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Paintings > Thangka > The Great Eighteen Arhats
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The Great Eighteen Arhats

The Great Eighteen Arhats

The Great Eighteen Arhats

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Tibetan Thangka Painting

Size of Painted Surface 24.0" X 10.5"
Size with Brocade 35.5" X 28.5"
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The Great Eighteen Arhats

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Viewed 7316 times since 1st Apr, 2013
Set in the background of sea, this painting depicts Great Eighteen Arhats or Sthaviras who are on their way to China as they were invited by the Chinese emperor to teach an intensive summer course in Buddhism.

Arhats are the advanced apostles of Shakyamuni Buddha, who have traveled the Eightfold Path, have succeeded in placing themselves outside the wheel of transmigration, freed from all fetters, from all attachment to existence, from all forces of karma. They have passed through various degrees of saintship, after a long course of asceticism. Arhats are always venerated in Buddhist world. As per the tradition the Buddha Shakyamuni had selected sixteen Arhats from his disciples and asked them to remain in this world as Immortals in order to preserve his teachings, help all sentient beings through their kindness and compassion, until Maitreya appears as a Buddha. Thus they represent the continuity of Dharma from the Buddha Shakyamuni of the present Buddha to Buddha Maitreya of the future. The sixteen Arhats were born in India. In addition, two loyal attendants are counted as the seventeenth and eighteenth Arhats in Tibet and in China. Their teachings are still preserved in Tibet. Prayers to these Arhats are included in the Tibetan daily prayers.

There are three traditions of Arhat paintings – Indian, Chinese and Tibetan. While the Indian style has not come down, even the Chinese mode was transformed in Tibetan. The thangkas sometimes betray all three tradition’s characteristics in the naturalistic manner of the tender faces of the Arhats. This painting is based on the Chinese idiom. Robes, water clouds and animals have been rendered in Chinese style.

The upper center medallion depicts the Buddha with his disciples. Outside the medallion are the Eighteen Arhats traveling miraculously over the sea to China. According to a tradition, they rode on real and mythical animals like boats. The ocean, which had high waves, became very calm, and the animals were therefore walking on the water. The Arhats do not have definitive attributes and that makes their identification a matter of conjecture. However these Arhats can be individually recognized by standard attributes, such as an incense burner, a flywhisk, a miniature stupa, a book, a glowing gem or a string of jewels etc. Following Arhats are on their way to China:

1. Panthaka (Lam brtan): His name in Tibetan means “he who takes the (great) road.” His abode is rocky residence called Flower Essence in the Tushita Heaven. He carries books in his left hand and his right hand is in teaching mudra. He is depicted here on the left of the Buddha’s medallion.

2. Angaja (Yan lag ‘byung): His name in Tibetan means “partly born” because he was born from his dead mother’s body after it was consumed by flames. He is holding an incense bowl in his right hand and riding a dragon. He is depicted on upper left corner.

3. Pindola Bharadvaja (Bha ra dva ja bsod snyoms len): His name means “a receiver of alms.” His abode is a wondrous cave in the center of a hill, Lanyari, in the Eastern Continent. He holds a book in his right hand and an alms bowl in his left hand. The Buddha called him the most authoritative and confident champion of his teachings among his disciples. He is shown here on the upper right side.

Three Arhats are shown here seated on a mythical animal, on the right side of the Buddha, these Arhats are - Ajita, Gopak and Kanaka Bhardwaj.

4. Ajita (Ma pham pa): His name in Tibetan means “the unconquerable.” He is holding a begging bowl with both the hands. He is depicted here with his robe covering his head The Buddha called him the most excellent of the meritorious one.

5. Gopak (sbed byed): His name means “concealed” because at birth his body was covered with noxious ulcers and he was always concealed with a cloth. He carries a book in both hands. He demonstrates the inexorable nature of the law of karma.

6. Kanaka Bhardwaj (Bha ra dva ja gser can): In Tibetan, gSer can means “possessing gold,” because his each hand miraculously always held a gold coin. Here His both the hands are in meditation gesture.

7. Bakula (Ba ku la): Bakula is the name of a tree. The Arhat was given this name because he only wore clothing made from the bark tree. He holds a jewel-spitting mongoose in his hands. He is shown here seated against a tree on middle ground of the left side.

