~ Detail Photos ~

This mask might arguably be better placed below in the Vajrayana Buddhist section.  None the less, since I believe the aesthetic will appeal more to those who like the more primeval expression of the creative urge such as that more often found in  the middle hills pieces from a more animist tinged Hindu or Buddhist syncretic tradition.

In the Himalaya the old mountain gods and local divinities were often "oath bound" to protect the Buddhist dharma when this religion took hold in an area.  The implications of this are obvious as it was a way to include the old animist deities within the fold of Buddhism, but at the same time the intention was for it to be clear that Buddhism was the ascendant faith.  Whether or not one is a "believer" in the conversion of local deities and nature spirits to the new faith, this none the less seems to have been an effective means to keep the peace so to speak and the tradition evolved with the incorporation rather than the complete marginalization of indigenous deities.

That is the "cultural context" of these wrathful protector masks wherever they appear in the Buddhist Himalaya.  Now, what I find so appealing about the style of mask in the example above is the "transitional aesthetic".  We see a form that is clearly identifiable as a wrathful protector deity by means of the tell tale iconographic indicators such as the facial expression of bared fangs, lolling tongue, bulging eyes, and of course the crown of skulls representing the Buddhist doctrine of the 5 mind poisons which are defeated by the enlightened ones, and in this case - then worn as ornaments of the achievement.  But, this is not the work of an urbane monk in a large monastery who has had the luxury of training under a master and studying texts that precisely describe the iconography of such images.  This is rather the work of a provincial Himalayan village devotee, whose experience with masks might likely be more in accord with the brutish animist pieces we are more familiar with in the context of Himalayan middle hills masks.  I find these transitional masks to be incredibly appealing.  The devotional urge is no less evident than with the more refined pieces that strictly adhere to vajrayana iconography.  This is an utterly earnest expression and it seems this style of mask may well represent the proverbial missing link between the purely animist and free form masks of the Himalayas and the later evolution to the masks that strictly adhere to classical Buddhist iconography - at least in so far as those tibeto-burman speaking groups who would eventually become at least nominally "Buddhist" are concerned. 


ITEM NAME:   Himalayan Mask
PRICE:   Email 
STATUS:   Sold
PEOPLE/REGION:    Nepal middle hills




early 20th C. or before


9" wide
9" high

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