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Gyantse and Its Monasteries (Volume IV in Three Parts) - A Rare Books

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Item Code: NAN122
Author: Lokesh Chandra
Publisher: Aditya Prakashan
Language: Tibetan Text With English Translation
Edition: 1989
ISBN: PartI 8185179247
Part-II: 8185179255
Part-III: 8185179263
Pages: 884 (Throughout B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.5 inch X 6.5 inch
Weight 2 kg
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Book Description

Back of the Book

Fundamental studies on Tibetology are incorporated in the four volumes (seven bindings) of Professor Giuseppe Tucci' s Indo- Tibetica. As the work appeared in Italian, very few scholars have benefited by the' crucial results of Tucci' s investigations and perceptions. Moreover, Indologists hardly ever approached it, as Tucci used Tibetan terms like mchod-rten for stupa. The presented English version of the Indo- Tibetica will place at the disposal of Indologists, Tibetologists, Buddhologists, Historians, Anthropologists, Archaeologists and specialists in allied areas and disciplines, a basic work which presents new material from unpublished sources and unexplored monasteries on the frontiers of India and in bordering areas. Sanskrit equivalents of Tibetan terms have been used throughout to make the text accessible to a wider audience, for example, stupa (mchod-rten).

About the Book

This volume is a major breakthrough for the history of the Sa-skya period of Tibet, the art treasures of the Gyantse region, and the evolution of a distinctive Tibetan style from the multiple strands of Indian iconographic elements, Chinese tendencies in larger compositions and the. Khotanese manner in statuary.

So far it had been held that Buddhism went to Tibet through Nepal and Kashmir, but this volume points out for the first time how it also traversed the Sikkim-Gyantse way.' It details the historical monasteries on the road to and in the city of Gyantse, which are of unique value for the development of the Tibetan visual arts. The small temple of Bsam-grub lha-khan near Phari has frescoes of the XV century and a statue of Avalokitesvara and two book covers of possible Indian origin. This book treats of the extraordinary flourishing of art due to the enlightened patronage of the Sa-skya-pas during the long tenure of their power. The princes of Zhalu and Gyantse followed their example. Chinese influences came to be felt during the hegemony of the Sa-skyas who maintained cultural and political relations with China for two centuries.

The volume reviews the disappearance of ancient historical records because of the suppression of all rivals by the emerging Gelukpa sect, The Myan-chun chronicles and the Eulogy of Nenying monastery, which have escaped, are unique sources for the 'history of the artistic heritage of the region. Along with them, historical geography, the chronologies of the Sa-skya abbots and of the princes of Zhalu and of Gyantse, and their relations with the Mongol court are discussed.

The monastery of Kyangphu at Samada was founded in the XI century, but was restored in the XIV under the Sa-skyas. It has statues and stupas of Indian origin. Its surviving murals betray Central Asian style. Several mandalas of Vairocana from different tantras are dealt with. The Gyani monastery in the Salu village has capitals of the XIV century. The monastery at Iwang was constructed before the arrival of Sakyasrt the Great Pandit of Kashmir in the XIII century. An inscription on its mural says that it was painted in Indian style .Another inscription points out that Amitayus was done in the Khotanese way. The ancient monasteries of Shonang and Nenying have been restored and repainted, though at Nenying splendid fragments of the best epoch of Indo-Nepalese art survive.

The superb monastery of Gyantse is described in all scientific details for the first time in 'this book. The most outstanding monument of the region is the Kumbum of Gyantse,: also known' as Dpal-hkhor chos-sde, important both for its architecture and for its paintings. It is a gigantic complex of several mandalas, a veritable summa of tantric revelations. The inscriptions name its painters and sculptors: unique in the history of Tibetan art. They give summary descriptions of the frescoes which serve as remarkable iconographic guides. The paintings can be dated to a well-determined period, 'namely the XV century, when an independent idiom of Tibetan art developed.

