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Define the influence and character of the Tibetan cultural aesthetics in the Tangut Empire SOAS Ref. No. 221618, Cultural History of Tibet, Convenor: Nathan Hill, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Department of the Study of Religions
4/28/2010 Carmen Cochior Plescanu
Define the influence and character of the Tibetan cultural aesthetics in the Tangut Empire
Ssu - ma of Yin, the author of the Shih-chi - the first of the dynastic histories of China around 100 BC- was the first to employ the term ‘Tangut’ to denominate the Proto-Burmese kingdom of Kansu. Great interpretations were given to the utilization of the ‘Tangut’, as used by Marco Polo in the thirteen century according to the Books of the Marvels of the World. Whether descending from the Turkish horde as the termination –ut might suggest, from the nomadic people of North Korea as Meillet and Cohen would imply as hypothesis, it is yet not clearly decided among scholars. In contrast with the Rising Sun of China, Ssu-ma Ch’ien has named Kansu the ‘Great Moon Family’, Ta Yueh Shih which in Old Chinese was pronounced Da-Ngwat (Tangut).1 It was in the late tenth and early eleventh century that the Tangut people (Tib. Mi-nyang; Mong. Tangyud) established an independent regime in the steppe region within the loop of the Yellow River, in Ordos, which developed rapidly into the ‘Great State of White and High’ as they self-proclaimed or the empire of Xixia. The geographical parameters of that period, places Xixia as neighbouring the Song, Liao and Jin states to the south and east, Tibetans to the southwest and the Central Asian kingdoms in the west.2 An imperial state was formally defined in 1038 and its existence is presented in chronicles until the fatal crush of Chinggis Qan’s last campaign, in 1227.3 Although Chinggis Qan’s punitive expedition left only ten percent of the Tangut population alive, it is evident from the re-edition of Xixia Tripitaka in 3,620 juan, completed seventy years after the fall of Xixia at the request of Kublai Khan, that their culture has not vanished immediately, but
Classical civilizations of South East Asia: an anthology of articles. Published in The Bulletin of Soas, Edited by Vladimir Braginsky, University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies, Routledge 2002, p.439 2 The Great State of White and High, , Ruth W Dunnell, University of Hawaii Press 1996, p. 3 3 Ibid 2
continued through the thirteen and into the first part of the fourteen century. 4 It was in Tibet that some of the Tangut royal family members took refuge in 1227, where their descendants assumed the name of Byang and “supplied the abbots for sTod rDorje brang, a branch of great rNying-ma-pa monastery of rDo rje brang, founded in 1610 CE”.5
The primary sources materials for Xixia history have greatly expanded during the past century imperialist and archaeological preoccupation in Inner Asia, which mostly date to the twelfth century and later and which are predominantly Buddhist in nature.6 Because the prodigious majority of extant Tangut materials are Buddhist and products of imperial patronage7, it is important to understand and analyse Tibetan Buddhist influencediplomatic, political and cultural - on Xia state. It is worth mentioning that the Khokhonor ‘black headed and red faced’ Tibetans and the Tangut shared ancestral, linguistic and cultural ties. These common epithets constantly attributed to the Tibetans are used not only in odes and poetry but in other Tangut indigenous texts as well. It is a great possibility that the term ‘black headed ’ which stands for the Tangut priests in the pre-Buddhist times, later to have been employed to designate the Karma pa Black Hat Sect, which penetrated the Tangut state in twelfth and thirteenth centuries as registered in Tibetan sources.8 The presence of Karma Pakshi (Tibetan ཀརྨ་པཀ ྵི་1204–1283), second in the Kagyupa (Wylie: bKa’-brgyud-pa) lineage of the Karmapas (Tibetan ) in a painting of Bhaisajayabhattaraka collected from the Kharakhoto stupa, evidence its
powerful presence and influence within the Tangut Empire. His iconographic depiction appears distinct wearing a black hat showing a visva-vajra in front, having a dark complexion, his hands in dharmacakra mudra
(Tibetan: འཀོར་ལོ, Wylie: chos kyi 'khor lo)and goatee beard (his nickname being rGya-bo or ‘beardy’).
