Lot 295: A superb Darmapala Mask - Protectorate of the Buddhist Faith

circa 18th-19th century
H: 11 1/4"
This Nepalese tribal mask is an abstracted interpretation of a more classical Darm�pala mask. It exhibits the same ferocious looking characteristics having a grimacing face with bulging eyes and protruding cheekbones, bared teeth and fangs, but the third eye had been reduced to a mere hole in the forehead, and what would more typically be five-skull crown had been minimized to nothing more than five bumps protruding from the scull.

Many tribal renditions of classical Buddhist masks were made throughout the Himalayas that were fashioned after what an artisan may have witnessed during a formal C�hams dance at an established monastery. Whether they accurately depicted all the precise attributes or not, or just what could be remembered by the craftsman, there is an animistic force, even if sometimes brutish, that emanates from many tribal versions that exquisitely animates the character depicted. The overriding influence depicted in this mask is obviously Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, but the powerful animistic impact of a shamanic culture cannot be ignored. The underlying animist presence among the masks of the Himalaya�s, which is clearly demonstrated in this fine example, is a significant contributing factor to the commanding appearance these masks exhibit.

This mask shows evidence of having had much use, with a natural patina derived exclusively from being handled over many years. The higher altitude of the Himalayan region greatly contributes to the preservation of wooden objects like this, whose age can far surpass those of similar objects coming from Africa, for example, where the extreme dampness in the lower altitudes can quickly rot them away. Lacking carbon deposits, this mask was obviously not kept in areas that had an ongoing fire, and could have been packed away in between uses or simply hung in a smoke free area. Classical masks from larger monasteries were often carefully wrapped and stored in a special room dedicated for their safekeeping. This could just as well have been done with masks used in more provincial areas with less formal establishments. The purplish pigment on the front surface of this mask is reminiscent of �puja� powder that is routinely used in the worship, purification and adoration of ritual objects, assisting in the protection from evil. Puja powder can be a mixture of various herbs, spices, crushed minerals and pigments selected for their particular attributes and can generally be, either red, yellow, orange or purple depending on the chosen ingredients.

There has been much speculation over the exact tribal derivation of masks coming out of Nepal. More study and fieldwork could greatly add to this endeavor, but correct or not, certain attributions have already been made in various books and catalogs on the topic which others have since followed.

When we speak of ethnic groups living in the Middle Hills of Nepal it is important to note that certain tribes among them were originally of Tibetan origin, having migrated over during the last 300 to 500 years or so, settling in the hills and temperate zones of Nepal. The Newars mainly settled in the Kathmandu Valley with both Hinduism and Buddhism being practiced among them. The Tamong live among the hills surrounding the Kathmandu Valley. The Magars are basically found in the hill regions of western Nepal. The Gurungs mostly settled along the higher slopes of the Annapurna areas and the Kali Gandaki River above the Baglung district. The Lopas of Mustang carry on trade between Nepal and Tibet in the Upper and Lower Mustang areas. The Mompa are a major people of Arunachal Pradesh in northeastern India, where we also find the Sherdukpen. The Sherpa, referred to as the �eastern people", are from the most mountainous region of Nepal, high in the Himalayas. Each of these groups practices Buddhism but is also heavily influenced by shamanism and Bön, the pre-Buddhist animist religion indigenous to the area. Whereas the Tharus and the Rajbansis of the Terrai region in southern Nepal are more influenced by Hinduism and the Muslim religion. Each has a tradition of mask making and the use of masks for religious and ceremonial purposes, as well as for pantomime, local theater and comic relief.

Relevant excerpts & bibliography:

�In Vajrayana Buddhism, a dharmap�la is a type of wrathful deity. The name means "Dharma-defender" in Sanskrit, and the dharmap�las are also known as the Defenders of the Law, or the Protectors of the Law, in English. In Vajrayana iconography and thangka depictions, dharmap�las are fearsome beings, often with many heads, many hands, or many feet. Dharmap�las often have blue, black or red skin, and a fierce expression with protruding fangs. Though dharmap�las have a terrifying appearance and countenance, they are all bodhisattvas or buddhas, meaning that they are embodiments of compassion that act in a wrathful way for the benefit of sentient beings.� [Dharmap�la: Wikipedia]

�A Dharma Protector (Dharmapala) is an emanation of a Buddha or a Bodhisattva whose main functions are to avert the inner and outer obstacles that prevent practitioners from gaining spiritual realizations, and to arrange all the necessary conditions for their practice. In Tibet every monastery had its own Dharma Protector, but the tradition did not begin in Tibet; the Mahayanists of ancient India also relied upon Dharma Protectors to eliminate hindrances and to fulfill their spiritual wishes.� [Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Heart Jewel: Relying upon the Dharma Protector, page 71, Tharpa Publications (2nd. ed., 1997)]

�Mah�k�la is relied upon in all schools of Tibetan Buddhism. However, he is depicted in a number of variations, each with distinctly different qualities and aspects. � Mah�k�la is typically black in color. Just as all colors are absorbed and dissolved into black, all names and forms are said to melt into those of Mahakala, symbolizing his all-embracing, comprehensive nature. Black can also represent the total absence of color, and again in this case it signifies the nature of Mahakala as ultimate or absolute reality. This principle is known in Sanskrit as "nirguna", beyond all quality and form, and it is typified by both interpretations. Mah�k�la is almost always depicted with a crown of five skulls, which represent the transmutation of the five kleshas (negative afflictions) into the five wisdoms.� [Mah�k�la: Wikipedia]

�With the advent of Buddhism in Tibet, Bon was not suppressed nor did it disappear but developed an even closer relationship with the folk religion of the ordinary Tibetan. The ordinary Tibetan was in general unwilling to renounce traditional beliefs and practices for the complex doctrines of Buddhism. An expression of this was to be found in the clinging to rites and rituals that bound ordinary Tibetans to the powerful supernatural forces that were believed to abound in nature. Manifestations of Bon belief and practice can be observed to this day in the lives of ordinary Tibetans.
Over the centuries ideas and practices derived from Bon found there way into the Buddhism practised in Tibet with the progressive incorporation of many Bon divinities into the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon. These divinities were now ascribed the task of protecting the Dharma and became known as Dharm ap àlas - �Protectors of the Dharma�� ["Tibetan Buddhism - Unit One". Sharpham Trust. p. 5. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 13 July 2011]

�Traditionally in Tibet divine presences or deities would be incorporated into the very construction of the house making it in effect a castle (dzongka) against the malevolent forces outside it. The average Tibetan house would have a number of houses or seats (poe-khang) for the male god (pho-lha) that protects the house. Everyday [sic] the man of the house would invoke this god and burn juniper wood and leaves to placate him. In addition the woman of the house would also have a protecting deity (phuk-lha) whose seat could be found within the kitchen usually at the top of the pole that supported the roof.� ["Tibetan Buddhism - Unit One". Sharpham Trust.]

Property of a Lawrence Hultberg, NY

Price Realized: $5,000

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