The Himalayan Art Gallery at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) reopened earlier this year after a period of extensive renovation and restoration. For some reason, I had never entered the gallery in its previous avatar and the re-opening and ensuing write-ups in the newspapers gave me the perfect chance to remedy that.
One rainy afternoon in August this year saw me at the Himalayan Gallery, which has a collection of prayer wheels, a Buddhist shrine, sculptures, jewellery, tangkhas and more, displayed there. The gallery is bright and colourful and the soft Tibetan music played in the gallery transported me to another time and place.
Among all the exhibits on display, what caught my eye was a rectangular wooden plaque, which at first glance seemed to be heavily carved. A second, and closer, glance revealed that not only was the wooden plaque intricately carved, it was studded with gems of all shapes and sizes. The information plaque read: Chintamani Lokeshvara.
In Sanskrit, though ‘Chintamani’ means a jewel that grants wishes, in this context it refers to the Buddhist deity Lokeshvara, who fulfils all the physical and spiritual needs of his devotees. Chintamani Lokeshvara is also considered to be a form of Avalokiteshvara.
In this wooden plaque, Chintamani Lokeshvara is depicted as being flanked by his acolytes. His right hand is held near the navel in the sharanagamana gesture which is a gesture of giving refuge. and in his left hand he holds a branch of a fabulous tree bearing jewels as fruits.
Note the variety of precious and semi-precious stones here — sapphire, emerald, coral, ruby, spinel, topaz, beryl, onyx, turquoise, lapis lazuli, malachite, amethyst, beryl, rose quartz, ivory, etc. all in a gold or silver inlay. Eye popping, isn’t it?
Plaques like these are supposed to be quite common in household shrines in Nepal. While searching for background information on these plaques, I also came across variations of such bejeweled plaques with Vishnu and Lakshmi, again from Nepal, as well on the internet.
Have you seen something this Chintamani Lokeshvara at the CSMVS? Or have you seen something like this elsewhere?
The Museum Treasure Series is all about artifacts found in museums with an interesting history and story attached to them. You can read more from this series here.