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The Buddhist deity Simhavaktra Dakini
Place of Origin: China, Beijing or vicinity, Hebei province
Date: 1736-1795
Historical Period: Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Reign of the Qianlong emperor (1736-1795)
Materials: Dry lacquer inlaid with semiprecious stones
Dimensions: H. x W. 26 in x D. 12 in, H. 142.2 cm x W. 66 cm x D. 30.5 cm
Credit Line: The Avery Brundage Collection
Department: Himalayan Art
Collection: Sculpture
Object Number: B60S600
On Display: Yes
Location: Gallery 12

Description

Label:

Simhavaktra’s Symbolism

Simhavaktra, the “lion-headed one,” is a “sky-walker” (dakini), a magical being who inhabits the realm of the sky. Simhavaktra’s imagery is layered with symbolism.
1. Her hair blazes upward with the fire of wisdom.
2. Her lion’s head indicates fearlessness in confronting all obstacles to liberation.
3. Her cape of freshly flayed human skin signifies her transcendence of human limitations, both felt and imagined.
4. The tiger skin around her waist symbolizes victory over all harmful emotions.
5. The bone ornaments on her chest indicate that she has passed beyond the cycles of birth and death.

Treasure Texts

Simhavaktra guards a special kind of treasure. Called a terma, or “hidden text,” this treasure comprises teachings hidden in the eighth century by Padmasambhava, the lama who brought Buddhism to Tibet, so they might be recovered in the future. He appears at the upper left of the painting 1992.344.

Dakini are crucial to such recovery, for only they can reveal the method for reading the coded script in which terma are written. The inscription on the reverse of the painting contains ritual information from just such a terma.

The meditation instructions contained in terma often focus on fierce forms of Padmasambhava, such as that seen in the central image on the painting 1992.344. Called Guru Drakpochey, he can be recognized by the black scorpion in one of his left hands.

Secret Deposits

Not only does Simhavaktra guard “hidden texts” (terma), but she also guards a treasure within this very sculpture. Assumed absent for decades, recent borescopic photography has enabled our conservators to discover a hidden deposit of consecration materials behind Simhavaktra’s muzzle. This deposit contained a variety of dried seeds and herbs that had been inserted into the sculpture inside the tied bag visible in the photographs to the right. Tibetans place texts, herbs, or other objects inside sculptures to consecrate them. Many consecration deposits were rifled in antiquity for the small gems or coins they often contained. Hence scholars who study such objects seldom expect to find the caches intact.


More Information

Exhibition History: "Gorgeous", Asian Art Museum, 6/20/2014 - 9/14/2014
Additional Label:

Her cape made of freshly flayed human skin. Bones around her chest. Hair ablaze. And that face—a grotesque kind of beauty. These are not elements that many people would associate with a provider of inspiration and knowledge. Yet the initiates who would have seen this Simhavaktra Dakini, an enlightened goddess of Tibetan Buddhism, would not have felt threatened. Her skin cape signifies transcendence of human limitations. Bone ornaments on her chest indicate that she has passed beyond the cycles of birth and death. The dancing goddess's hair blazes upward with the fire of wisdom. Her lion head indicates fearlessness. Only obstacles on the path to enlightenment should fear her power.

- AH ("Gorgeous" Exhibition)


Label:

Simhavaktra’s Symbolism

Simhavaktra, the “lion-headed one,” is a “sky-walker” (dakini), a magical being who inhabits the realm of the sky. Simhavaktra’s imagery is layered with symbolism.
1. Her hair blazes upward with the fire of wisdom.
2. Her lion’s head indicates fearlessness in confronting all obstacles to liberation.
3. Her cape of freshly flayed human skin signifies her transcendence of human limitations, both felt and imagined.
4. The tiger skin around her waist symbolizes victory over all harmful emotions.
5. The bone ornaments on her chest indicate that she has passed beyond the cycles of birth and death.

Treasure Texts

Simhavaktra guards a special kind of treasure. Called a terma, or “hidden text,” this treasure comprises teachings hidden in the eighth century by Padmasambhava, the lama who brought Buddhism to Tibet, so they might be recovered in the future. He appears at the upper left of the painting 1992.344.

Dakini are crucial to such recovery, for only they can reveal the method for reading the coded script in which terma are written. The inscription on the reverse of the painting contains ritual information from just such a terma.

The meditation instructions contained in terma often focus on fierce forms of Padmasambhava, such as that seen in the central image on the painting 1992.344. Called Guru Drakpochey, he can be recognized by the black scorpion in one of his left hands.

Secret Deposits

Not only does Simhavaktra guard “hidden texts” (terma), but she also guards a treasure within this very sculpture. Assumed absent for decades, recent borescopic photography has enabled our conservators to discover a hidden deposit of consecration materials behind Simhavaktra’s muzzle. This deposit contained a variety of dried seeds and herbs that had been inserted into the sculpture inside the tied bag visible in the photographs to the right. Tibetans place texts, herbs, or other objects inside sculptures to consecrate them. Many consecration deposits were rifled in antiquity for the small gems or coins they often contained. Hence scholars who study such objects seldom expect to find the caches intact.


Exhibition History: "Gorgeous", Asian Art Museum, 6/20/2014 - 9/14/2014
Expanded Label:

Her cape made of freshly flayed human skin. Bones around her chest. Hair ablaze. And that face—a grotesque kind of beauty. These are not elements that many people would associate with a provider of inspiration and knowledge. Yet the initiates who would have seen this Simhavaktra Dakini, an enlightened goddess of Tibetan Buddhism, would not have felt threatened. Her skin cape signifies transcendence of human limitations. Bone ornaments on her chest indicate that she has passed beyond the cycles of birth and death. The dancing goddess's hair blazes upward with the fire of wisdom. Her lion head indicates fearlessness. Only obstacles on the path to enlightenment should fear her power.

- AH ("Gorgeous" Exhibition)