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This groundbreaking exhibition, which requires accompanying Bhutanese monks to live in Honolulu for its duration, showcases rare religious Buddhist visual and performing arts. Bhutan is the only country in the world to adopt Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism as its official religion, and the particular form of Buddhism found in Bhutan permeates all aspects of culture and the arts.
Bhutan is remarkable for the antiquity and continuity of its Buddhist teachings, with the first temples in the region established during the 7th century. The arts of the two main branches of Vajrayana Buddhism in Bhutan, the Drukpa Kagyu and the Nyingma schools, are represented the exhibition.
The majority of the art works in the exhibition come from active temples, where they continue to serve religious purposes. With just a few exceptions, none of these items have ever been on display outside Bhutan.
As a key part of this project, the museum's Asian Paintings Conservation Studio note: This involved workshops and on-site conservation at temples in Bhutan and the training of Bhutanese monks in Honolulu. Consequently, the thangka paintings included in the exhibition were all responsibly conserved before display, preserving them for future generations, while the monks trained by the Academy are now using the skills they acquired to continue conservation work in their home monasteries.
An extraordinary aspect of the exhibition is the documentation of ritual dance forms, or cham, by the museum in conjunction with Core of Culturea Chicago-based nonprofit dance preservation foundation.
For the exhibition, an extensive digital database of more than hours of video documentation, including the performances of numerous rare, nearly extinct cham rituals, was created. The database was available to the public during the exhibition, as well as two components devoted to dance: Cham was also featured through video installations in other galleries, since there is often an intimate connection between dance and arts such as painting and sculpture in Bhutanese rituals.
After the exhibition, the museum gave one copy of the cham database to the Royal Government of Bhutan, and one copy to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, New York, the largest dance archive in the world.
Organization The exhibition is divided into 12 sections. The sections are organized according to conceptual aspects of Buddhism in Bhutan and will provide viewers with a structure with which to understand the richly symbolic content of Tantric Buddhist art. Buddhas Shakyamuni, the historical founder of Buddhism in the 5th century B.
Paintings depicting his life and previous incarnations complement sculptural representations. Depictions of the five cosmic Buddha Families, such as an elaborate sculpture of Aksobhya, provide a broader definition of Buddhahood.
Bodhisattvas Bodhisattvas, beings who defer their own attainment of complete Buddhahood to assist others on the path to enlightenment, are highly venerated in the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition.
This section introduces such popular and revered Bodhisattvas as Manjushri, shown in multiple forms including a sumptuous painted thangka of the White Manjushri, Vajrapani, and Avalokitesvara. Padmasambhava and the Treasure Revealers Padmasambhava, who spread Buddhism to parts of Bhutan in the 8th century, is an important figure in all forms of Bhutanese Buddhism.
This section will illustrate multiple manifestations of Padmasambhava in both peaceful and wrathful forms. Portraits of the Treasure Revealers are included in this section of the exhibition.
Arhats and Mahasiddhas This section introduces extraordinary adepts who attained high levels of spiritual insight. The Sixteen Arhats are represented by an outstanding and complete set of paintings from the 18th century.
The Mahasiddhas, Indian sages who employ unconventional means to achieve enlightenment, are also represented in painted thangka. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyela charismatic historical figure, was the founder of modern Bhutan. A revered lama, Zhabdrung came to Bhutan from Southern Tibet in He soon unified the country, established a unique system of governance, and built a series of local fortress—monasteries dzongs that still function as centers of political and religious administration.
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