As I mentioned in an earlier post, the mural depicting Tejaprabha Buddha originally came into the museum and was published with the central figure identified as Sakyamuni Buddha. However a few years later someone noticed that one of the figures on the left was holding a small book with an inscription on it. It was thought this could shed some light on the identities of the figures in the mural. Unfortunately, some of the characters were illegible and so it was hard to make out what the book actually said.
In an article by Helen Fernald she writes that a J.E. Lodge [John Ellerton Lodge] was able to make out the characters after some experimental photography. They read:
An abridgment of: 佛說熾盛光大威德消災吉祥陀羅尼經
Translation: Buddha’s teachings concerning the dispelling of calamities
Translated into Chinese by Amoghavajra (471-771 CE)
This is actually the title of a sutra, or Buddhist teaching. Once we know the title of the sutra it becomes fairly easy to get the rest of the text. There are multiple online repositories that have compiled the Buddhist canon for scholars and lay people alike. They are almost always in Chinese or Japanese but once you work your way through them you can see what the sutra is about and make out who is being depicted in the mural. Aschwin Lippe published the complete name of the sutra in English:
“Sutra Spoken by the Buddha, [giving] the Mantra of the Gold-Wheel Buddha-head of Great Virtue,Tejaprabha Tathagata, Which Dispels All Calamities.”¹
So now we have the name of the Buddha, Tejaprabha mentioned in the sutra title and visible in the middle of the mural. But who else is in the mural? A small excerpt from the sutra was translated by Alexander C. Soper which describes who should perform ritual rites to the Buddha in order to avoid cosmic calamity:
Practice of the rites described therein is recommended for “all monarchs, their great ministers and dependents, and the common people as a whole, who may suffer the oppression of the sun, moon, five planets, Rahu, Ketu, comets, (or other) portents and malign stars.”²
The rest of the figures fall into place now, the sun, moon, five planets, and Rahu and Ketu all of whom surround Tejaprabha in his paradise. Now we just need to identify each celestial figure based on their iconography. A task I will tackle in a later post.
¹Lippe, Aschwin. “Buddha and the Holy Multitude.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v. 23, no. 9, part 1 (May, 1965).
²Soper, Alexander C. Hsiang-kuo-ssŭ: An Imperial Temple of Northern Sung.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, v.68, no. 1 (Jan-Mar.1948).