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Conography and texts of the tibetan five protecting deities
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by D. Berounsky
1. Five sticking deities in the «nameless religion»
The deities known mostly in their fivefold group and named mainly as «Five sticking deities» ('go ba'i lha lnga, «stuck to the body of the person as a shade») come from the outside of the systemized religions of Buddhism (chos) and Bon. Such tradition has been called «nameless religion» by R. Stein, and the main disadvantage for researchers lies in the fact that it is carried merely by oral tradition leaving no fixed records of texts. The research on these deities is scarce and hence for the bringing near to their function in the folk religion let me use few notes once left by G. Tucci (Tucci 1980: 187-193). Tucci speaks about two general subgroups of these deities: the first one is centered around the individual person and dwells in his body, and the second one is related to the home.
The first group, according to Tucci, is composed of the Enemy-Deity (dgra lha, i.e. the deity offering protection from the enemies), Male-Deity
(pho lha), Female-Deity (mo lha) and Maternal Uncle-Deity (zhang lha). These deities reside in the body of the individual: Enemy-Deity in his right shoulder, Male-Deity in the left armpit, Female-Deity in the right armpit and Maternal Uncle-Deity in the heart.
The second group is called Household-Deities (khyim lha) or Inside-Deities (phug lha). Among them appears the Store-Deity (bang mdzod lha), Entrance-Deity (sgo lha), Pillar-Deity (ka lha), Hearth-Deity (thab lha) and Power-Deity (dbang thang lha).
These deities are in some cases connected with the cosmological ideas, and the household to some extent imitates the structure of the world, according to Tucci. The pillar is the «pillar of the world» and residence of the main deity of the household, the staircase with thirteen stairs imitates the thirteen layers of the heavens, and so on. G. Tucci divides the deities according to their «gender-role», the female deities in wider sense are connected with the «inside» and preservation (deities of the pillar, the hearth, etc.), while the wider group of deities of males is connected with protection and the «outside». The Male-Deity resides on the roof of the house in the small cairn.
Unfortunately G. Tucci does not give any precise information concerning the sources of his information. His clear-cut description I consider to be the result of a mixture of field-observation, knowledge from several Buddhist textual sources and interpretation following the essentialist «total» perspective resembling that of M. Eliade. The actual role of these deities varies in the regions of the Tibet, in some parts only few of them are known and the fixed structure and the uniform role of them are absent. I do not consider the Tucci's treatment to be invalid, since he is probably aware of certain simplifications. But such interesting tradition is worth a closer look, which however must resort to the rather chaotic and perplexing world of number of contexts. Paradoxically, information concerning these deities carried by oral tradition is more easily drawn from textual sources. Recording in the texts often indicates the vanishing of the particular oral tradition. Before the attempts of conclusion we will make circle across several textual sources.
2. The cosmogony of Bon
The following fragment appears in the commentary of Mdzod phug, believed in the Bon tradition to be composed by the 8th century sage Dran pa nam mkha' and entitled Bden pa bon gyi mdzod sgo sgra `grel `phrul gyi sde mig (Namdak 1966). The text was however rediscovered as a «treasure» (gter) only in the 12th century (Karmay 1998: 127).
The fragment is part of a large cosmological narrative concerning creation of hundreds of beings. The deities under the focus are miraculous manifestations of the female deity called Shed za, the deity of life2. From it the twelve "beings of activity" emanate and are divided into three groups: "the upper elder brothers", "the middle joint ones" and the «lower younger siblings)). Among the first fourfold group appear the names of mythical animals tiger and ibex and this group is probably connected with the higher spheres of heaven. The second fourfold group represents deities of the seasons of the year and probably also the lower spheres of heaven. With the last group come the deities under the focus and their "activities" are mentioned. They are probably connected with the lowest sphere of heaven (Namdak 1966: 61, my translation):
...Now to the four lower younger siblings. These are protecting Male-Deity, the lord of men; befriending Enemy-Deity, the young man; attending Mather-deity (ma lha), the nurse; healing Maternal Uncle-Deity, the very kind one.
Later in the text appear the deities once again. This time the deities show their miraculous manifestations as demons (Namdak 1966: 65, my translation):
(......) What concerns the miraculous manifestations of the Lord of chud demons of the celestial space (chud rgyal sa bla), these are said to appear as five brothers and sisters of the gods and demons. When the Male-Deity showed his miraculous appearance, the Male-Demon (pho sri) was created. When the Enemy-Deity (gra lha) showed his miraculous appearance, the Enemy-Demon (gra sri) was created. When the Mother-Deity showed her miraculous appearance, the Female-Demon (mo sri) was created. When the Maternal Uncle-Deity showed his miraculous appearance, the demon chung sri was created. When the pal po showed his miraculous appearance, the demon byur was created...
