Tibetan buddhist Temple
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Tibetan Buddhist Art furniture & Antiques from the monasteries of the Ser Shong (Golden Valley)
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C005 Altar Table
Baronet 4 Tibet, Art Galleries, Dealers & Consultants, Vancouver, WA
painted tibetan buddhist altar painted tibetan buddhist altar painted tibetan buddhist altar
front
left side
right side

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C005 is one of the earliest altars with drawers and the earliest with the zigzag kyungbur on the frame. It is also my favorite old altar, very exceptional condition regarding the clarity of the painting. The front door pull is cracked at the top, this has been glued. The pulls of the drawers are wood clad in gold. The sides display symbols that are from the Hindu tradition, which is common on the sides of these very early altars. My favorite on this piece are the mongoose on the front doors. It is a very clean piece, with very little color-loss.   The hinges of the doors are wood-pegs in the doors that fit into a hole in the underside of the top & slide into a groove on the frame rail above the base rail. The door-pull is the vertical trim in the center of the two doors. The top is not painted and shows signs of centuries of use, it has also split and the bamboo pegs to keep the top in place are sticking up in places.

Age: circa 1550
Dimensions (overall)    H=22" W=25" D=14.5" measurements approximate

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Iconography

Both doors have a pair of mongoose dispensing Cintamani, the left door additionally has stacked Cintamani, the blue 8-faceted jewel, red coral, yogurt, the Queen's earrings and two sets of elephant tusks. These mongoose(nakula) represent Vaisravana AKA Zampala or Jamphala. Vaisravana has two different duties, one as Guardian King of the North, and as such is usually seen in the entrances of temples in Monasteries. The entrances usually face north, he is also the God of Wealth and Riches. Elephant tusks always represent the entire elephant and usually denote the Precious Elephant. Mongoose, as a traditional enemy of Nagas and snakes, (both treasure guardians), is usually seen spitting out colored jewels of wisdom or Cintamani.  The symbol may have its origin in the central Asian custom of using a mongoose skin as a money bag. In this depiction, with Cintamani issuing from both ends, it is representative of Vaishravana, the Lord Guardian of the North and the leader of all of the other lords of the 8 cardinal directions. Precious Elephant, the Queen's earrings and the blue 8-faceted Jewel are three of the 7 possessions of the Chakravartin, or Wheel Turner: the term in Hinduism refers to an ideal ruler, but in Buddhism, Chakravartin has come to mean a Buddha whose all-encompassing teachings are universally true.  Chakravartin has an army of 4 divisions, infantry, cavalry, elephants, & chariots. Chakravartin is the lineage of 25 Kulika kings or enlightened monarchs, the 25th of which will finally defeat the "non-believers." The Precious Elephant is a symbol of the strength of the mind in Buddhism. Exhibiting noble gentleness, the precious elephant serves as a symbol of the calm majesty possessed by one who is on the path. Specifically, it embodies the boundless powers of the Buddha, which are miraculous aspiration, effort, intention, & analysis. The Precious Queen's heavy earrings are taken as a symbol of comprehension of the Buddha’s teachings.  The weight of the earrings would have caused the wearers earlobes to elongate.  The long earlobes of the Buddha are a symbol of his detachment from all things earthly. The Queen speaks the truth, using no frivolous words and holding no false vices. The Eight-faceted jewel, as in having eight magical properties: it cools when the days are hot, warms when the days are cold, illuminates the darkness of night, causes rain to fall or a spring to appear when one is thirsty, it brings to fruition what ever the bearer desires, it heals emotional afflictions, and cures all of the diseases of those who are in its range of its light and lastly prevents untimely death as in fathers passing on before sons. Yogurt: the slow process of making yogurt is an appropriate metaphor for transforming the spirit. By faithfully applying the principles of Buddhism, negative behavior is overcome and the clear mind is revealed. In this case an offering is made of both the yogurt and the coral, which is one of the most precious and valuable offerings.

The drawers have stylized durva grass done in kyungbur. Durva grass is a symbol of long life.  Because grass is highly resilient, it is believed to be immortal.  Therefore, it proclaims the end of samsara, the successive death & rebirth of all beings  It usually takes a long time to overcome samsara, & a longer life span will allow greater progress in moving towards enlightenment within a given cycle.

The main side panel has an unknown symbol, the only one of its type I have seen. This symbol appears to be a combination of three or 4 different symbols. Working from the out side in, the large pointed object at the end of the 8-bladed phurba/chakra is a little used or known representation of Cintamani and in this case would be wisdom used to cut away ignorance. The 8-bladeded phurba/chakra, is typical of Vishnu's chakra or discus. The inner most circle would be part of the discus, while the outer two circles would be tormas used to rid hindering spirits; this would be in keeping with another use of the chakra as a lock to imprison malevolent spirits. The 8-bladed chakra would also correspond to the Dharma wheel. In three parts, the wheel exists as a hub, the center of the world.  The 8 spokes denote the 8 paths to enlightenment. These 8 steps work together, not separately.  1. right understanding 2. right attitude  3. right speech  4. right action  5. right work    6. right effort  7. right mindfulness  8. right meditation  The rim represents the attribute of limitation.  All are contained within a circle, which is perceived to be perfect & complete, like the teachings of the Buddha.

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