January 28, 2014


I am neither an art historian nor a specialist of Buddhist or any other iconography. One of the reasons I never managed to get interested in art history is the (perceived) type of Fragstellung itself. While the questions related to provenance, materiality, artistic style, and so on, are certainly important, the attempts at explaining the significance or the iconography of a piece seems often unsatisfactorily because it is often not backed up textual sources. Apologies, I just googled up this image and pasted it here, purely for discussion and I have no interest in the statue as such. So the owner of the statue and the image may not be concerned that I might misuse it in any way.

It is described as the “four-headed” Mañjuśrī. But actually it seems that the image represents a “five-faced” (zhal lnga pa) Mañjuśrī. The face at the back should be considered not visible when viewed from the front. Should there then be not five pairs of hands? Our textual source explicitly mentions of only four pairs of hands. Perhaps, the central head is not supposed to have a corresponding pair of hands. Rong-zom-pa’s commentary on the Mañjuśrīnāmasaṃgīti states (RZ1: 273–274): de’i thugs kar yi ge dhīḥ las bskyed pa’i ’jam dpal dang po’i sangs rgyas zhal lnga gtsug phud lnga dang ldan pa kha dog lnga dang ldan pa ste | shar sngon po | lho ser po | nub dmar po | byang ljang gu | dbu’i steng na gnas pa’i zhal zhi ba dkar po byis pa’i rgyan gyis brgyan pa | ’jo sgeg dang ldan pa | sna tshogs kyi na bza’ bnabs pa | phyag brgyad pa | bzhi na shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa stong phrag brgya pa glegs bam bzhir bgos te thugs kar ’dzin pa | gzhan gyis shes rab kyi ral gri ’dzin pa bsgom par bya’o ||. May be we should look for a coloured image.

(From Qing Dynasty): Correctly stated as five-headed Mañjuśrī. 

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