The earliest dated Nepali illuminated manuscript is a Prajnaparamita dedicated in the year A.D. 1015, now in the Cambridge University Library. Not only is the manuscript profusely illustrated with scenes from the life of the Buddha, but the miniatures are also identified with labels. A second manuscript of the same text copied in 1071 is now in the Asiatic Society Library, Calcutta, and is similarly illuminated with identified subjects.1 Why the pictures in these two books were labeled is not clear. Not only are these illustrations fascinating for aesthetic reasons, but they provide us with a topographical survey of important Buddhist pilgrimage centers in contemporary India and Nepal. Indeed, most of these Buddhist shrines would have otherwise remained unknown, and so the historical significance of these two manuscripts for later Buddhism in India cannot be overemphasized.
In general, compared to eastern India, Nepal not only provides us with a much richer thematic repertoire of manuscript illuminations, but since Buddhism has remained a living faith in the country until the present, the tradition has survived well into the early twentieth century. Beginning as early as the twelfth century paper as well as palm leaf bacame a popular medium. The Nepalis were also particularly fond of painting their wood covers with a variety of subjects. Moreover, Nepal has preserved an enormous volume of artists’ sketchbooks and model books,which are of immense art-historical importance not only for the history of the visual arts in that country but also for India.2 Indeed, the material for the study of manuscript illumination is so rich and varied that an entire book can be devoted to the subject. Only the briefest survey, therefore, will be attempted in this chapter.
Since palm leaf is not native to Nepal, one can presume that the tradition of writing books in this medium was introduced into the country from the Indian plains, probably during the Lichchhavi period (330-879/90). Surviving manuscripts date at least to the eighth-ninth century, and the scripts used in these early manuscripts are closer to the east rather than northwest Indian style of writing. No Kashmiri-style manuscript has yet been found in Nepal, although, as has already been discussed, Kashmiri pundits did visit the country. Thus, it is not farfetched to presume that the tradition of illuminating manuscripts may also have been derived from eastern India. Even if this was the case, already in the 1015 manuscript illuminations the Nepali artists reveal a distinctive style of painting that shows very little direct relation to contemporary or earlier Indian pictures.
Even a cursory comparison with the nearly contemporary east Indian manuscript illuminations (Pl. 4,figs. 10-11) clearly demonstrates that Nepali pictures are distinctly different (Pl. 20, figs. 31-32). No early Bihari manuscript is as richly illuminated as the Cambridge 1015 manuscript. Moreover, no east Indian manuscript provides us with identification labels as do both eleventh-century Nepali manuscripts. One wonders how the Nepali artists knew about the famous Indian shrines and whether they had visual models for their representations. From the large number of sketchbooks and priests’ manuals that have survived in Nepal from the fifteenth century and later and the fact that at least one earlier palm-leaf book of gestures is known (fig. 33), it is not unlikely that Nepali monks visiting India brought back similar sketchbooks in the earlier period. We now have at least two later instances of Nepali priests traveling to Tibet in the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries and returning with richly illustrated sketchbooks (figs. 44-45). Similarly, Nepali monks traveling to India in the tenth-eleventh century may also have returned with similar sketchbooks.
The fact that the early Prajnaparamita manuscripts in Nepal, too, include the eight conventional scenes of miracles clearly indicates a connection with eastern India. No eleventh-century east Indian Prajnaparamita manuscript, however, contains so many images of Buddhist deities. More over, the compositions in the 1015 illuminations are much more elaborate than those seen in the Bihari manuscripts. Similar elaboration is encountered only in twelfth- century Bengali illuminations. More specifically, the artist of the 1015 manuscript has often attempted to provide a landscape setting for his figures by adding architectural elements, trees and foliage, and very distinctly rendered rock formations. Once again, we have noted this proclivity in later Bengali manuscripts, but it must be pointed out that the Nepali motifs from nature are conceptualized in a manner totally different from those seen in Bengal. This is particularly evident in the shape of the rocks; in Nepal the rocks are an assemblage of multicolored cubes with almost paisley-shaped swaying tips, unlike the stiffer stavelike forms of the Bengali illuminations. Indeed, this conceptualization of the rocks is often encountered in earlier sculptural reliefs in Nepal and remained a stock motif well into the seventeenth century. In India the motif can be traced to murals in the fifth-century Buddhist caves at Ajanta in the Deccan. Partly because of this kinship, as well as the continuous, overlapping composition encountered in a unique Nepali cover depicting the Vessantara lataka (figs. 40-41], early scholars had emphasized the close relationship between the east Indian manuscript illuminations and the Ajanta murals.3 In many ways, these Nepali miniatures echo the pictorial traditions of Ajanta to a far greater degree than do those of contemporary east Indian illuminations. It should be noted, though, that the Nepali style is probably a continuation of the earlier indigenous manner of the Lichchhavi period, which, in its turn, must have been closely related to the Gupta style as seen in Ajanta and other sites.