figures of spiritual representatives are found in early Tibetan paintings and their location in the bottom left corner could imply or represent the actual donor. This particular artistic image was perpetuated throughout
Early Sino-Tibetan Art, Heather Stoddard, Orchid Press Thailand 2008, p.33 Ibid 4 6 Ibid 2 7 Ibid 2, p.4 8 Ксения Борисовна Кепинг, The Black-headed and the Red-faced in Tangut Ingidenuous Texts, http://www.sx-ys.com 9 Ibid 4, p.16
centuries up to the present day in all paintings of the Tshur-phu Karma-pa lineage10. It is worthy to mention that Karma Paksi was responsible for building a large temple and many smaller ones in the Hor Mi-nyag ‘Ga’ (Xixia) between 1255-56, which evidently held the aesthetic basis of the beauty and spiritually communicated Tibetan Buddhist architectural and pictural elements. 11 The Xixia people formed a mixture of Tibetan and Turco-Mongol elements, speaking a Tibeto-Burman language and employed an extremely complex system of writing based on Chinese characters. The territory on which the Tanguts settled was an old Buddhist site within which the Central Asia, Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism met and a peculiar form of Buddhism emerged.12 The Tangut kingdom of Xixia avowed profession of Buddhism as the state faith and their culture was deeply embedded with the Buddhist elements and symbols, particularly with those which may be called Tibetan styled. The artefacts found in the Dunhuang and Yulin caves of the twelfth century permit us to appreciate the aesthetics and Buddhist influence imported to Xixia from Tibet.13 Fragments of frescos and sculptures found in Kharakhoto, the presumed capital of Xixia, but merely a frontier town which served as outpost for exiled political prisoners,14 provided the earliest known woodcuts and prints in the Tibetan style. Serge d’Oldenburg remarks on the paintings, stucco and wood images found in the Kharakoto stupa (Mon. suburgan) of the ancient Empire of Minia that they hold an extreme resemblance in composition and that “make us presume that they all came from a common source, known to the ancient Buddhist world”.15 These artefacts reflect with no doubt the style of Pala –Sena dynasty, whose concepts and iconography was brought to Tibet from India by the early Kagyu (Wylie: bKa’- brgyud) masters such as Marpa Lotsawa (1012–1097) and further transmitted to Xixia through ‘Bri-gung-pa16. The influence of the Pala aesthetic vocabulary – chromatic nuancing of the deep, rich colours used to model the bodily and facial features of the spiritual characters- extended far beyond central Tibet towards Dunhuang and the territories occupied by the Xixia kingdom, later being incorporated into the Yuan Empire (Chinese: 元朝, Mongolian: Их Юань улс).
Tshur-phu Karmapa lineage related to Tsurpu Monastery (Wylie: Tshur-phu dGon-pa) was founded in 1189 by the First Karmapa, Dusum-kyenpa (Wylie: Kar-ma Dus-gsum mkhyen-pa, 1110-1193), Kagyü Monasteries. Alexander Berzin, Chö-Yang, Year of Tibet Edition, Dharamsala, India 1991 11 Ibid 9 12 The Spread of Buddhism, Edited by Ann Heirman and Stephan Peter Bumbacher, Part 8, Vol. 16,Brill 2007, p.381 13 Tibetan Art, ,p. 131 14 Ibid 4, p. 33 15 Ibid 4, p. 16 16 Ibid 4, p.14
The inherent cultural transference from Tibet to the Tangut Empire, took place once Liang zhou, the cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic population long ruled by the Tibetans, was occupied by the rapidly expanding Xixia, in 1100. Once with the establishment of the Xixia Empire in 1038, the Tangut occupation progressively encompassed the former Tibetan areas of influence along the Silk Route, respectively Dunhuang and much of the former territory of the Purgyel dynasty(Wylie: spu rgyal). The political and geographical situation that gave Tibetans direct access to Xixia, with whom they shared close ethic and cultural ties, facilitated the dissemination of their particular Buddhist artistic elements. Facing the historical changes, the Tibetans, while absorbing the foreign influences, also succeeded to leave their own cultural imprint. The Tibetan prelates and their retinue of artists were assiduously supported and invited to Xixia particularly during the reign of Xia Renzong (1139-1193) for