The deities are structured here in the symmetrical groups consisting from four members and surprisingly instead of Female-Deity speak about Mother-Deity, whose function is the care of babies. The second fragment witnesses the presence of dualistic idea and resembles the Tibetan tradition found in several texts of Bon, which speaks about the inborn deity and demon in every human being (cf. Karmay 1998: 132). At the given state of research on this interesting text it is very hard to decide whether it stems from the ancient times or is the result of the systematization of the Bon in
the 12th century. Only the detailed research on the text might reveal it in the future.
3. Anonymous purification-ritual text of Bon tradition
Another text of Bon tradition connected with our group of protecting deities was in its original sounding published among the collection of rare manuscripts by G. S. Karmay and Y. Nagano. The text comes from Dolpo in Nepal and is entitled «The purification of the deities of the four clans of little men» (Mi'u rigs bzhi lha sel). It is unfortunately anonymous but its content reveals the probability of its ancient origin.
It starts with procreation myth. In the heavenly plains is a couple of gods. Their golden bird Pud de descends to the earth. He creates parts of the vulture: his white front, the bluish tail, white crown. From the godly barley comes the verdure of the earth. And from the arrow come «four clans of little men»: Zhang-zhung, Sumpa, Minyag, Azha, who receive their deities. Also three kinds of birds come to existence: «the meat-eating», «mud-eating» and «seed-eating» ones.
The procreation myth then continues in the «thirteenth region», the ravine U, clearly at the lowest layer of the heaven, where the mythical personage Ode Gunggyel resides with his wife. They give birth to the four miraculous birds: bat, crane, cuckoo, parrot and lark. These birds are instructed to invite deities for the people.
Following this myth-narration the actual ritual text comes. In the introductory parts the birds are inviting deities for the people. Among them appears also our group of protective deities (Karmay, Nagano 2002: 2, my translation):
The voice of the conch-shell crane resounded,
deities heard it full of desire,
the body of Enemy-Deity filled with good fate raised,
by the smoke of Akaru plant3 the pollution of widowing is purified,
I invite you, deity, to this place,
as a support I erect this sharp sword,
protect the people, deity,
come to the surface of the iron support,
the long arrow is adorned by blue ritual nets nam mkha’
I offer you ambrosia in the four points of compass,
deity, I invite you to this place,
all, all! Come deity!
Then the Female-Deities, Maternal Uncle-Deity and Male-Deity are invited in the following verses. Across the longer ritual text they appear in a number of different groupings. Male-Deity resides in the right shoulder, Enemy-Deity in the left one. Female-Deity dwells in the belly and takes care of the child. Besides them appears also Spine-Deity and others of the organs of the human body. These deities are named «Five protecting deities» (mgon pa`i lha lnga). In another part of the text the Male-Deity is called the «deity of the groom», Female-Deity is the «deity of the bride», Vitality-Deity is the «deity of the baby».
Another groups connected with the household and living space appear in the text. The Harvest-Deity is a female cattle, Fortress's Top-Deity is roof, Household-Deities are «loss» and «well-being» (rma g.yang), Hearth-Deity is hind, Entrance-Deities are yak and tiger. All these deities are invited to the body to dwell there «as in a prison-pit». Rituals to these deities should be performed at the beginning of all four seasons.
The deities appear here in chaotic and not clearly structured groupings of five. The number five has symbolic connotations and following different perspectives it is filled by different deities of the given kind. These deities are connected with four clans, which represent old kingdoms surrounding Central Tibet. They include even those kingdoms whose people were not related to the Tibetans. The text attests the importance of birds (found also in several myths on the first Tibetan king, where person with bird features appears) for the older rituals. Birds are connected with heaven and deities are invited to the people by them. Through the purification ritual (sel and bsang) they accommodate themselves in the body of the individual person und grant the protection.
4. Five deities within the astrological tradition
As a representative of the astrological tradition will serve here an influential treatise of the regent of the fifth Dalai Lama, Desi Sangye Gyatsho (sde srid sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, 1653-1705)4 named «White Beryl». The text surveys all the particular astrological systems and besides Buddhist sources it mentions also those of Bon tradition. The following paragraph appears in the chapters dedicated to the astrological system called «Black counting» (nag rtsis) inspired by Chinese astrological systems but probably maintaining some older Tibetan elements at the same time (Sde srid sangs rgyas rgya mtsho 1996: 305, my translation):
...What concerns the five deities — the Male-Deity, Female-Deity, Maternal Uncle-Deity, Vitality-Deity and the Enemy-Deity — these are "Five Inborn Deities". The five — Creation-Deity, Wealth-Deity, Local Deity, Deity-Btsan and Elder-Deity — these are "Five Protecting Deities". Hearth-Deity, Store-Deity, Entrance-Deity, Pillar-Deity and the Earth-Deity, these are „Five Deities Sticking to the Power"
The Male-Deity acts towards advancement of males and multiplying the family. Female-Deity acts towards creation and great well-being of females. Maternal Uncle-Deity acts towards kindness of people and good fate (phya) and well-being (g.yang). Enemy-Deity acts towards great wealth and lack of enemies. Vitality-Deity acts towards the long life and firm vitality.