Part 1 details the iconography of the Kumbum which is an architectonic mandala, where progressive ascending from one floor to the other corresponds to an ascension from a lesser order of tantras to ever higher ones. The 73 major temples and minor chapels on its four floors and dome are described at length. An astounding number of 27,529 deities are represented in the. Kumbum. This book is a mine of information and perceptions of 'the great master Giuseppe Tucci, and invites, further researches on the vast tantric iconography and its symbolism detailed herein. Part 2 gives the text and translation of the inscriptions in the temples and chapels of the various monasteries. Part 3 is devoted to the mural paintings in them.


The transmission of Buddhism to Tibet had so far been held to be through Nepal and Kashmir; but this volume points out that it had also traversed the Sikkirn-Gyantse way. Near Phari is a small temple Bsam-grub lha-khan which has frescoes of the XV century and a statue of A valokitesvara and two book covers of possible Indian origin.

The most outstanding monument of the region is the Kumbum of Gyantse, also known. as Dpal-hkhor chos-sde, important both for its architecture and for its paintings. It is a gigantic complex of several mandalas, a veritable summa of tantric revelations, compiled in encyclopaedic works like the Sgrub-thabs- rgya-mtsho or grub-thabs-kun-btus. The inscriptions name the painters and the sculptors who are unique for the history of Tibetan art. They give summary descriptions of the frescoes which serve as remarkable iconographic guides. The paintings can be dated to a well-determined period, namely, the XV century when an independent idiom of Tibetan art developed. Chinese influences can be felt during the Sa-skya hegemony, who maintained cultural and political relations with China for two centuries. The Chinese manner is evident in scenes •of paradise, landscapes, palaces, floral plays, clouds hanging in the air. The Indian style is strong in. the mandalas. Central Asian style from Khotan, the Li-lugs, is evident in the statues of Iwang. The Indian elements in the iconography and the Chinese tendencies in the larger' compositions mature into a Tibetan aesthetic sensibility.

The flourishing of art was due to the enlightened patronage of the Sa-skya-pa during the long tenure of their power. The princes of Gyantse followed their example. In course of time, the Dge-Iugs-pa sect became predominant. The chronicles of the earlier rival sects and of families in whom these lands vested, disappeared gradually. The Dge-Iugs-pa suppressed the historic works that were not to their liking. Thus the Eulogy of Gnas-rnin has survived only in personal libraries, and the Myan-chun annals are very hard to find. Both these texts provide precious and extensive data on the monuments at Gyantse. The chapels are described in detail; all the books and statues in them are enumerated in full. The Myan-chun, a guide to the antiquities of the Gtsan region, has been utilised for this study besides four other secondary sources.

Historical geography and a general survey of the ancient monasteries in Upper, Middle and Lower Nan from the third chapter of the book.

The fourth chapter is devoted to the chronology of the monuments and of their founders the Sa-skya-pa abbots. Complete hierarchy of the abbots has been worked out anew on the basis of the Blue Annals and Chinese works. Some basic dates like the foundation of the Sa-skya monastery in 1073, the birth of Kun-dgah-snin-po in 1092, the birth of Sa-skya Pandita in 1182 werq already known from the Vaidurya-dkar-po, through the researches of Korosi Csoma Sandor. The chronology can be compared with the Sa-skya genealogy composed by Bu-ston. Another coordinate to fix definitive points is the genealogy of the princes of Zha-Iu and Gyantse from the Myan-chun. These can also be confirmed by correspondences with the Mongol emperors. The founder of the local dynasty that ruled over Gyantse was Hphags-dpal-bzan-po in the XIV century (p.82f.) The princes of Zhalu were invested with supreme authority by the Sa-skya-pas, with whom they had bonds of kinship (p.84f.). Zhalu was the monastery where Bu-ston worked and which he embellished.