Elaborate compositions are not the only feature that distinguishes these lively miniatures in the 1015 manuscript. The draftsmanship is also unusual both in its clipped and perfunctory quality and expressiveness. By contrast, in most Nepali miniatures, whether in the 1071 manuscript (Pl. 21) or the Metropolitan covers (figs. 7-9) the outline is drawn with greater assurance and certitude. Generally, in early Nepali miniatures the figures are elegantly proportioned, with soft, rounded forms that derive their plasticity mostly from the articulate linear definition. In the 1015 illuminations, however, because of the more freehand drawing the figures are not as well proportioned nor as fully modeled, as is clear from the figure of Maya, whose breasts are simple circles lacking volume (fig. 31) It is because of such peculiarities, which are more characteristic of Nepali painting after the fourteenth century, that I had raised the issue of whether the miniatures were not later additions. This, however, seems unlikely because while adding a second colophon in 1139 the writer has written over the paint of the miniatures on the last page.4 Thus, the illuminations could not have been added after 1139. We must, therefore, conclude that the miniaturist responsible for these lively, though somewhat crudely drawn illuminations, was a highly individualistic artist. The contemporaneity of the illuminations with the date of the manuscript compels us to conclude that the illuminator of this book was not an accomplished draftsman but an imaginative artist. He had a strong penchant for enriching his compositions with architectural and landscape elements and was not much concerned with creating the illusion of depth. Occasionally, he resorted to modeling with touches of color shading but not too successfully. By and large, he achieved his effect through animated compositions filled with architectural and natural motifs rendered with a decorative flair and variegated, but somewhat patchy colors. Although not as gracefully proportioned as most other figures in Nepali illuminations of this period, the figures are placed in the composition in a way that reveals the artist’s originality. Within the tradition-bound mode of representing figures en face, he has varied their postures imaginatively and organized his compositions with much diversity. Apart from the miniatures, the narrow panels around the string holes are adorned with a single motif—the thunderbolt; and here again, by slightly varying the design of the implement or by diversifying their colors, the artist has demonstrated his inventive flair.
By contrast, the pictures in the Asiatic Society’s Prajna- pciramita manuscript of 1071 introduce us to the more conventional and refined examples of early Nepali illuminations (figs. 34-35). The compositions are generally simpler, without the strong emphasis on architecture or landscape elements. Where rocks are included, they are more controlled and added to the background in such a manner as to create the impression of a cave and thereby impart a feeling of depth (Pl. 21). The rock forms are shaped with less exuberance and yet are painted whimsically with variegated hues. Although seldom included, trees are rendered with greater naturalism. The slim figures are more elegantly proportioned, and the outlines are carefully drawn. Although the style is considerably more linear than contemporary Bihari illuminations and not as two-dimensional as the Bengali pictures, the Nepali artists achieved a certain plasticity by clearly defining their outlines in red or black, strongly contrasted with the background colors. The color tonality is quite different from that encountered in contemporary east Indian paintings. While the Bengali miniatures are painted in thin, flat washes, in the Bihari and Nepali pictures the colors are both richer and warmer. Nevertheless, whereas the Bihari artists preferred to use brighter hues, the Nepali artists employed a more mellow, though equally intense, tonality. For instance, the red in the Bihari illuminations is more like vermilion, while in Nepali miniatures it has a crimson or burgundy tinge. Both the yellows and greens are softer in the Nepali illuminations, but generally a similar palette with primary colors, expanded with subtle shades of blue, purple, and green, remained standard in both regions. Neither gold nor silver was used in the miniatures, although sometimes the Nepali scribes—no doubt influenced by their Tibetan counterparts—wrote with gold and silver letters on indigo or black paper.
These two Prajnaparamita manuscripts, illuminated in two very distinct manners, are the only securely dated examples of eleventh-century paintings from Nepal. The Metropolitan book covers discussed in the previous chapter may have been painted in the late tenth century or in the early eleventh century. A pair of richly adorned covers with scenes from the life of the Buddha, now at Los Angeles (Pl. 22, fig.36). was first published by Tucci and is said to belong to a manuscript of the Prajnaparamita dated in the year 1054.5 Similarly, another pair of covers in the Neotia collection in Calcutta belonged to a Prajnaparamita manuscript, dedicated in 1028 (fig. 37).6 Unfortunately, since the manuscripts themselves are not illustrated, it is difficult to establish whether the covers were made at the same time. For instance, the covers of the 1028 manuscript do not reveal any stylistic similarity with the illuminations in the Cambridge manuscript of 1015 but are related to the covers of this early manuscript, which are
generally considered to be later. Because the tradition was extremely conservative and the covers offer no paleographical evidence, they are not easy to date. Indeed, how conservative the tradition was becomes clear from a comparison of the eleventh-century illuminations with those in a dated fifteenth-century manuscript in the Ashutosh Museum, Calcutta.7 If this manuscript was not dated, one would have hardly accepted so late a date for its pictures. In any event, the paintings on the covers of the 1028 Prajnaparamita manuscript are of superb quality, rendered in the same style as the Metropolitan cover and manuscript. After a comparison with these examples, as well as with illuminations in a manuscript dedicated in 1100,8 one cannot deny the possibility that the covers may have been contemporary. They may also, however, have been made a century later.