their teachings but also for the aesthetic idioms employed in their architecture, iconography and paintings. The Xixia monasteries followed iconographic and liturgical patterns prevalent in the Tibetan culture, such as representations of stupas, The Five Transcendental Buddhas - also known as the Five Wisdom Tathāgatas, or meditational and protective deities such as Samvara and Acala. The brilliant colours, highly decorative and meticulously refined qualities of the Tangut art, were executed according to the principles and taste of the Tibetan patrons.17 The most important findings of the two expeditions led by Colonel Kozlov during 1908-1909 to the ruins of Kharakhoto, was a great stupa originally built in honour of a ‘incarnate teacher’, 18 which held hidden a variety of books and manuscripts, a large number of printings on cloth, silk, paper, statues in metal and wood, miniature stupas and other artefacts which are currently kept at St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum. The abundant remains of Buddhist manuscripts were written in both Tangut and Tibetan script, while other papers reveal to be written Chinese, Uyghur and Tangut. The indication that the Tibetan script was employed in religious literature and official writings reflects that the Tibetans became part of the Tangut identity, particularly after the 12th century, when the Tibetan Buddhist influence expanded in Xixia. Noticeably, the Halahot manuscripts preserved in Russia contain much characteristic of the ancient Tibetan script employed in the Tangut Empire. The Nationality Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Science and the St. Petersburg Institute of Oriental Studies concluded that in addition to the manuscripts from the
Ibid 12, p.133 Ibid 4, p. 35
Dunhuang Grottos, the discovery of the early Halahot Tibetan manuscripts added significant contents to the research on the history of Tibet and Tibetan culture. As a characteristic creation of the Tibetan culture in Xixia, the use of butterfly binding-with transverse writing- in Tibetan manuscripts represents a unique feature, “neatly written, elegant script, carefully carved, tidy rows and using the broad space of the whole page.”19 The skilfulness and the degree of complexity reveals a maturity in the art of printing, which lead us to the conclusion that Tibetan woodblock printing had already existed long before the Tanguts begun to employ the system and that through them the mastery was developed in the Xixia Empire. Furthermore, Xixia created a decorative system for writing the alphabetic words on the basis of Tibetan culture (nowadays we can only see such patterns of decoration of the text in the manuscripts stored in the Russian library), which shows a dynamic cross-cultural interaction which led to the development of science and artistic techniques across clan borders.20 The Tibetan artistic elements found with predilection in the Halahot manuscripts, written during the Xixia period, consist of images with wheel designs which contain incantations used to pray to ward off calamities and send down blessings- both Tibetan and Sanskrit-, diagrams, Zodiac, animal symbolism, motifs which are woodblock- printed in the Derge Scripture Printery until nowadays.21 According to the Xixia fragments of illustrations of Buddhist texts found in Kharakhoto, published in the Innermost Asia,22 one could remark the Tibetan stylistic physiognomy features of the tantric images, of the bodhisattvas, monks and Buddhas.23 The woodcuts in Tibetan style published in the large collection of Xixia texts, the Tangut Tripitaka24, belong to both the Xixia kan and Yuan kan. The earlier Tibetan artistic illustrations consist of figures of bodhisattvas, Buddhas and monks with slim proportions of the body, triangular shapes on the arm bands and crown, round earrings and bear a subtle transformation of the figure features, from the Indian type to the Tibetan one. The unpublished Kharakhoto woodcuts kept at the Institute of Oriental Studies in St. Petersburg, appear to be stylistically linked with the Xixia kan period, and it is important to note that the arrangement of the figures and the style recall of the elegance of the Pala dynasty of northern India which could indicate further the close