On p. 29 Prof. Tucci says that bkod-pa denotes the scheme of the disposition of figures in the mandala. This Tibetan word is an equivalent of vyuha in the Mahavyutpatti, It occurs as early as the Sukhavati-vyuha which may be assigned to the first century A.D. The concept of vyuha or a large number of Tathagatas and beings in the congregation of the main deity is an ancient idea. In the smaller Sukhavati-vyuha, in the east are other blessed Buddhas, led by the Tathagata Aksobhya, the Tathagata Merudhvaja, the Tathagata Mahameru, the Tathagata Meruprabhasa, and the Tathagata Manjudhvaja. In the south are: the Tathagata Candrasuryapradipa, the Tathagata Yasahprabha, the Tathagata Maharciskandha, the Tathagata Merupradipa, the Tathagata Anantavirya. In the west: the Tathagata Amitayus, the Tathagata Amitaskandha, the Tathagata Amitadhvaja, the Tathagata Mahaprabha, the Tathagata Maharatnaketu, the Tathagata Suddharasmiprabha. In the north: Tathagata Maharciskandha, the Tathagata Vaisvanara-nirghosa, the Tathagata Dundubhisvara-nirghosa, the Tathagata Duspradharsa, the Tathagata Adityasambhava, the Tathagata Jaleniprabha (jvaliniprabha ?), the Tathagata Prabhakara. In the nadir: Tathagata Simha, the Tathagata Yasas, the Tathagata Yasahprabhava, the Tathagata Dharma, the Tathagata Dharmadhara, the Tathagata Dharmadhvaja. In the zenith: Tathagata Brahmaghosa, the Tathagata Naksatraraja, the Tathagata Indraketudhvajaraja, the Tathagata Gandhottama, the Tathagata Candhaprabhas, the Tathagata Maharciskandha, the Tathagata Ratnakusuma-sampuspitagatra, the Tathagata Salendra-raja, the Tathagata Ratnotpalasri, the Tathagata Sarvarthadarsa, the Tathagata Sumerukalpa (Max Muller, SBE.49, 1894: 100-101). The vyuha is the initial stage in the emergence of the mandala.

Two monasteries of Kyangphu and Riku situated at Samada deserve notice. The first monastery is famous in tradition as the oldest. The present structures however date to the XIV century. Entering through a narrow gate we see small cellas, one is the mgon-khan and the other on the right is dedicated to Lha-mo. In the court the first chapel is Sakyamuni's victory over Mara, In the atrium of the main temple are frescoes that remind of the style of India. The temple was founded by Chos-kyi-blo-gros, a disciple of Rin-chen-bzan-po. The first chapel of the main temple is called the southern chapel. Its altar has statues of Indian origin (p.100). The magnificent stupa behind the altar is of gilded bronze with the Vajradhatu-mandala in high .relief. Executed with extreme finesse it can be a work of the late Pala period. The other chapel to the left is the big northern chapel which has statues of the Buddhas of the past, future and present: Dipankara, Maitreya and Sakyamuni. The most important objects herein are the pediments of three statues of the three protectors: Avalokitesvara, Vajrapani and Manjughosa. The extant image of Avalokitesvara is of Indian origin. The metrical inscription indicates that it was ordered by Chos-kyi-blo-gros, a disciple of Rin-chen-bzan-po. He in fact was the founder of the Kyangphu monastery in the XI century but it was restored during the Sa-skya period in the XIV century. On the first floor there are two chapels. The right chapel is dedicated to Sarvavid Vairocana (p. 106). Professor Tucci dilates upon the several cycles of Vairocana to determine the mandala in this chapel. He comes to three main figurations of the mandala of Vairocana, based on the Tattva-sangraha, Vairocanabhisambodhi and Durgati-parisodhana. The mandala in the right chapel is derived from the Tattva-sangraha. To the left is the chapel of Prajnaparamita (p. 120). To the left of the door is the image of Hayagrlva and to the right that of Acala (p. 121). The mural paintings surviving 'here and there on the second floor betray Central Asian style.

