, and although the stem of a plant can be seen grasped in the upper left hand, the fragmentary nature of the stem does not allows us to identify whether it would have been a fan of leaves or a flower. To further compound the problem, unlike Janguli, the headdress of the current lot is not garlanded with snakes. Instead, she wears a vajrasattva headdress which clearly depicts the five Jina Buddhas. Equally, the sword, which would firmly identify the deity as Janguli, that may have once been held in the lower right hand is now missing, and the current posture of the lower right hand although somewhat twisted, is identical to that of the Kinney Parnashavari.
Janguli is recognised as one of the female emanations of Akshobya, and is mentioned as such in the 5th century text of the Sadhanamala. The goddess is described in the text in the following manner, 'she is decked in celestial ornaments and dress, she is resplendent with the auspicious marks of a virgin, and bears the image of Akshobya on her head.' Since Akshobya is once of the five Jina Buddhas, the inclusion of the vajrasattva headdress which includes the figure of Akshobya, may be relevant to her final identity. An additional clue to the identity of the deity may lie in the fact that unlike Parnashavari, Janguli does not wear a blouse of leaves to cover her upper torso, which appears to be the case here. Yet, even this apparently conclusive element of iconography remains problematic as the lowest string of her necklace is fragmentary and may have once included a fan of leaves that are now missing.
Despite this uncertainty of iconography, Jeff Watt of the Himalayan Art Resource, has published the bronze as Parnashavari, noting the comparisons to the Kinney bronze, whilst recent research carried about by Jean Luc Estournel, has suggested that the current bronze can be firmly identified in two photos taken by Pietro Francesco Mele in 1948 (when he accompanied the explorer and scholar Guiseppe Tucci to the Densatil site). From the photographic evidence, Estournel's research argues that the current bronze would have flanked the sculpture of Parnashavari (now in the Kinney collection), on the fifth tier of the eastern side of the third tashi gomang at Densatil. If this is the case, then the original placement of the bronze appears to support the theory that the figure can be identified as Janguli and not Parnashavari. Furthermore, a potential response to the concerns raised by the lack of snakes present on the bronze, may be answered by the fact that a hood of snakes could have been part of a separately cast relief panel that was originally positioned behind the bronze, but the quality of the Mele photos is not sufficient to confirm or refute this theory. It seems that unless further evidence comes to light, the attribution may remain a question for on-going scholarly debate.
For a more detailed discussion on the comparisons between the iconography of Parnashavari and Janguli, refer to the Himalayan Art Resource website, www.himalyanart.org. For another example of a Parnashavari from Densatil, now in the collection of the Capital Museum in Beijing, see HAR item no. 59828. For other examples of bronze sculptures from these tashi gomang, see Olaf Czaja and Adriana Proser, Golden Visions of Densatil, A Tibetan Buddhist Monastery, New York, 2014; Pratapaditya Pal, Himalayas, An Aesthetic Adventure, Chicago, 2003, p. 218, cat. no. 141; and Pratapaditya Pal, Nepal, Where the Gods Are Young, New York, 1975, cat. no. 92.
‡ *Registered Antiquity - Non-exportable Item. Please refer to the Terms and Conditions of Sale at the back of the catalogue.
* Antiquity or Art Treasure - Non-exportable Item. Please refer to the Terms and Conditions of Sale.