Thor bu - Curiosia Indo-Tibetica

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

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Musings on a hat (+update)

A ms. now at the British Library (formerly of India Office Library, Thomas 7740) Mss Eur Hodgson vol. 26 (formerly 31/3h) is a comprehensive description of a thang ka (Skt. paṭa, N. paubāhā) from gZhis ka rtse (Shigatse for you and I, Jikhāche for the author). It was compiled by Amṛtānanda for Brian Hodgson, and it lists no less than 95 deities (plus consorts where applicable). This is the pratijñā as it were: uttarāpaṃthe jikhāche nāma pradeśe likhitāyāṃ paṭapratimāyāṃ nepālabhāṣayā paubāhā iti prakhyātāyāṃ likhitānāṃ devadevīgaṇānāṃ mūrtidhyānanāmāni likhyaṃte||

Aside from the intrinsic interest of this work (and indeed, the entire collection of Hodgson's papers) and aside from the fact that this painting seems to have disappeared, there is one small problem I wish to address here. A few of these `deities' are actually lamas (Tib. bla ma, lāmājū for the author) sporting something called an `ūrdhvajñāna...topikā' (p. 4, l. 1: ... ūrddhvajñānābhidhatopikābhṛt ...; l. 34: ... ūrddhvajñānākhyatoṣikayā ... [sic for topikayā, probably just a smudge]). I may be terribly ignorant here, but I'm still puzzled by this word.

Topi - if you learned Hindi or some similar language - is obviously `hat'. Lamas - or at least some of them - wear paṇ zhwas. Hazy memories from my undergraduate days somehow reminded me that Sum pa mkhan po has a story on how these hats came into fashion: de dus Bhaṃ ga la'i Tsa ti gha bo'i grong khyer gyi paṇ ṭi ta Pi ha ra zhes pa'i gtsug lag khang du mu stegs pa'i rgol ba zhig byung ba'i tshe rgan mo zhig gi kha la nyan nas tsher ma lta bu'i rtse can gyi zhwa gyon nas rtsod pas rgyal ba las paṇ zhwa rtse ring dar ro|| (Dpag bsam ljon bzang, p. 109). Das seem to identify Tsa ti gha bo with Cittagong.

Now what if Amṛtānanda somehow knew about this and produced a fake Skt. ūrdhva-jñāna from taking `gong' to be a Tibetan word for `ūrdhva', and `sems' or `tsi tta' a synonym for `jñāna'? For the time being this is the only way around this problem, but it seems almost too funny to be true.

UPDATE: It seems that I was (almost) entirely mislead. In light of MS Eur Hodgson vol. 26, pp. 89-91, another description of a paṭa from Tibet we find more about the puzzling ūrdhvajñāna hat. In this text we have an ūrdhvajñāna-rumuci, which is probably a re-Sanskritization of ye shes bla ma rin po che. For those versed in things rNying ma pa, here is an appetizer: there is a story here which Amṛtānanda claims to be a 'popular myth'. Ūrdhvajñāna-rumuci (who looks like Padmasambhava from the description, except that he is holding a vajra and a kīla) was an incarnation of Gorakṣa, disciple of Matsyendra. He appeared in this form on his master's command in order to defeat Śaṅkara (son of a widow and Viśveśvara-Rudra of Benares), who was rather miffed about losing a debate with Nāgārjuna and started persecuting Buddhism by disposing of their books. Rumuci defeats him repeatedly in debate and magical contests, the final battle taking place in a place called Guru-bharu. Yet another beautiful 'Himalayan encounter'!

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