~ Detail Photos
This mask, strictly
speaking, should be placed below in the Vajrayana Buddhist
section. None the less, since I believe the aesthetic will
appeal to those who like the more primeval and free expression
of the animist masks of the middle hills I'll place it here.
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
would have 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. The
gesture of devotion embodied in the piece is none the less no
less valid than with a mask that precisely adheres to
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