Wood lacquer Gold Statue of Pelden Lhamo
A selected treasure of 2020 Spring Auction Session held by JointWells HK
An interesting fact indicates that there exist considerable female deities in the deity pedigree of Tibetan Buddhism as a peculiar feature of the religion. The Tibetan Buddhist followers regard wisdom as the key to the practices of Buddhism, they believe that it is wisdom that can cut asunder all the trouble like a blade, kill all the evil in their minds, and help them with understanding and explaining the Ways of Buddha to finally attain the Buddhahood; such doctrine can be found in the theories of Vajrayana Buddhism——another name for Tibetan Buddhism. The creation of many female deities in Tibetan Buddhism like the Mother Buddha, Consort, and Dakini, which are all icons of wisdom, shows how much wisdom is valued through means of anthropomorphization and feminization of which. However, those anthropomorphized female deities are not really ‘mothers’ nor ‘wives’ in mundane world but just metaphors for the importance of wisdom——wisdom cultivates all Buddhas like mothers give birth to children.
Pelden Lhamo means the auspicious woman of heaven or mother of heaven in the Sanskrit language and pronounces as ‘Pelden Lhamo’ in Tibetan. Pelden Lhamo is a transcendental protector of Buddhism of great importance. The origin of hers is a complex story. Pelden Lhamo was originally a personage in the ancient India myth and was called ‘Lakşmī’ in the Sanskrit language. The myth tells that she was born when the Lord of Heaven and his enemy, the Jealous God, were churning the Ocean of Milk. Lakşmī was shaped into a live female deity afterward in the Brahmanism and Hinduism and was named as ‘the heaven of the merit and virtue’, as well as ‘the auspicious heaven’. It is said that she’s the daughter of Taksaka and Hariti, the wife of Vishnu, the mother of Kama (the god of love) and the sister of Vaiśravaṇa (the god of wealth) and that she’s the god of destiny and fortune. She was vanquished by Vajradhara and become a protector of Buddhism in the end. And as a protector of Buddhism, the merit and virtue she acquires is beyond our imagination. It is recorded that any Buddhist follower who recites her sutra, places Buddhism statues for worship, prepare offerings of flowers and flavors and chants her name will be blessed with wealth and treasures in the chapter The Heaven of Merit and Virtue in the sutra Suvarnaprabhasa. It is also recorded in The twelve famous Sutras of Bodhisattva that she has twelve names and that if a Buddhist follower successfully keeps on reciting all her twelve names and following her path in practicing and offering, then the end of this follower’s poverty will be attained and the follower can be rich and wealthy. For the merit and virtue that Pelden Lhamo owns to bring in blessings and bring out misfortune, a kind of Buddhist Ceremony was then formed in her names to repent for sins, reduce suffering and bring benefits, which is called Buddhist Auspicious Repenting Ceremony.
The status and images of Pelden Lhamo has been through drastic changes after joining the deity pedigree of Tibetan Buddhism: she ascends to transcendental protector of Buddhism from the original mundane protector of Buddhism and become a deity to which the Buddhist followers can convert; her name has changed too——she becomes auspicious mother of heaven rather than auspicious woman of heaven; the image of hers used to look calm and gentle, now she looks angry and powerful, and the images can differ between different sects. She is usually portrayed as having two arms or four arms, and the former one is mostly worshiped by Gelugpa sect as one of their Red and Black protectors of Buddhism while the latter one is worshiped by Kagyupa sect and Sakyapa sect.
This statue is of Pelden Lhamo with two arms. Wearing a Five Skull Crown on the head, the figure is bristling with anger; the Pelden Lhamo is depicted as a strong and powerful image with a stout face with three bulging eyes and a mouth to show her teeth; her body is robust and strong and the muscles appear soft and full; in addition, the figure’s female feature is obvious with uplifting breast. There is a piece of human-skin cloak on her bare upper part of the body, a ghost plate and a vine of human heads on her belt, armlets on her arms and bracelets around her feet. She holds a Gabbra bowl with human heart and blood in it in one hand and a skull staff with the other hand as she sits on the back of a yellow mule, of which the saddle is made by human fell with the head hanging below (it is said that the corpse belongs to her own son), and a pair of divination dice are attached to the saddle. The ornaments around her body are all finely designed and sculptured and she sits half cross-legged on the mule back in an elegant manner. This Pelden Lhamo statue with peculiar pose, exquisitely crafted and elaborately ornamented, has a vivid image and demonstrates advanced artistic and technical craftsmanship. Plus, this statue is much bigger compared with statues of the same figure, making it a rare treasure indeed.