Thee Arhats – Kalika, Vajriputra and Bhadra are depicted in middle ground on the left side and among them one is riding a tiger. 8. Kalika (Dus Idan): His name means “with time.” He lives in Copper Island surrounded by his followers. He carries golden earrings given by the gods of Kamadhatu when he preached to them.

9. Vajriputra (rDo rje mo’I bu): His name in Tibetan means “son of Dorje mo.” He lives on a hill in Sri Lanka with is disciples. His left hand is in threatening gesture, and his right hand holds book. He is riding a tiger

10. Bhadra (bZang po): His name means “good.” Bhadra is the son of the charioteer of King Suddhodana, Gautama Buddha’s father. He lives on an island in the River Yamuna in India with is followers. His both the hands are holding a begging bowl.

The bottom center depicts six Arhats seated on a makara - Nagasena, Abheda, Cudapanthaka, Rahula Bhadra, Vanavasin, Kanakavatsa. 11. Nagasena (): His name means “of the naga race.” He lives on the slopes of Mount Vipulaparsva in Magadha with his disciples. He has serpent hood and his both the hands are in meditation gesture.

12. Abheda (Mi phyed pa): His name means “inseparable.” He lives in a cave on Mount Himavat in one of the twenty-four lands of the mythical kingdom of Shambhala, north of India with his disciples. He holds the enlightenment stupa in his hands, which is missing here.

13. Cudapanthaka (Lam phran brtan): His name in Tibetan means “he who takes the small road.” He lives on Vulture Peak in Magadha with his disciples. The Buddha called him the best of all the ordained monks who changed the thinking of others. His right hand is in preaching gesture.

14. Rahula Bhadra (sGra gcan ‘dzin bzang po): Rahula in Tibetan is the “eighth planet, the ascending node of the moon,” and Bhadra means “good.” Rahula, the son of Prince Siddhartha and Yasodhara, was conceived before Siddhartha left his home to seek enlightenment. He became a monk and one of his father’s main disciples. He lives in the northern region of this world with his followers. He carries a golden crown in his hands, which was given to him by the Tushita heaven gods. Golden crown is not visible here

15. Vanavasin (Nags na gnas): His name means “lives in the forest.” He lives in the mountain cave of Lomadun in a forest grove in Shravasti with his disciples. His both the hands holding flywhisk. He represents victory over delusion and prevention of man-made or natural harms. The Buddha called him the most excellent of those who dwell in quiet solitude.

16. Kanakavatsa (gSer be’u): His name in Tibetan means “golden endless knot.” He lives in caves on Saffron Hill in Kashmir with his disciples. He generally holds a string of precious stones, which was given to him by the Nagas, when he went to their country to convert them. His teachings develop intuition. He symbolizes a superb memory and control of mind.

17. Upasaka Dharmatala (dGe bsnyen dhar ma ta la): His name means “one who increases Buddha’s teachings,” and he is a layman who is considered a manifestation of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. He is a servant to the Sixteen Arhats and is supposed to have extraordinary powers to work miracles, along with the great learning and wisdom. After the Buddha’s parinirvana, he comforted and encouraged Buddha’s followers and thus kept them on the right path. His long hair is tied on the top of his head. To the Sixteen Arhats from the many dangerous animals on the hill, he miraculously manifested a tiger from his right knee. Here he is depicted in the foreground.

18. Hashang (Hva shang): the word Hashang means a “monk” or “scholar” in Chinese. At the beginning of the Tang dynasty, he was the teacher of the Tai Tsung emperor and his eight sons. He was thought to be the Chinese messenger who brought a letter of invitation from Chinese emperor to the Sixteen Arhats asking them to visit the capital of China and assuring their safety during trip. Hashang looks like the figure called the Laughing Buddha, usually shown with a fat belly, a smiling face, and surrounded by children. Hashang is depicted here on bottom right corner on a ship along with king’s representatives, and guiding the Arhats. The bottom right corner depicts stupas and monasteries.

This painting is brilliantly drawn and painted in Chinese style and is very much suitable for sadhana and practices.

This description is by Dr. Shailendra K. Verma. His Doctorate thesis being: “Emergence and Evolution of the Buddha Image (From its inception to 8th century A.D.)”.

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