About the Artwork

Hari Hari Hari Vahana is a composite form of Avalokiteshvara who is shown sitting above Vishnu, Garuda (Vishnu's vehicle), a white lion (Lokeshvara's vehicle), and the great nagaraja or serpent-king, Takshaka. This unusual five-tiered manifestation of Lokeshvara is one of the most popular forms of this bodhisattva of compassion in the Newar Buddhist tradition.

According to legend the origin of this deity dates back to the time when Manjushri first created the Kathmandu Valley by cutting through the encircling hills at Chobar Gorge with his sword, thus draining the great lake that had once filled this valley. The nagarajas, or serpent-kings, were furious with Manjushri for destroying their aquatic habitat, but eventually all but one of them - the great nagaraja Takshaka - were pacified by the bodhisattva Samantabhadra. With an irrepressible hostility Takshaka then began to slaughter many living beings, until he eventually contracted leprosy as a karmic consequence of his evil actions. In great repentance Takshaka prayed to Avalokiteshvara for a cure, and through his compassion this great bodhisattva succeeded in pacifying the reformed Takshaka and curing him of leprosy.

Then one day, while Takshaka was basking upon the bank of the ever-receding lake, Garuda happened to fly above him, and glimpsing this large and vulnerable serpent beneath his wings, decided to make a meal out of him. But Takshaka was an equal match for Garuda - the mighty king of birds, and soon they were locked into a vicious struggle, with Garuda losing ground as he felt himself being dragged into the water. In desperation Garuda cried out to Vishnu for help, who instantly manifested with his sharp discus raised to cut off Takshaka's head. In equal desperation at his imminent demise Takshaka likewise cried out to Lokeshvara, who suddenly appeared upon his white lion vehicle.

The benign presence of Lokeshvara instantly caused all hostilities to cease, and bowing before the bodhisattva of infinite compassion, Vishnu offered his own divine form as a vehicle for Lokeshvara. Then Lokeshvara's lion offered himself as a vehicle for Garuda, while Takshaka offered himself as a vehicle for Lokeshvara's lion. And thus this composite form of Lokeshvara as Hari Hari Hari Vahana arose.

In this original composition by Ram Prakash Shrestha, the five divine components of Hari Hari Hari Vahana Lokeshvara are portrayed in an innovative assembly, with the background landscape showing the receding waters of the Kathmandu Valley. The ornately scrolling and jeweled aura of this divine assembly is surrounded by a colourful array of symmetrical lotus flowers, clouds and fiery dragons. The discs of a silver moon and a golden sun appear on either side of the jewel-topped parasol that crowns this composition. And the five sensory offerings of a mirror (sight), a lute (sound), a conch full of perfume (scent), rolls of silk (touch), and jewel-fruit (taste), arise from the lotuses and leaves below the central lotus throne.

© text by Robert Beer

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