Btsan-Deity acts towards gathering loftiness and multiplying children. Elders-Deity acts towards lack of immediate stress during the life. Creation-Deity acts towards reproducing abilities and lack of dying. Wealth-Deity acts towards the proportion of well-being of wealth. Local Deity acts towards purity and skill.
Store-Deity acts towards gain of food, drinks and multiplying stores. Hearth-Deity acts towards the heat and tasty food. Earth-Deity acts towards multiplying grains and expectations in the future. Entrance-Deity acts towards multiplying cattle and minimizing its loss. Pillar-Deity acts towards good fortune and wealth for the long period of time...
The deities within the art of astrology appear in clear-cut structure of their groups and function. This is caused by the need of calculations and analogical groupings of various elements. It is not typical for older Tibetan ritual, where the deities' vague structure and function creates space for ritual experience.
5. Entering the Tantric ritual of the Buddhist traditions
This part introduces the tantric ritual text authored again by Desi Sangye Gyatsho, the regent of the fifth Dalai Lama. The text is entitled "Offering and prayer to the five deities generating merit" (lha lnga `i gsol mchod bsod nams dpal bskyed). It was composed in 1678 according to the colophon. In my opinion, this text plays a crucial role in introducing such once folk tradition of the protective deities to the Tantric ritual of the so-called New Schools of the Buddhist tradition in Tibet. It mentions as its inspiration several texts of the Old School, which were rediscovered as «treasure» (gter).5 The author speaks in the colophon about his effort to structure clearly these deities which are grouped in various ways in the older texts.
All the texts within the New Schools I am aware of are of the later date6. During the reign of the fifth Dalai Lama several older Tibetan traditions were absorbed into the Buddhist garb. And this might be also the case with the trudition of our protecting deities (Bsod nams 'bum 2003: 73, my translation):
From the sphere of emptiness appears syllable РАМ in the space in front of you. From it appears lotus-flower marked by syllable A. From it appear five quivering discs of moon.
On the cushion of the first of them appears from the syllable JNYA Female-Deity; the handsome and beautiful young girl of the white complexion, with one face and two arms. In her left hand she holds an arrow with strips of silk and in her right a mirror. She is dressed in the cloak from the blue silk, her head is adorned by a crown with various precious stones and she is decorated by various ornaments. She rides a hind and shows fully in her miraculous appearance as mother and mother's sister. Further is here Maternal Uncle-Deity in a dress of male youth. He shows in miraculous appearances as vulture and the minister-maternal uncle. They are attended by beautiful Mother-Deities, Medicine Ladies (sman btsun) showing in their miraculous appearances as many young people and deer.
From the syllable NA of the second disc of moon raises Vitality-Deity in an appearance of young man. He is of one face and two arms, with armor and helmet, in his right hand he holds a spear with silk strips, in his left hand lasso. To his waist a quiver with arrows from the tiger skin is attached and a quiver with bow from the panther skin. He has leather boots and rides a black horse with harness and dock. He shows in many miraculous appearances as white people and horses. Further, Inborn Deity is here adorned by various ornaments from silk and precious stones. He shows in the miraculous appearances as white people and horses.
From the syllable A of the third disc raises Male-Deity, a young man. He is of one face and two arms. In his right arm he holds a precious gem and in his left arm a bowl filled with precious stones. The bun of his hair is bound by a strip of silk, he is dressed in a long blue cloak adorned by ornaments. He has leather boots, rides an excellent saddled horse with white hair by the hoofs, with harness and dock. His miraculous appearances show as many paternal relatives and as male triple attendants [of men, horses and cattle]. Also thirty Ancestor-Deities and Power-Deities are present here in silk dresses and perfect precious ornaments.
From the syllable YU of the fourth disc raises white Local Deity. He is of one face and two arms holding an arrow and a bow. He has helmet and armor and to his waist a quiver with arrows from the tiger skin is attached and a quiver with bow from panther skin. He has leather boots and rides white saddled horse with harness and dock. His miraculous appearances show as relatives-friends and as main leader
of the country, as number flocks of sheep and as white yaks. Also a protectors of house dwelling in it as Fortress's Top-Deity and others are present here in various dresses and with various ornaments. Their miraculous appearances show as large birds.
