About the Artwork

This black and white painting of Avalokiteshvara as Padmapani, meaning the 'Lotus in Hand', is a copy of a famous composition made by the legendary Newar artist, Anandamuni Shakya, in the early 1940s, which hung in the old royal palace of Hanuman Doka in Kathmandu's Durbar Square. Anandamuni was almost certainly inspired to paint this image after being exposed to the early black and white photographic portraits that were taken of Nepal's rulers in all of their pomp, ceremonial regalia and military insignia. In many ways this revolutionary painting, with its vivid three-dimensional and mysterious chiaroscuro effect, along with its meticulous precision and detail, eventually served to define both the essential style and quality of the modern Newar art movement.

Padmapani stands gracefully in tribhanga or 'triple-bend' posture upon the white moon disc of an open lotus. His elaborate crown, with its five central jewel ornaments and small loops of hanging pearls, is delicately shaded to reveal the three-dimensional play of light and shadow across its embossed metallic surfaces. His right hand is extended downwards in the varada-mudra of supreme generosity, with the main mounds and lines clearly defined on its open palm. His left hand holds the thick stem of a white lotus at the level of his hip, which blossoms at the level of his left shoulder, its stem dividing into branches that bear delicately convoluted leaves and buds.

Padmapani's large ears and bow-shaped eyes bestow an otherworldly quality to the 'presence' of this great bodhisattva, whose light of compassion appears to illuminate the whole composition. A simple technique of shadowing is applied to the dark oval of his aura and the orb of his halo, which helps to project the bright three-dimensional form of the deity into the foreground. The background of the composition is uniformly black, and against this darkness the lighter shades of the surrounding foliage and the brightness of its blossoms are skillfully contrasted.

To his lower right is the kneeling form of a beautiful young goddess, who offers a lotus blossom to Padmapani. And to his lower left is the form of a wrathful protective deity, who holds an alms-bowl of nectar in his left hand and offers a jewel with his raised right hand. Anandamuni's son, Siddhimuni Shakya, told me these two deities names were Lutavaha and Ranikunda, but these two deities are almost certainly derived from the forms of Green Tara and Hayagriva, who traditionally serve as the two principal attendants of Padmapani Lokeshvara.

© text by Robert Beer

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