Painting of the 6th Shamarpa, Mipam Chokyi Wangchuk

6th Shamarpa Mipham Chokyi Wangchuk

6th Shamarpa Mipham Chokyi Wangchuk

The Himalayan Art Resource website recently posted a picture of this marvellous 18th century thangka painting (click to enlarge) of Mipam Chokyi Wangchuk, The 6th Shamarpa (1584-1629). The 6th Shamarpa is an exceptionally important figure in the Karma Kagyu school, holding the lineage between the 9th and 10th Karmapas. His debating skills were so extraordinary that he was known as the “Pandita of the North, the Omniscient Shamarpa in whom Manjushri delights”. Famed for his deep insight, he had memorised fifty volumes of sutras and tantras by the age of seventeen, and was later to write ten texts explaining both the sutra and tantra traditions. He was the teacher of Desi Tsangpa, who ruled central Tibet, and it was while he was travelling in east Tibet – successfully playing the mediator in a regional disturbance – that he recognised and became the teacher of the 10th Karmapa, Choying Dorje. Subsequent travels took him to Nepal, where he taught Buddhism in the original Sanskrit to the king, Laxman Naran Singh, and to other devotees, and where he eventually died in the Helambu mountains, near a cave in which Milarepa, Tibet’s great yogi, had once meditated.

The Shamarpa is considered an emanation of Amitabha Buddha and known as the Red Hat Karmapa following after the Black Hat Karmapa. This composition is part of a larger set of paintings depicting the Mahamudra Lineage of the Karma Kagyu Tradition. Jeff Watt writes:

Shamar Rinpoche is seated looking to the viewer’s right. His hands are held in a teaching gesture while grasping the stems of two flower blossoms – a blue utpala supporting a sword on the proper right side and white lotus supporting a book on the left. The sword and book, typically the symbols of the deity Manjushri, indicate the qualities of wisdom and knowledge. Wearing a Tibetan style monastic shirt and the upper robe of a fully ordained monk, the lower body is wrapped with a meditation cloak. Atop the head he wears a red hat, gifted by the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339), similar in design to that of the black hat of the Karmapas. The typical characteristics of the Shamarpa hat are 1) red in colour, 2) jewel emblem on the front and 3) the cloud motif at the sides trails to the back. Although these are the three standard characteristics there are many exceptions that appear in art. The one thing that can be said for sure is that the hat is red in colour.

Descending at the middle right are four Tibetan teachers situated one above the other. The first, wearing a red hat, is the 5th Gyaltsab, Dragpa Chogyang (1618-1658) wearing an orange coloured hat following the style of the black hat of the Karmapas and holding a long-life vase in the left hand. A low table and three Tibetan texts are placed in front. Below that is the 4th Drung, Surmang Drungpa Kunga Namgyal (17th century), holding a string of prayer beads, followed by Karma Chagme (1613-1678) holding a gold mandala offering plate. Below that is an unidentified final figure at the bottom right. Also, standing at the left side of the composition is an unidentified servant. The original set was likely commissioned in Tsurphu monastery in the 15th or 16th century and then later lineage figures added over time and other copies of the set created up into the 20th century…

…At the top right is the meditational deity, goddess of power, Kurukulla, red in colour, with one face and four hands holding a bow and arrow, hook and lasso, all composed of red utpala flowers. She is semi-wrathful in appearance and stands on the left leg atop a prone figure, sun disc, pink flower blossom, surrounded by the flames of pristine awareness fire…

…There are numerous forms and lineages of Kurukulla arising from the Kriya and Anuttarayoga classes of tantra of the Sarma traditions and many forms from the ‘Terma’ (Revealed Treasure) traditions of the Nyingma School. In the Kriya tantras she is often portrayed, but not exclusively, as a red power emanation of Tara. However, most forms of red Tara are not Kurukulla. In Anuttarayoga, from the Hevajra and Vajrapanjara Tantras, she is a power emanation of Shri Hevajra.

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