Two elders: Nāgasena (Tibetan kLu'i-sde) (above) and Panthaka (Tibetan Lam-bstan) (below). Distemper painting by a Tibetan painter.

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About this work


The painting shows Nāgasena and Panthaka, two of the sixteen disciples of the Buddha who form his entourage. They are known as the sixteen Arhats (Sanskrit), sGra bcom pa (Tibetan), or Lo-han (Chinese), or as the Elders (Sthaviras in Sanskrit, gNas- brtan in Tibetan). Above, Nāgasena (Tibetan kLu'i-sde, "Snake Section") is seated with his arms folded across his knees, on a carpet on a lotus cushion in an alīḍha (stepping forward) posture, his right leg bent, his left foot unsupported, holding in his left hand a pyramid of three gems symbolising the Three Jewels: Buddha, Teachings, and Assembly of Monks. In his right hand he holds an alarm staff. His upper robes are green and blue, his lower robes are green and yellow. One of the legends connected with Nāgasena is that a dwelling place called 'Flower Hearts' was offered to him when he was teaching in the Heaven of the Thirty Three Gods, which is north of blTa-na-sdug ("Pleasant to behold"), the celestial city of Medicine

The Elder below is Panthaka, Tibetan Lam-bstan or "Guide on the Path", holding a scripture in his left hand and forming the preaching gesture with the thumb and ring finger of the right hand, with middle and ring finger crossed. He seems to be seated in European fashion on a blue lotus throne. He wears a blue upper garment and a red and green under garment. Both Arhats have thin moustaches and red sandals. An attendant on his left holds a feather fan above his head

Around them are four forms of Śākyamuni Buddha. At top left, he has a dark blue body-nimbus and a golden-brown halo, wears a brown robe embroidered with golden flowers, and with his hands makes a meditation gesture. Below left he has a dark blue body-nimbus and a green halo, and with his hand makes the wheel-of-the-law gesture. At the top right, he has a maroon body-nimbus and a golden-brown halo, makes with his left hand a meditation gesture and with his right hand forms the giving gesture sideways as a sign of compassion. Below right, he has with a maroon body-nimbus and a golden-brown halo, makes with his left hand a meditation gesture, and with his right hand forms the earth-touching gesture. These four figures may be four jinas: Vairocana, Amitābha, Ratnasambhava and Akṣobhya

On the left of Nāgasena, a standing female attendant is offering a tray with a dark blue jewel on it. The second attendant, lower down, is squatting and offering an egg-shaped object, probably a jewel, in a triangular vessel on a white cloth or scarf. The skin of all the figures in the painting has the same flesh colour



Physical description

1 painting : distemper on linen ; distemper 79 x 48.5 cm


Above the painting is an inscription in rañjanī script: Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ hriḥ. There is also a long inscription at the back of the thanka written into the outlines of a stūpa

References note

Marianne Winder, Catalogue of Tibetan manuscripts and xylographs, and catalogue of thankas, banners and other paintings and drawings in the Library of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, London 1989, pp. 80-81, thankas banners and paintings no. 14


Wellcome Collection 47079i

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