About the Artwork

Sitatapatra (Tib. Dukar: gDugs-dkar), meaning the "White Parasol Lady", is one of the most complex deities in the Vajrayana Buddhist pantheon, with a thousand heads, a thousand arms, a thousand feet, a multitude of beings that she crushes underfoot, and ten million eyes that appear on every part of her body. Tradition relates that she originally emanated from the ushnisha or 'crown protuberance' of Shakyamuni Buddha, in his response to the need for all beings to be protected from the most malevolent forces. Thus Ushnisha-Sitatapatra, the "Crown Protuberance White Parasol Lady", arose in order to subdue all arrogant demons, to conquer all evil forces, afflictions, malefic influences and diseases, and to counteract the mantras of sorcerers and the curses of black magicians. In Buddhism the white parasol is a symbol of royalty and protection, with status being accorded to the number of parasols carried in a secular or religious procession. These numbers were usually three, five, seven, nine or eleven, with thirteen parasols being accorded to an enlightened Buddha, a chakravartin or 'universal monarch', and to the number of parasol-wheels that crown Buddhist stupas.

Her thousand heads are divided into five groups of two hundred that are arranged in a circular mandala formation: with her blue faces at the centre (top); her white faces in the east (front); her yellow faces in the south (right); her red faces in the west (outer right and left); and her green faces in the north (left). Each group has a different expression: the white faces are attractive, strong and joyful; the yellow faces are terrifying, wild and jocular; the red faces are abusive, glorious and frightening; the green faces are compassionate and peaceful; and the blue faces are wrathful and awe-inspiring. Each face has three eyes and is adorned with a five-jewel tiara and crowned by a blazing vajra. In this particular painting she has three principal blue, white and red faces, with ten progressively smaller crowned white faces stacked above her main white face. Descriptively manifesting above her thousand stacked heads are said to be: 'seven crowns, seven million perfect Buddhas, and seven white parasols'.

Below Sitatapatra are three identical sibling aspects of Mahakala, who commonly accompany her and are collectively known as 'Mahakala, the Three Virtuous Brothers'. Each of these three protectors stands leaning towards the right in alidha posture upon a vanquished enemy, a golden sun disc and a pink lotus. They each abide amidst a blazing mass of fire, and are extremely wrathful and blue-black in colour. They all have upward-blazing facial hair, three piercing eyes, a gaping mouth, a twisting tongue, and tawny hair that streams up like fire.

© text by Robert Beer

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