Leaving the village of Samada, half a kilometer down, is the monastery of Riku or Dregun. Some of the paintings can be ascribed to the XVI century. Its most ancient part is the Mgon-khan, with Gur mgon the protective deity of, the Sa-skya-pas, surrounded by the divinities of his cycle, Pu-tra min-srin (p. 123).

Prof. Tucci details the various mandalas of Vairocana from seven texts. He begins with the Tattva-sangraha, whose first section pertaining to abhisamaya has six mandalas classified as: (1) detailed, (2) intermediate, and (3) concise. There are four detailed mandalas, and .one mandala in each of the other two. The intermediate caturmudra-mandala is one cycle with Vairocana in the centre and the four Tathagatas in the four cardinal points. The four Tathagatas are not accompanied by other deities. Tucci assigns a mandala to each of them (6-9) which has to be corrected.

The first four mandalas are :

  1. Mahamandala : Vairocana in bodhyagri-mudra, pare and crowned, sits on seven lions, Gobu 1.
  2. Guhya-dharani-mandala with figures, or samaya-mandala with emblems : Vairocana is replaced by Vajrini or Vajradhatvisvari, crowned, seated on a lotus, holds a caitya on a pediment, Gobu 39.
  3. Dharma-mandala, or suksma-mandala vairocana in bodhyagri-mudra, pare and crowned addorsed by vajras, sits on on a lotus, Gobu 72.
  4. Karma-puja-mandala, Vairocana as a monk (neither pare nor crowned), sits on a lotus, Gobu 105.
In these four mandalas, the attributes of the 37 deities change and also their names. For a detailed study the introduction. to my edition of the Sarva-tathdgata-tatva-sangraha (STTS) has to be consulted, in conjunction with my A Ninth Century Scroll of the Yajradhatu-mandala. The latter work illustrates the six mandalas of the first abhisamaya section of the STTS by Subhakarasimha (A.D. 637-735) in a scroll termed Gobu-shinkan. The central deity of the first four mandalas is reproduced here from this scroll to show the variation pattern.

All the mandalas enumerated by Prof. Tucci from the STTS and other texts have to be re-defined, and their entourage clearly enumerated from the original tantra, from Classical commentaries, and from later reworkings. Thus, the nos. 15-19 is one caturrnudra-mandala and has to be assigned one number.


The Gyanil Rgya-gnas monastery was controlled by the Sa-skya-pas. Capitals in its atrium belong to the XIV century.

MONASTERY OF IWANG The monastery at Iwang is one of the important monuments of the region, as it had been constructed by Chos-byan a pre-incarnation of Sakyasri the Great Pandita from Kashmir who arrived here in the XIII century. It is divided into three chapels. The central chapel is dominated by Amoghadarsin, flanked by six Tathagatas, constituting the Seven Buddhas/Rabs-bdun. The mural paintings have preserved an inscription which says that Rgyal-mtshan-grags has painted in the Indian manner. The right chapel has Amitayus, with ten statues around. From the dresses, ornaments and shoes to the delicate colours, techniques of drawing and painting, all remind of Central Asia. The whole cycle has been transported from there. An inscription confirms that it has been done in the Khotanese way (Li-lugs). The left chapel represents the assault of demons ' on meditating Sakyamuni (p. 139). These works of art predate the emergence of the Tibetan style which can be seen at Kumbum with the most extensive pictorial panels of the XV century.


In 1937, I left for a new expedition in Tibet, which was sponsored by Prassitele Piccinini, who had already sponsored that of 1935. As it can be seen from these pages, the results we obtained are superior to those of the previous travels. It is therefore right that I express my thanks to Mr. Piccinini who has favoured this new expedition of the Academy of Italy in the harsh lands of Tibet, and has allowed me to discover such remarkable monuments of that Indo-Tibetan culture which day by day reveals itself worth studying.