The case of the Los Angeles covers, belonging to a manuscript copied in 1054, is somewhat more complicated. Both in style and subject matter, it appears to be as unusual as the 1015 manuscript. Generally, early Nepali covers of the Prajnaparamita are painted with a scene describing Buddha’s enlightenment, with the seated Buddha and bodhisattva figures and tableau with a preaching Prajnaparamita accompanied by other Paramita goddesses. This enlightenment scene is usually shown in an elaborate composition, one of the most detailed and ambitious being that on a cover in the Swali collection in Bombay (fig. 38). The exceptions are the Metropolitan and Los Angeles covers. Since four of the eight miracles are accommodated in the solitary Metropolitan cover, one can assume that the other four events were portrayed in the second cover. In the Los Angeles covers, however, the artist has added a ninth incident: the serpent Muchalinda’s protection of the Buddha. Moreover, the events are not presented in their chronological order, and there are several iconographic peculiarities not seen elsewhere.
The Metropolitan covers (figs. 7-9) are painted in the classic Nepali style, while the Los Angeles covers reveal a very individual expression, more reminiscent of the free and vivacious renderings of the 1015 manuscript. The loose definition of the rather enlongated figures, the bold, thick, and dark lines added to the edges of the Buddha’s garments and selectively on other garments, and the impressionistic rendering of details are some of the distinguishing features of these illuminations. Noteworthy, also, are the intertwined, twisted tree trunks, yet another example of the illuminator’s whimsy. A few compositions also reveal the artist’s attempt to enliven the expressiveness of the scenes by adding subtle psychological nuances, as in the poignant occasion of the monkey’s generosity, the disarray of the heretics atSravasti, and the final drama of mourners in the Mahaparinirvana scene. Thus, both for iconographical novelty and spontaneous expression, these two book covers remain among the most original examples of Nepali illumination. In view of a similarly lively and naive manner having been encountered in the 1015 manuscript, there is nothing intrinsically improbable about these covers being illuminated some forty years later.
Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries
A large amount of Nepali illuminated manuscripts have survived from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. While the Prajnaparamita and the Pancharaksha remained the two most popular books to have been copied and illuminated, Nepali illuminators appear to have been far more enterprising than their Indian counterparts. Not only did they illustrate a wider variety of texts, but they also adopted the use- of paper as early as the twelfth century. Presumably, they learned the techniques of paper making from the Tibetans. Due to the conservative nature of the tradition, however, paper books continued to be shaped like palm-leaf manuscripts. The principal differences are the slightly larger size of the paper folios and their blue-black color. This, again, is characteristic of Tibetan manuscripts. Usually the text was written in white or pale yellow, although sometimes both gold and silver were used.
Among the early Prajnaparamita manuscripts one, dedicated 114& and now in the Cambridge University Library, departs from the normal practice and is illuminated with only four compositions (fig. 39). Three of these depict an enthroned bodhisattva preaching the doctrine to a congregation formed by two or three figures. The panels are slightly larger than the average compositions and, in the example illustrated here, we see a bodhisattva seated in three-quarter profile preaching to a royal couple seated below a banana tree. A book, presumably the Prajnaparamita, is placed on a stand in the middle of the composition. What is curious is that the backrest of the throne is simply cut in half to indicate that it should be viewed partially since the bodhisattva is turned toward his audience. This seems to be a peculiarity of Nepali painting and will be frequently encountered in other such representations.
Among the finest of the early Pancharaksha manuscripts is that in the Binney collection and dated in 1138 (Pl. 23). As is the practice with the Pancharaksha, the beginning of each of the five charms is illuminated with a representation of the goddess who is the personification of the charm. The edges are decorated with narrow bands of geometric designs; the area around the string holes, however, is unadorned. Although the Nepali illuminators at times added as many as three compositions to a page, rarely did they devote as much effort and energy to decorating the margins as did their Indian counterparts. The covers accompanying this manuscript are adorned with very beautiful representations of Prajnaparamita along with the six Paramita goddesses on one and five transcendental Buddhas with two bodhisattvas on the other. Clearly, the covers do not belong to the manuscript. Stylistically, however, they are probably contemporary. The figures are rendered in what may be characterized as the classical Nepali style with a clarity of details and expression, sure and elegant outlines, and subtle, yet warm tonality. Especially engaging are the kneeling mortals at the ends, and the various lamps and ritual objects placed between the divine figures on both covers.
A more unusual illuminated manuscript of the Pancharaksha is now divided between the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and a private collection (Pl. 24). This is a paper manuscript, and the pale yellow writing on the black pages is badly faded. Although some miniatures are damaged, others are well preserved as are the colors. While the height of the pages is only slightly larger than an average palm leaf, each central panel is at least twice as wide, making these the largest compositions among early book illuminations. The subjects represented are the five Pancharaksha goddesses and the five transcendental Buddhas. Each composition is framed by a wide border containing the string holes and adorned with floral designs or the auspicious pair of fish. What makes these representations so unusual, however. are not only their larger size but the addition of side figures. Each Buddha is accompanied by two bodhisattvas who sit elegantly and look up in admiration at the Buddha. In the representation of the goddesses a kneeling noble figure adores her on one side and a demon shies away from her divine presence on the other. Depending upon the powers of the goddess, this demon represents either a disease or an evil influence. Each composition is further enriched with trees and flowers.