From the syllable SHI of the fifth disc raises Enemy-Deity in an appearance of young adult man. In his peaceful form he is white and smiling, of one face and two arms. In his right hand he holds spear with strips of textile and in his left hand holds lasso. He is dressed in perfect white-silk cloak and the bun of his hair is bound by silk strip. To his waist a quiver for arrows from the tiger skin is attached and a quiver for the bow from the panther skin. He is adorned by various precious ornaments. He has leather boots, rides a saddled white horse of strength of wind with harness and dock. His miraculous appearances are spiritual friends (dge shes) and white armored men, he shows as many falcons, wolfs and wild yaks.
Further up, down and to all directions are protective deities, protectors of the Doctrine, vidyadharas and they show in the appearance of Tantric masters. Power-Deities and protectors of Bon show in their miraculous appearances as followers of Bon and pheasants. All are surrounding them in their own appearances and own ornaments (...)
I summon the wild Enemy-Deity,
I ask you to come from the right shoulder,
your miraculous appearances are many spiritual friends (dge bshes), your offerings are clean cakes bshos bu, become my friend today,
dispatch the troops of army suppressing the crowds of enemies.
I summon the bat-like Maternal Uncle-Deity,
I ask you to come from the left arm-pit,
your miraculous appearances are maternal uncles-ministers,
your offering is "secret sheep",
become my friend today,
establish the harmonious circumstances and avert those adversary ones.
I summon the retaining Vitality-Deity, I ask you to come from the heart, your miraculous appearances are white men, your offering is this healthy goat, become my friend today,
I ask you for protection against the obstacles of life.
I summon fertile Female-Deity,
I ask you to come from the right arm-pit
your miraculous appearances are mothers and aunts,
your offering is gentle cake 'brang rgyas,
become my friend today,
I ask you for rain of food and wealth.
I summon the protecting Local Deity,
I ask you to come from the crown of head,
your miraculous appearances are friends,
your offering is this "secret yak",
become my friend today,
I ask you to fulfill all my wishes.
6. Concluding remarks: notes on the iconography
Following the commencing brief circle around few excerpts from the texts it becomes clear that this tradition of protective deities underwent change from the domain of folk religion connected with ritual purity represented by heaven (3) to the clear-cut structuring in the astrological texts and Tantric ritual (4, 5, perhaps also 2).
The anonymous Bon ritual text (3) seems to be the source closest to the folk tradition. It is very characteristic for it that the deities assume various forms, their appearance is very variable, and one would not find any allusion to their fixed anthropomorphic representations in it. Across the collections of museums a large number of the depictions of these deities is to be found. In their center the Female-Deity is depicted as a young lady riding the hind. To the four corners other four deities riding horses are painted there. High frequency of such depictions prove the successful spread of the version of the Buddhist Tantric ritual text (5) across Tibet and Mongolia, since it faithfully follows the description of the deities in such texts stressing their anthropomorphic appearance.
At the same time it is not simple depiction of the deities. With entering the Tantric ritual, the iconographic representation of them serves primarily the ritual. It is the ritual tool for purpose of visualization of the deities, for which the fixed form of them is needed. Tantric rituals acted as a civilizing force in Tibet and most of the visual art is closely connected with it. It goes hand in hand with the need of fixed structure and form.
Bsang mchod phyogs sgrigs. Ed. by Bsod nams 'bum. Peking: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2003.
Karmay S. G A General Introduction to the History and Doctrines of Bon // Karmay, S. G. The Arrow and the Spindle. Studies in History, Myths, Rituals and Beliefs in Tibet: Kathmandu: Mandala Book Point, 1998. P. 104-156.
The Call of the Blue Cuckoo. An Anthology of Nine Bonpo Texts on Myths and Rituals. Ed. by S. G. Karmay, Y. Nagano. Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology, 2002 (Bon Studies 6).
Namdak T. Mdzog phug: basic verses and commentary. Delhi, 1966.
Sde srid sangs rgyas rgya mtsho. Phug lugs rtsis kyi legs bshad bai DUr dkar po bzhugs so. Stod cha. Krung go'i bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang: Lhasa, 1996.
Tucci G. The Religions of Tibet Berkeley-Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1980.
1 This work was supported by the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic, project No. 401/05/2744 (2005-2007): Image and Text in Buddhism: Tibetan and Mongolian Iconography.
2 She is the fifth of nine sisters, the «females of the world» (srid pa mo dgu). For the detailed information see Karmay 1998:129.
3 Aquilaria agallocha, sinensis, Cinnamomum parthenoxylon.
4 He is named as author, but it is highly probable that he stands merely behind the compilation of the treatise and the actual author is anonymous.
5 The colophon mentions the following titles: : Tshe bdag lcags sdigs, Lcags `dra, Yang bzlog me'i spu gri, Man ngag srid pa'i gter khyim, see Bsod nams 'bum 2003:73.
6 In the catalogue of Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center appear some eight texts dedicated to our deities, all of them are of later date. This concerns also all the texts I have come across rather accidently. See http.www//tbrc.org.