Prof. Piccinini, leaving aside his major field of research in the medica) sciences, continues' with his generosity the humanistic tradition of our people. It is but natural that Italy deals with Tibet, because the Italians first made known to Europe, and not in a superficial way, the soul and the beliefs of these people so profoundly devoted to religious ideals (1). A book like that of Desideri does not become dated.

I must also thank Doctor Fosco Maraini who has been an intelligent collaborator and a good travel companion. He has done the entire photographic work, and the plates of this book are all by him.

I do not publish the diary of the expedition. Others have •gone to Gyantse before me and have described the land. I could not add new things. But I have discussed in this book the art monuments found along the roads and the reflections that can be made and the conclusions to be drawn for the study of the political, religious and artistic history of Tibet. This book includes many new things and much material investigated for the first time.

From Western Tibet I have gone to Central Tibet: but the geographical distance does not make a difference in culture. We are always faced by the same religious and artistic world and by the same spiritual unity.

This series of Indo- Tibetica which I slowly keep on writing and in which I describe the material collected in my scientific missions, has n0W come to its fourth volume, after six years of its starting.

Since I am working on a virgin ground and I am going on exploring day by day new sectors of the vast Tibetan literature, which still can be reached with great difficulty, it is right to look back and to ask ourselves. if the work already done would not require a revision of some points. To this effect I have read again and attentively the volumes of Indo- Tibetica already published and I have found that by and large I have not much to add or to modify .. I noticed, however, some inaccuracies or incomplete details. And because this series of Indo- Tibetica has to remain a unity they should be corrected. To those who have read the previous volumes I recommend to look at the appendix published herein where whatever should be considered wrong or imperfect, due to carelessness or to defect of information, has been completed or corrected.

Thus, the previous work has bee.n revised by the Zhu-che, and I am glad to have been the Zhu-che of myself.


Foreword: by Lokesh Chandraxi
Chapter I. Importance of the monuments studied in the trip of 1937
1The Sikkim-Gyantse road and its monuments5
2The importance of these monuments for the History of Tibetan art9
3The Lists of Sculptors and painters in the inscriptions of gyntse16
4Importance and Characters of the paintings in these monuments21
5Chinese in fluences on these paintings25
6Paintings in Indian style28
7Painters and paintings30
8The diverse elements by whose fusion Tibetan painting is born31
9The statues35
11Importance of the Sa-skya-pa sect39
Chapter II. Sources
12Disappearance of ancient historical documents40
13The Myan-chun42
14The eulogy of gnas-rnin44
15secondary sources45
Chapter III. Land of Nan
16The land of Nan47
17The monasteries of nan-smad54
19The Temples of Nan-smad68
Chapter IV. Chronology of the monuments and especially that of the Kumbum
20Chronology of the Sa-skya abborts73
21The princes of Zha-lu and Gyantse78
22The Sa-skya monks and the Mongol court84
Chapter V. The Temples of Samada
23General Characteristics93
24The mgon-khan93
25The chapel of the victory over Mara97
26The atrium and the first chapel98
27The inscriptions of Chos-blos and the foundation of the temple101
28The Mudra of Rnam-par-snan mdzad/Vairocana 106
29Scheme of the Mandalas of Rnam-par-snan-mdzad/Varocana described in the preceding volumes108
30Vajradhatu-mandala and Mahakaranagarbha-mandala110
31Why the mandalas of a single cycle can be many113
32From Rtsa rgyud: Tattvasangraha/De-nid-bsdus120-121
33From Vajrasekhara (Toh. 480)
34From Sri-Paramadya-tantra (Toh. 487)
35From Nama-sangiti (Toh.360)
36From Vairocanabhisambodhi (Toh.494 and affiliated text
37From SripVajramandal-alankara (Toh 490)
38From Sarvadurgati-Parisodhana (Toh 483)
39The mandala of Samada represents the vajradhatu-mandala119
40The cycle of Mon-bu putra in the temple of Dregun (samada)122
Chapter VI. Salu, Iwang, Shonang and Gnas-rnin Salu133
41The chaptel of Iwant embellished in the Indian Manner134
42The chapel embellished in the Khotanese manner shonang138
43The foundation of the monastery of Gnas-rnin142
Chapter VII. Gyantse and its main temple
44The three chapels on the first floor146
45The chapel of Lam-bras153
46The chapel of Mandalas158
Chapter VIII. Kumbum
47General Symbolism of the kumbum168
48The first floor of the Kumbum172
49The Second floor of the Kumbum201
50The Third floor of the Kumbum218
51The Fourt floor, the dome and the campana of the Kumbum290