Unlike their Indian counterparts, the Nepali illuminators reveal a much stronger inclination to render narrative themes, some of which illustrate the text. One of the most exciting examples of such narrative paintings of the early period is a frequently published isolated cover now in the National Museum, New Delhi (figs. 40-41). Not only does it represent an unusual theme, but the style of depiction clearly continues the tradition of narrative painting seen in the much earlier murals in the Ajanta cave temples. The subject of the cover is the Vessantara lataka, one of the most famous stories of the Buddha’s previous lives. It has remained popular with the Buddhists in most Asian countries (see Chapter 5), and, to my knowledge, this is the only known representation of the subject in early manuscipt illuminations from South Asia.
The story goes that in a previous life the Buddha was born as the generous King Vessantara who brought much misfortune upon himself and his kingdom by giving away an auspicious white elephant. This generous act resulted in a drought, which led to his banishment by his subjects. Even in exile he remained his usual generous self, although his children were kidnapped by the machinations of a wicked brahmin. Ultimately, however, the family was reunited, and Vessantara regained his kingdom.
In the lively and continuous narration on the cover, Vessantara is first seen giving away his elephant. Then the family leaves the palace in a chariot pulled by horses. In the next scene they meet the wicked brahmin and continue their journey in a chariot drawn by deer. The scenes are divided in a subtle manner by a segment of a door and by discreetly placed rock formations. Indeed, the blue-gray and yellow rocks contribute much to the liveliness of the representations, while once again a Nepali artist reveals his deftness in drawing the elephant; he was, however, less confident with the forms of the horse and deer. The two brahmins are fine characterizations, the second figure made more ominous by his darker complexion.
In addition to the wavering rocky crests, the delicately swaying figures contribute much to the animation of the compositions. The representation of the gift of the elephant is particularly endearing, the poignancy of the occasion expressed subtly by the turn of the animal’s head and the gentle manner in which Vessantara holds the trunk. Although no new hues are introduced, the grays, greens, whites, and yellows of the rocks, animals, and figures make the background red less overwhelming. Both for the unusual subject matter and expressive style, this illustration of the Vessantara Jataka remains among the finest examples of early Nepali painting.
No less engaging are the smaller, less complicated, but equally lively miniatures in a Gandavyuha manuscript, now dispersed among various American collections. The Gandavyuha is one of the principal philosophical texts of Mahayana Buddhism and was more popular in East rather than South Asia. It expounds the Mahayana philosophy of compassion and insight through the peregrinations of a young man called Sudhana. He travels from one region to another and after listening to discourses from various divine and mortal teachers finally finds enlightenment from Bodhisattva Samantabhadra.
Some pages contain a single illustration.and in others there are three panels (Pl. 25, fig. 42). The scenes relate directly to the text on those pages, although represented in a rather sparse and synoptic manner. Each panel has one or two figures, rarely more than three. Trees and rocks are used economically so that the importance of the figures are never obscured, as in the Vessantara cover. In those rare instances where animals and birds are included, the representations are both lively and naturalistic.
Although the background is generally a flat red or blue, on occasion it is enlivened with tiny white dots, creating a pointillist effect. This effect has been encountered in eleventh- century illuminations and may have been the hallmark of a particular workshop. Occasionally, small, slanting lines are added, very likely to indicate rain. Whether the background is monochromatic or filled with dots, the graceful figures achieve a remarkable sense of buoyancy. While occasionally a figure is modeled with tonal color variations generally the forms are given strong relief simply by the firmly and crisply drawn outlines. Unquestionably, these charming illuminations are stylistically akin to the Vessantara Jataka representations and may have been rendered in the same workshop. Because of the austere compositions and clarity of expression, however, these delightful miniatures achieve a lyricism rarely encountered in other early Nepali manuscript illuminations.
That this early style remained vigorous with almost no change well into the thirteenth century is evident from a number of surviving illuminated manuscripts. From the year 1207 comes two covers of a Prajnaparamita manuscript, now in the Pritzker collection, that are painted on the inside and encased in richly gilded repousse panels (Pl. 26). Although the manuscript itself is not illuminated, that the covers are contemporary seems evident by comparing other securely dated illuminations. Stylistically, the pictures are closely related to the contemporary miniatures in the paper Pancharaksha manuscript already discussed (Pl. 24). Indeed, so similar are the compositions, coloring, and modeling that they may have been rendered in the same atelier. The panels in these covers are characterized by richly detailed, elaborate thrones on which the Buddha, Prajnaparamita, and the various bodhisattvas sit, and the palette is somewhat more varied with the addition of a rich purple; otherwise, the illuminations are remarkably similar.
The fine quality of the paintings notwithstanding, the Pritzker covers are perhaps even more interesting because of the repousse encasings. No Indian book cover has yet been found that is wrapped in gilt-metal encasing. The practice probably originated in Nepal, where the Newars have always been fond of and deft with repousse metalwork from very early times. These two covers probably represent the earliest examples of such adorned metal encasings for books, and, as they can be securely dated, they are of special significance for the history of Nepali sculpture as well.
Within a beaded border three nimbated, divine images— Buddhas on one and goddesses on the other—adorn each encasing. The central Buddha and Prajnaparamita are flanked by two makaras (mythical aquatic creatures) whose foliate tails form exquisitely flamboyant scrolls. The two other figures on each encasing are also flanked by identical tails without the forepart of the makara. Such elaborately ornate metal encasings probably served as the models for the richly carved wood covers of Tibetan books.
