Thor bu - Curiosia Indo-Tibetica

Textual and visual odds and ends from India, Tibet, and around.

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Location: Kolozsvár/Cluj, Budapest, Oxford, ibi ubi

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ārali and Rigi - an odd pair (I)

I spent the last few days inputting the canonical material relating to the Ārali tantras. It's not much: two short tantras in the Bka' 'gyur (Tōh. 426 and 427) and merely one anonymous sādhana in the Bstan 'gyur (Tōh. 1658). The latter was translated by Bu ston and hence predates the first part of the fourteenth century.

According to Bu ston's classification (in the Rgyud sde rnam bzhag rgyas pa) these two tantras form a sub-class of their own under the broader family of the Heruka-tantras, the other sub-classes being the vast corpus of Śamvara-tantras along with those of the Hevajra, Buddhakapāla and Mahāmāyā.

When I first came across these tantras a few years ago, I was under the impression that they were fabricated in Tibet. I have no idea why I thought this, perhaps because of the odd names of the main deities. I should have suspected that there must have been some kind of evidence with Bu ston (since he considers it 'original').

Since then - with the help of Prof. Sanderson - I came across some evidence that at least the Vajrārali was known on the Indian subcontinent. A manuscript fragment from Cambridge (Or. 158, uncatalogued by Bendall) dating from 1162 AD has on its title page "vajrāmṛtatantra || vajrāralitantra || buddhakapālatantra ||". Unfortunately the fragment has bits and pieces of the Vajrāmṛta and the Buddhakapāla only. Since then, at a lecture held in Oxford, Prof. Harunaga Isaacson has signaled the identification of one folio with the actual text, also kept in Cambridge.

The first thing that strikes one as odd about this small corpus are the titles themselves. The expression 'ārali' is seen earliest in the yoginītantras (as far as I know) in a mantra in the Sarvabuddhasamāyoga. In a mahāyoga context, Āryadeva uses it more than once in his Caryāmelāpakapradīpa and all seem to mean a kind of 'play' (rol pa) associated with the Buddhas. Wedemeyer, as far as I can remember, always translates it as 'extensive play'. The etymology remains uncertain, but it is to be noted that all permutations of a/ā and l/ll seem to occur.

It should also be noted that this is not the interpretation that Bu ston seems to have preferred. We may surmise this only indirectly however. In a closing note after his synopsis of the Vajrārali he states that in some Tibetan collections the title is 'Heruka rol pa'i rgyud' (*Herukāralitantra?), but this he considers a total lie: ''dir rgyud 'bum kha cig tu He ru ka rol pa'i rgyud ces bya ba bris pa yod de | de ni rdzun ma yang dag zhig go ||.'

'Rigi' is even stranger. In this corpus the word occurs only in the Rigi-ārali-tantra, there 'Rigi' is the main goddess - far more than a mere consort to the Heruka 'Ārali', she is actually the teacher of the tantra. There seems to be one occurrence where 'rigi' is glossed as simply 'ḍākinī': ri gi mkha' 'gro mar ni gsung (D 179a). As far as I can tell, 'rigi' occurs only once in the yoginītantra corpus as the name of an entity, namely in a nebulous introductory line of the Catuṣpīṭhatantra: 'rigīnāṃ jñānam īśvaram'. However, Bhavabhaṭṭa glosses it not as 'ḍākinī' as we would expect from the line above but as 'buddhas': rigīnāṃ buddhānāṃ jñānam īśvaraś ca.

It is quite evident that the Vajrārali is much earlier that the Rigi-ārali. As I said above, the consort appears only in the second tantra, and this scripture betrays close connections with other yoginītantras. Such Hevajra-specific elements as the 'four blisses' and so on are missing from the Vajrārali but are there in the Rigi-ārali. Sacred places (pīṭha, kṣetra, cchandoha, etc. and their upa- varieties) from the Śamvara-tantras also turn up here. I believe that any future, closer study should take into account the possibility that the Rigi-ārali is a recycled variant of an older cult of Vajrārali.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Renovation of the Jana Bahaa

As Iain pointed out in one of his new posts, the Jana Bahaa is now being renovated (the official announcement came today). The blog ran by the project (official site here) is an enjoyable read and quite unique in its genre. In fact it created a genre as far as the Valley is concerned.

You can find all kinds of sites with pictures of the Jana Bahaa, and snippets of information on its history and significance written by pros and amateurs alike. These are all much better what yours truly could offer.

It is quite impossible to do justice to the magical atmosphere of this small Kathmandu courtyard with photographs. Try to enter the courtyard from the West rather than the main entry through a dark alleyway - you'll have to trespass a house for a short while but it's worth it - thus ending up at the back of the shrine. In this way the splendour of the shrine (and the pigeons in front of it) won't hit you right away. Make sure to tap one of the beams on the way and take its blessings on your head. I have no idea what this means but I have seen locals do it. Your trespassing has better chances to be forgiven.

The eastern facade.

The courtyard.

Spectacular gilt-copper images.

More of the same.

[pictures taken by the author, September 2007]

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Apple in the wall