A study of the earliest Tibetan woodcut copies, Translated by Zhang Xiaomei, Chima Information Centre, www.Tibet.cn 2007, p. 1 Ibid 18, p.3 21 Ibid 19 22 Ibid 4, p.35 23 Ibid 21 24 Ibid 21
association between Tibet and Xixia, and the presence of a particular Tibetan monastic school on Tangut ground.25 The Yuan engravings illustrated in the Tangut Tripitaka, show an eclectic aesthetic approach, a mingling of Daoist Chinese ornamental, secondary elements with the Tibetan elements which remain central: in the illustration of the Mahaprajnaparamita sutra26, the Buddha, his mandorla and throne are purely Tibetan, while the flower patterns on the robes and the mandorla and furthermore, the host of listeners to the Buddha’s teachings are purely Chinese. The Yuan prints, as Max Loehr remarks27, show a strong Tibetan influence and reports the findings of Ogawa Kanichi, who states in his work Daizokyo Seiritsu to hensen, that some of the prints were actually cut from blocks of the Xixiazang – a complete edition of Buddhist text in Xixia script completed in 1302- and have been later reconstructed and added new aesthetic elements. He further refers to Guanzhuba (Wylie: bKa’-‘gyur-pa) of Xixian origin but with Tibetan education, an artist in charge with the printing and later completion of Xixiazang with Tibetan esoteric elements. There is an astonishing variety of artistic quality design of spiritual beings or important teachers which held the Tibetan clothing and physiognomy features among the Xixia engravings, whether triangular in shape when abstracted and stylized in Pala representations, round shaped for the female divinities or square for the male bodhisattvas and Buddhas representations. Details of the jewellery, necklaces and other ornaments hanging over the forehead of a stone figure of Tara evidence the dominance of ‘lamaist style’.28 The Tibetan artistic vocabulary infused and represented a direct source of inspiration for the Xixian culture. Although the Tibetan artistic style is presumed to be extremely conservative and resumed to the imitation of a strict stylistic model, the Tangut artefacts of Tibetan origin, reveal that Tibetans begun to be permeated by new aesthetics especially in painting. The artistic interchange between the Xixia Kingdom and their Tibetan compatriots resulted evidently in “products of the technical ingenuity and the unerring aesthetic instincts and rich imaginations of the mostly unknown artists”.29
Ibid 4 , p.36 Alternatively, this name refers to the Large Sutra on the Perfection of Wisdom (Skt. Pancavimsatisahasrika-prajnaparamita-sutra) attributed to Nagarjuna Acharya, conventionally placed around 150–250 CE 27 Ibid 4, p 33 28 Ibid 4, p. 27 29 Himalayas, An Aesthetic Adventure, Prarapaditya Pal, with contributions by Amy Heller, Oskar von Hinuber and Gautama V. Vajracharya, The Art Institute of Chicago in association with the University of California Press and Mapin Publishing 2004, p.166
A study of the earliest Tibetan woodcut copies, Translated by Zhang Xiaomei, China Information Centre, www.Tibet.cn (2007) Amy Heller Tibetan Art, Jaca Book, Antique Collectors’ Club, (1999) Prarapaditya Pal, with contributions by Amy Heller, Oskar von Hinuber and Gautama V. Vajracharya, Himalayas, An Aesthetic Adventure,The Art Institute of Chicago in association with the University of California Press and Mapin Publishing (2004) Ann Heirman and Stephan Peter Bumbacher (Editors), The Spread of Buddhism, , Part 8, Vol. 16,Brill (2007) Ксения Борисовна Кепинг, The Black-headed and the Red-faced in Tangut Ingidenuous Texts, http://www.sx-ys.com Heather Stoddard, Early Sino-Tibetan Art, Orchid Press Thailand (2008) Ruth W Dunnell,The Great State of White and High, University of Hawaii Press (1996)
Nikolai Mikhailovich Prejevalsky, E. Delmar Morgan and Henry Yule Mongolia V1: The Tangut Country and The Solitudes Of Northern Tibet (1876) by (2009) Patricia Ann Berger, Terese Tse Bartholomew, James E. Bosson and Heather Stoddard Mongolia: The Legacy of Chinggis Khan by (1995) Vladimir Braginsky (Editor)Classical civilizations of South East Asia: an anthology of articles. Published in The Bulletin of Soas, University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies, Routledge (2002)