Also from the thirteenth century are three isolated folios from a Prajnaparamita manuscript in the Walter collection (fig. 43). Here, again, we encounter an unusual departure from convention. In the topmost illustration the Buddha preaches before an assembly of bodhisattvas as described in the text. The illustration in the middle page is also an original composition with a lady languidly seated with her legs outstretched on a rocky platform against a tree whose branch she holds with her right hand. Behind her stands a female, while in front of her is an ascetic with his hands clasped in the gesture of offering. Very likely, the reclining lady represents Maya, the Buddha’s mother, and the lady behind is her sister, Mahaprajapati. Perhaps the scene depicts the moments before the birth when Maya may have rested below the tree. Or, it may represent the occasion when the gods and sages came to see the newborn and adore the mother. If, indeed, this is related to the nativity scene, then this is unquestionably an unusual instance of an illuminator taking liberty with the conventional mode of representing the occasion. Possibly, the actual birth was shown on another leaf. Noteworthy is the representation of the rocky platform, clearly illustrating the artist’s knowledge of perspective. Encountered first on the Los Angeles cover (Pl. 22, fig. 36), this artifice is also used by other Nepali artists in some fourteenth-century miniatures.
Subtle stylistic changes are perceptible in five representations of the Pancharaksha goddesses in a manuscript dedicated in the ninth decade of the thirteenth century and now in the Singer collection (Pl. 27). Although the outlines are drawn firmly, the modeling has become more perfunctory and the figures are less sensuous and elegant. The breasts are more summarily rendered, without the fleshy swell of earlier miniatures. The faces are rounder, broader, and more clearly recognizable as Nepali. Indeed, contemporary Nepali sculpture as well begins to assume a more distinct ethnic stamp by the fourteenth century. Details of garments and ornaments are not as carefully rendered nor are such late thirteenth-century miniatures as lively and sophisticated as are the earlier examples.
Fourteenth through Nineteenth Centuries
Although Nepali Buddhists continued to copy and illuminate manuscripts from the fourteenth through the nineteenth centuries, they appear to have done so less zealously than their forebears. In fact, they seem to have placed greater emphasis upon religious paintings on cloth called paubhas than on illuminated manuscripts. Certainly, more paintings from these centuries have survived than illuminated manuscripts. While most scholars have stressed the importance of the earlier manuscript illuminations, postfourteenth-century renderings have received less attention. A search through the many depositories of such material may well yield a rich harvest.
A paper manuscript of the Prajnaparamita, now in the Indian Museum, Calcutta, and dedicated in the year 1367, remains unique in the history of illustrated books in Nepal (pis. 28-29). No representations of the eight great miracles are included in this manuscript, and even the goddess Prajnaparamita is not portrayed by herself, as was customary in earlier manuscripts and on covers. Instead, the only two deities included are Jambhala, or Kubera, god of wealth, and Mahakala, a tantric protector deity. All other miniatures in this manuscript depict a wide variety of scenes of the Buddha preaching the text, symbolized by a floating image of Prajnaparamita between the Buddha and his audience.
Although certain basic compositional formulae have been employed, the artist has conscientiously attempted to add variety. In some miniatures the Buddha is seated en face on a throne below a tree; in others he is depicted in three-quarter profile facing his audience, in still others he is seated within a shrine that has been sliced in half in the characteristic Nepali manner; in one miniature a walking Buddha is approached by a group of devout females. In another composition females are included among the audience along with monks, bodhisattvas, and gods. Indra can easily be recognized in one composition because of his distinctive crown. Interestingly, some monks wear red garments, but others wear brown robes. Buddha, himself, wears red robes with one exception—when he stands and receives homage from the ladies. It is not clear why two different colored robes are used unless the brown- robed monks are meant to represent Tibetans. Invariably, the females are decorously draped with their heads and bodies covered with a shawl.
Because of the larger size of the paper pages, the miniatures are slightly larger than the average composition in a palm-leaf folio, but curiously the figures within each composition are rather small. Unlike the richer and busier scenes of Buddha or Prajnaparamita preaching on earlier covers (fig. 38) with large groups of overlapping figures, fewer figures are accommodated here within a given composition and are neatly arranged in two or more schematic rows above one another. Nevertheless, they sit, kneel, or stand in a variety of postures that enhance the visual appeal of the compositions. The aesthetic effect is, therefore, achieved through simple, graphic arrangements of the figures on a single plane. The background alternates between the ubiquitous red or blue, or a combination of both, while the Buddha is frequently provided with a blue aureole with white high lights that set off his red-robed, orange-brown figure. Various shades of blue, yellow, brown, green, and white are employed for the complexion of the figures, which thereby attain clear relief against the monochromatic red or blue. The blue background is usually filled with floral specks but not the red.