This second part of the fourth volume of Indo-Tibetica. comprises the most important inscriptions found in the monuments studied in the first part. These inscriptions are unique in naming the donors, painters, sculptors who contributed to the adornment of the walls of the chapels and temples with frescoes that mirror the vast pantheon of the Tantric visions in their bewildering variety. These inscriptions enable us to identify each and every divinity in all the richness of its pantheon mandala. This would not have been possible, were there no inscriptions. Prof. Tucci has copied the inscriptions with fidelity, reproducing the orthographic errors and anomalies due to the frequent indifference of the Tibetan copyists. The errors have been pointed out and corrected in the translation of the inscriptions.

The several chapels of the Kumbum which have been described in the first part can be understood with greater precision and in specific details through the translation of the inscriptions. In the translation we have added references to the chapels on the top of every page: thus III.16 means the 16th chapel on the III floor of the Kumbum. This helps to locate the context of every inscription.

The present volume deserves further study as the Tibetan texts are becoming more and more accessible, in translations, and studies, or even in Sanskrit originals, like the Sarva-tathagata-tattva-sangraha which is the most fundamental text of the yogatantras that are crucial to the several systems of Tantras illustrated in the Kumbum murals. The Kumbum is a unique monument of Buddhist art, vying in importance with the Ajanta caves, Kizil, Tun-huang, Yun-kang or Lung-men grottoes, or the Barabudur. It is the last fragrance of the creative grandeur of Buddhism, the glory and silence of time supremely alive. Here is a gallery of frescoes that mirror the diversification of Buddhism. Sakyamuni is transformed from Master into Lord, into an idealised figure. The Enlightened One became the Enlightening One, The Radiator of Light. From Buddha the interest shifted to the abstraction of Buddhahood. From an individual he became a symbol, the science of Buddhahood. Nirvana was transformed into paradise, and karma became modifiable by prayer. Elabo- rate patterns emerged. Buddhism was face 'to face with the Absolute, the Ultimate, the First, the Eternal, the Everlasting and the All-pervading which now was the adamantine purity of the Adi-Buddha. With metaphysical daring this Eternal par excellence, definable by negatives alone, became the bejewelled sambhoga-kaya passionately embracing his transcendant consort or prajna. Extreme serenity was identified with extreme passion, the crystal light with the fire of love, the intangible with all the intoxication of the senses. Sensuality and symbolism, metaphysical filigree of jewels, caresses and cerebrality, earth and sky were, celebrated in proportion and serenity, in portraiture and cryptograms. The murals and sculptures of Kumbum carry these eternal depths to the eyes of the faithful.


Preface by Lokesh Chandravii
Texts of Inscriptions

The great temple of gyantse8
Sku- hbum/ Kumbum9

The great temple of gyantse136
Sku- hbum/ Kumbum137
Appendix I
Some observations on the inscriptions275
Military charges276
Ecclesiastical charges or offices performed in convents277
Appendix II
Corrections and additions to Indo-Tibetica, volumnes I-III279
The Chronologica system of the Deb-ther snon-po and the chronology adopted in Indo-Tibetica (Note by Dr. Luciano Petech)281

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