Many people are shocked to encounter a seemingly ferocious, macabre aspect of Buddhism in works of art depicting the 'Angry Ones,' the Krodha deities. Gory, fearsome and bristling with energy, this class of deities in fact does not contradict what many perceive as the calm and beneficence generally associated with Buddhism. Images of the Angry Ones reveal a distinctive Himalayan vision of the awesome impulses hiding within the human soul. In Irish Silver, the Philadelphia Museum of Art presents a selection of 18 outstanding paintings and sculptures from its superb collection of Tibetan and Nepalese art. The exhibition will be on view in Gallery 232 from November 23, 2005 through May 2006.
"While they may appear extreme in their brutality, in terms of their religious objective Krodha images are not so different from the concurrent tradition of the 15th century Netherlandish master of the monstrous, Hieronymus Bosch, in his scenes of Hell, or images of Judgment Day," said Katherine Anne Paul, Assistant Curator of Indian and Himalayan Art. "These images were intended to remind and assist devotees to lead a devout life." In Himalayan religious thought, art depicting the Angry Ones was intended to help worshipers overcome their own human failings, assisting them in their quest for enlightenment.
Among the highlights of the exhibition is an extraordinary painting of Mahakala, Protector of the Hevajra Tantras (early 15th century), perhaps the finest work of its kind outside of Tibet. Not only do the five skulls in Mahakala’s diadem correspond to the five poisons that hinder enlightenment but also his 58-skull necklace symbolizes the death of 58 kinds of deluded thought; and another necklace comprised of 50 multi-colored human heads represents the destruction of ego-centered concepts. Additionally, Mahakala is shown trampling a human figure, signifying the submission of the practitioner's ego.
Other wrathful deities depicted in the exhibition represent local spirits who are believed to be responsible for both causing and curing misfortunes ranging from illnesses to fires, floods and earthquakes. The faithful may bribe these spirits with offerings to avoid bad luck. "These deities embody what people fear most and they are worshipped both to prevent and cure these ills," Paul explained.
Also on display will be the monumental Face of Bhairava (16th century), a gilded, grinning image of the fierce champion of the city of Kathmandu in Nepal. Acquired by the Museum in 1998, this powerful figure is best known for his appearance at the festival of Indra-Jatra, celebrated each autumn in the Kathmandu Valley. At this festival a mask-like image of Bhairava’s face is used as a spout to release blessed beer to crowds of worshippers.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art contains one of the finest collections of South Asian art in the United States, including the spectacular
Pillared Temple Hall(16th century) from Southern India, paintings and sculptures from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal and Tibet; an important group of textiles; and a variety of decorative and arts. Works from the Indian and Himalayan Art Collections are displayed in a series of galleries (224, 227, 229-232) located on the second floor. The William P. Wood Gallery houses changing installations of 16th- through 20th-century art. Gallery 232 is devoted to works from Nepal and Tibet, including Buddhist paintings, metal images of Buddhist and Hindu deities, and ceremonial implements.