Thus, while the illuminator of this unique Prajnaparamita manuscript worked within the limitations of his inherited tradition, it must be admitted that he was an imaginative and resourceful artist. Whether he was responsible for the radical deviation from established norms for illuminating Prajnaparamita manuscripts cannot be ascertained. It is more likely that he was advised by a monk, unless, of course, he was himself a monk. In any event, there is no way to know why the eight miracles were eliminated in favor of themes illustrating the text, although this was done in one or two earlier instances in a very limited fashion. One also can only surmise that the god of wealth, Jambhala, was included because the Nepali donors donated their manuscripts both for spiritual and material benefit. As to the image of Mahakala, perhaps he was the tutelary divinity of the family. Whatever the reasons, in terms of the themes and style of these illustrations, this remains the finest fourteenth-century illuminated manuscript to have survived from Nepal and an art-historical document of unique significance.
Curiously, the fifteenth century does not seem to be well represented with illuminated manuscripts. Some of the earliest surviving artists’ sketchbooks, however, belong to this century and are relevant to our study. These books containing artists’ models, as well as illustrated manuals for priests, were produced in abundance in Nepal between the fifteenth and early twentieth century. One of the most fascinating is now in the Neotia collection, Calcutta, and has been discussed at length elsewhere.9 Most such folding books have leaves that are attached to one another lengthwise along the edge. The paper is locally made, and rarely are the pages more than eight inches wide and five inches high. It is not known where such a format originated, but it is also found in Southeast Asia, especially Thailand. No early books of this format have yet been found in India, but their appearance in Nepal and Thailand would indicate a common source. Although paper was probably introduced into Nepal from Tibet, the Tibetans did not use the folding book. Very likely, the source was China, where the script was written vertically, and the sheets may have been glued together to form a sort of hanging scroll. Palm leaves are still glued or tied together in Orissa for the painting of large images, and the practice may be much older than present evidence indicates. Most sketches and drawings in the Nepali books are drawn in red or black ink, and some are sparsely colored. Seldom is a book given over completely to drawings. Most contain some textual material that is not always related to the drawings. The texts often consist of litanies, rituals, eulogies, and devotional poems as well as astrological and iconographical information.
The Neotia manuscript was apparently the property of a Newari named livarama, who went to Tibet in 1435 and either prepared the book himself or was assisted by local Tibetans. In any event, the book is copiously illustrated with monographic drawings of very fine quality (fig. 44). Included are representations of the mahasiddhas and arhats, divine guardians of the directions, various decorative designs, architectural elements, and furnishings that are frequently used in Tibetan paintings as well as wonderfully expressive faces of Tibetan monks and saints. If livarama himself drew these figures, he must be regarded as an unusually talented and perceptive draftsman. Although these sketches were meant to serve as the artists’ working notes, they were, nevertheless, carefully rendered with great attention to detail. Not only was the artist extraordinarily deft in rendering floral and architectural designs, but his skill for drawing human figures, especially physiognomy, remains unsurpassed in the history of Nepali painting. With a few bold strokes he has created remarkably expressive personalities who seem to be modeled from life even if they are legendary figures. There is no doubt that here we are encountering the work of a highly individual artist.
Equally perceptive and vivacious are some sketches that occur on a few surviving pages of what must have been another exciting fifteenth-century artist’s sketchbook (Pl. 30). A few sketches are lightly colored, but, once again, the unknown artist was a master draftsman, no less talented than Jivarama. Indeed, one of the heads with scraggy beard and bulging eyes is rendered remarkably like the expressive studies of heads and faces in Jivarama’s manuscript, and both sketchbooks may have belonged to the same artist. Although the manuscript contains no date, it can be firmly attributed by comparing it with Jlvarama’s book or other dated Napali paintings of the early fifteenth century. The various studies of the heads of Samvara and his spouse demonstrate a stylistic break with the past. These faces now represent a distinct ethnic type and can be clearly recognized as Newari.
Among the rare illuminated covers of the fifteenth century are two that once belonged to a Pancharaksha manuscript now in New York (Pl. 31). The five goddesses are depicted on one of the covers, and five crowned Buddhas on the other, each set off by a red oval aureole. More interesting, however, is the delicately painted scrollwork in green that fills the space between the figures. In its finesse and flamboyance this scrollwork is of the same high quality encountered in similarly drawn embellishments in fivarama’s manuscript. Noteworthy, however, is how flat the figures have become, revealing little of the sensuous elegance and plasticity of the early manuscript illuminations.
The covers of a Prajnaparamita manuscript in the Royal Library, Copenhagen, copied in the year 1511 (fig. 46), introduce a new style of painting, which may have originated in Bhaktapur, a predominantly Hindu town. Most of the manuscript illuminations, rendered in this vivacious style, are of Hindu subjects; a few Buddhist texts were also illustrated in this style. The Copenhagen covers are illustrated with scenes from the life of the Buddha, which include the eight great miracles as well as other incidents. In the sections illustrated here we see the young Buddha cutting off his hair, followed by the scene of enlightenment and acceptance of rice cooked by Sujata, a cowherdess. The scenes telescope into each other, as in the much earlier Vessantara Jataka representation (fig. 41), and are separated by tall, columnar trees with decorative leafy canopies.The freely drawn figures are unnaturally slim and tall. The faces are quite distinct with strong, prominent noses and pointed, pinched chins. By the end of the century the style became even more florid and exuberant with the addition of floral scroll as the background design. While the figures in the Copenhagen covers are delineated against a monochromatic background to achieve a strong relief, in another manuscript cover, painted probably toward the end of the century, the entire background is filled with a subtle lacelike design (Pl. 33). In addition, a curtain motif is introduced along the top with textile pendants separating the figures.
Iconographically, the images represented on this cover are interesting. The central Buddha is flanked immediately by Padmapani and Vajrapani, each holding a fly whisk. Behind them sit two multiheaded, multiarmed deities wearing tight- fitting jackets, pouring water over a little stupa. Neither the identity nor the significance of this act is known, but its presence demonstrates that the thematic repertoire of illuminators working between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries continued to vary. The Copenhagen Prajnaparamita covers are among the earliest book covers of this particular text that reveal an expanded thematic repertoire.
In 1536 a palm-leaf manuscript of the Lalitavistara, liberally illustrated with small panels in the rather florid style of the period (fig. 47), was commissioned by the ruler of Dolakha, a principality of Bhaktapur. While the rendering is not as accomplished as the Copenhagen covers, the book probably contains the most detailed representations of the life of the Buddha encountered so far in South Asian manuscripts. In the two illustrations reproduced here we see the young Buddha with his wife in the palace and then departing on his horse, Kanthaka, led by his devout groom. In their graphic quality and compositional brevity the representations are like modern comic strips. Earlier visual devices, such as slicing the buildings in half, are continued, and the foreground in each panel is delineated as a lotus platform so that the viewer is constantly reminded of the divine character of the story.
The Pancharaksha continued to enjoy popularity with the Buddists in Nepal. Some of the finest illuminated manuscripts are from the seventeenth century, some illuminated sumptuously with golden figures. In several (Pl. 32) the writing, too, reflects an aesthetic emphasis unusual for Nepali or, for that matter, Indian manuscripts. While the scribes were expected to write in firm, clear, and legible letters, the Buddhists in South Asia did not emphasize the aesthetics of calligraphy as did the Chinese and Japanese Buddhists; nor did they preoccupy themselves with decorative lettering and ornamenting initials or rubrics as did their counterparts in medieval Europe. While the lettering in Indian and Nepali books reflects a wide variety, and the finer examples are often aesthetically appealing, by and large the scribes were concerned in providing the reader with clear, solemn, and austere writing. Occasionally, attempts were made at ornamental writing, as is evident from the Siddhamatrika and Ranjana scripts in early manuscripts, but the results are modest compared to the achievements of European book illuminations.
Because of the restraint displayed by the Indian and Nepali scribes, a Pancharaksha manuscript such as the one under discussion gains prominence not only for the illustrations but also for the beauty of the script. The script is written with aesthetic effect, and the beginning of each chapter is made prominent with bolder and larger letters that are almost painted rather than drawn. The yellow letters achieve a golden sheen against the black paper. Very likely such ornamental lettering was adopted by scribes familiar with Tibetan manuscripts where much emphasis was placed upon the colophon pages [see Chapter 4).
In stylistic and thematic variety some of the most sumptuously painted book covers were produced in eighteenth-century Nepal. Once again, due to Tibetan influence, by the seventeenth century the Nepali Buddhists began making their pages considerably larger, increasing the height to about fifteen centimeters or more. This enlargement resulted in not only larger manuscript illuminations, but also in larger compositions on the covers. While some were filled with conventional images of deities, although within richly decorated shrines (figs. 48-49), others were adorned with a variety of subjects—often enriched with plush vegetation. These pictures with landscapes reveal new styles of painting.
Sometime around the midseventeenth century the Nepali artists became aware of the Mughal-Rajput painting styles. Not only did they borrow Indian figural forms and attire but also the compositional modes and pictorial devices employed in Indian paintings, such as the placement of figures in landscape settings. They were less ardent than the Mughal artists in experimenting with the third dimension or with light and shade and continued to depict the narrative scenes in continuous, overlapping compositions (figs. 48-50). They did, however, adopt from Indian paintings the representation of figures in a topographical setting. There is also greater expressiveness and interaction among the figures in a given narrative, and the palette, too, became richer with a greater variety of shades. Although red continued to predominate, in landscape scenes the background is often variegated with green and blue as well as with rocks and grassy knolls. Once more, the facility with which artists adopted the Mughal-Rajput aesthetic conventions to represent religious, specifically, Buddhist, subjects demonstrates that religious differences had little or no effect upon the use of a given style of art.
India was not the only source for the Nepali artists of this period. For centuries Newari artists were much sought after in Tibet, both for painting and metalwork. Not only did a large number of Newari artists'work for the important monasteries in southern and central Tibet, especially of the Sakyapa religious order, but there was also a great demand among Tibetans visiting the Kathmandu Valley for religious artifacts. This is clearly evident, not only from the fact that much Nepali art may be seen in Tibetan monasteries, but also from surviving sketchbooks ^uch as that prepared by Jivarama in 1435 and another by Srimantadeva in 1653 (figs. 44-45). Both books were prepared in Lhasa and brought back to Napal. Interestingly, the subject matter and motifs sketched in these and several other books are rarely encountered in Nepali paintings. Clearly, therefore, they served as models for paintings intended for export to Tibet. In any event, what is rather surprising is that only from the seventeenth century did Newari artists begin to borrow stylistic elements and artistic devices from Tibetan paintings. Thus, the manuscript illuminations produced during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries frequently show an admixture of the Indian and Tibetan styles.
How this new syncretic style affected the tradition may best be seen from ‘a number of eighteenth-century covers. Two covers of an unknown manuscript in the Binney collection are filled from end to end with densely packed compositions depicting the life of the Buddha in considerable detail. After his enlightenment (fig. 50), only three scenes are shown, including his death. Along the bottom the scenes are identified with Newari inscriptions, and throughout the Buddha is addressed as the bodhisattva. Trees, buildings, and snow-capped mountains are generously used as topographical and decorative devices. Curiously, even when the prince leaves his palace on his horse, he is dressed as a monk, while in the last composition his death is depicted in a palace rather than a forest.
Rather unusual, both for their subject matter and style, are two pairs of covers of an unknown manuscript (figs. 48-49}. Nine goddesses are depicted on two of the covers. The seven seated goddesses include Ushnishavijaya, Prajnaparamita, and Tara. The two militant and ferocious goddesses at the end stand on corpses and probably represent two forms of Ug- ratara. The manuscript may have contained dharanis, or charms, of these deities. In contrast to the hieratic presentation of these goddesses, either in their individual shrines or in open landscape, the second pair of covers depict what appears to be a visit by monks and lay worshipers to shrines in the country. From the right several males attired in Rajput costume are about to cross a river. Some carry offerings as two males and a female watch from the roof of a mansion. Four females, apparently apsaras or nagini, face in the direction of the shrine. In the middle of the cover is a temple of typically Nepali design within which is a seated Buddha. Angels and monks adore the Buddha image. Beyond, another Buddha meditates on the back of a lion in an open shrine distinguished by Chinese-style clouds above. Both lay devotees and monks are either worshiping the image or approaching it with bowls. Wearing brightly colored dresses or robes in yellow, orange, or red, the figures stand out against the green hilly background and blue sky. White herons are perched on two trees, while winged angels float on mauve clouds. What is noteworthy about these two pairs of covers is how the artists have given us two quite different versions of the same subjects, although both are equally graphic and lively.
A somewhat more pictorial composition characterizes a solitary cover of about the same date depicting the famous shrine of Svayambhunath in the Kathmandu Valley (Pl. 33) Very likely the cover once belonged to a manuscript of the Svavambhupurana, a Nepali Buddhist text glorifying the shrine. Once again the artist was not interested in providing a naturalistic representation of the hill, but he was quite observant in delineating the eminent structures at the holy spot. The wooded hill is an assemblage of smaller mounds painted in shades of green and red with stylized trees in variegated colors. An adult male sits alone with a standing youth on the left, while a female and child are seated in adoration on the right. The artist completely disregards relative scale. The background is painted with a red mountain with white peaks rising into the blue sky. The sun and the moon, as well as four angels, complete the aerial iconography.
On two other covers of an unknown manuscript (Pl. 34), against a hilly background, a Buddha walks in procession on one and preaches to a congregation on another. The same gods who lead the Buddha in procession also form his audience. Curiously, the Buddha stands on a snake while Indra bears a parasol behind him. This Buddha is generally identified with Dipankara, a past Buddha who had once predicted that a man called Sumedha would become Buddha Sakyamuni in a future life.. Why he is carried on a serpent is not clear. In any event, this particular depiction seems to have been conceived in Nepal. Interestingly, some deities in the procession such as Indra, Brahma, and Vishnu, are dressed in Rajput attiie. In the other cover only the mortal members of the audience on the far right are similarly dressed.
These few instances clearly demonstrate how after the seventeenth century the illuminators in Nepal not only adopted new styles of representation but were also more enterprising than their predecessors in adding to their thematic repertoire. How different are two circa 1800 covers, probably of a Prajnaparamita manuscript (Pl. 35). The six goddesses are seated in relaxed postures in what appears to be a beautifully landscaped garden. The flowering plants and formal rock arrangements make the scenes engagingly decorative. Such deviations seem to have been permitted mostly on book covers; in the manuscript itself, conservatism prevailed. The same gods and goddesses who adorned eleventh-century books continued to grace those produced in the nineteenth century; only because of stylistic changes, they appeared in new guises.
All Nepali book covers known to date were made of wood, although it is possible that other materials were also used. Encasing the covers with gilt copper was not an uncommon practice in the country, but no ivory book covers have yet been found. There is, however, a pair of metal book covers, now in the Babbe collection, Los Angeles, that are rather interesting (figs. 51-52) Unlike those on repousse metal encasings, the images here are etched on the inner surfaces of the two covers, as was the practice in Sri Lanka (figs. 74-75). The subject matter of these two unusual covers is also fascinating. On each cover are represented four cremation grounds, each presided over by a divine regent of the directions. Each cremation ground is separated from the next by a stream and is rendered according to a stock formula. Each presiding deity is seated on his animal or human mount, and each cremation ground includes a tree, animal, fire, linga, stupa, and ascetic or mahasiddha. The emblems, such as the trident and skull cup, vary in each as do the approaching animals. Rendered in the characteristically topographical style encountered in seventeenth-eighteenth-century Nepali religious paintings, these etched representations are quite lively and entertaining. Etching was not a popular art form in Nepal, and these covers are the only known examples.