Detailed Traditional Craftsmanship

Tantra in Nepal

Nepal has historically remained a major and vital center and the entrepôt for the transmission of Tantric Buddhism into Tibet Tantric and for its artistic expression between northeast India and Tibet. The small fertile valley of the Kathmandu, consisting of the three cities of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur, is the locus of Tantric Buddhism, where it has shared the religious environment with Hindu practices for at least 2,000 years.

Practiced by the Newar community, this form of Buddhism serves as the last remaining legacy of Sanskrit Buddhism still actively followed within a South Asian cultural context. Indeed, the Kathmandu Valley is virtually an open-air museum, with more than 500 Buddhist institutions and numerous temples, giving evidence to the creative genius of the Newars.

According to Vajrayana Buddhists, the historical Buddha explained tantric methods. The Buddha was approached by a king who informed him that he could not leave his subjects behind and become a monk due to his obligations. However, he was surrounded by temptations and pleasures because of his affluent status. How was it that he attained enlightenment? In response, the Buddha gave the monarch tantric techniques that would turn joys into experiences of transcendence.

As per historians, Tantra is said to have been created relatively early in the first millennium CE in India by Mahayana masters. This could have been a means of reaching those who weren't receptive to the sutras' lessons. 

The Newar Craftsmanship

In fact, the term "Nepalese" art often refers exclusively to the artistic production of the Buddhist Newars of the Kathmandu Valley. Through the centuries, the Newar Buddhist community of artists has also fulfilled major commissions for the royal Hindu patrons, and the Tibetan patrons to this day especially recognize the aesthetic refinement and iconographic accuracy of Newar craftsmanship.

Thus, as testified in the Tibetan accounts of the Blue Annals, Nepal historically served as a critical foundation of Tantric Buddhism for the Tibetan teachers, who came to the Kathmandu Valley not only to learn Sanskrit but also of to receive teachings from the renowned Newar Buddhist masters. 

Buddhist Masters

The Excellence of Newari Art

By the 7th century, the excellence of Newar workmanship was recognized when Newar craftsmen were commissioned to build and embellish the Jokhang in Lhasa. Indeed, the Nepalese princess Bhrikuti, daughter of Amshuvarma, is said to have taken a number of artists with her to Tibet. Furthermore, commenting on the artistry and aesthetic of Nepalese architecture, the Chinese ambassador Wang Xuan Ze, from the Tang dynasty (618-906), thus describes the royal palace:

"In the middle of the palace, there is a tower of seven stories,

roofed with copper tiles. Its balustrade, grilles, columns, beams,

and everything therein are set with gems and semi-precious

stones. At each corner of the tower, there descends a copper

water pipe, at the base of which is spouted four golden dragons."

Art and the Caste

For the most part, the monastic community of the Vajracharya and Shakyas are the Valley's craftsmen: carvers of stone, wood, and ivory; painters and highly skilled metalworkers, goldsmiths, and silversmiths. In particular, the metalworkers from Nepal are among the finest craftsmen working the Valley. These occupations have led many members of the monastic caste groups to serve as itinerant artists in Tibet, commissioned to work for monasteries throughout Central Tibet, in Lhasa, Shakya, and Samye.

Tamrakar Artist 


The Sanskrit word Tamarakar may be broken down into two parts. Aakar implies molding or forming, while Tamra denotes copper. The Tamrakar is a caste of coppersmiths and other metal casters in Nepal. They belong to the Newar ethnic group and are one of the three family castes in the Kathmandu Valley. The principal foundational materials for sculpture used by the Tamrakar caste in Nepal are bronze and brass. The Tamrakars are also renowned for their labor-intensive, hand-crafted metal sculpting.  

Shakya Artist  

Shakya, meaning "competent," is a Sanskrit word. Furthermore, it is possible to trace the Shakya caste back to the Vedic period, which came before the birth of the Gautama Buddha in Lumbini, Nepal. Shakya artisans use lost wax casting and repousse processes to create metal sculptures. They make all their sculptures and ceremonial items by hand, making each one unique. Hand-sculpting metal is a complex, labor-intensive process that requires a lot of skill. Multiple artisans must work together to create a single sculpture, and the process might take more than 3–4 months for the most delicate pieces. Each sculpture has its personality and mood, which is the unique beauty of this ancient craft.


Newari and Tibetan Iconography

Indeed, historically, the Newar artists have been instrumental in the development of the Tibetan painting and sculptural style of the Bal ris and Bal mthun ("Newar-painting/sculpture.”). An inscribed sketchbook belonging to the artist Jivarama specifically mentions that he had worked in Tibet and brought the hook back after his stay in Tibet, and indeed the iconographic and decorative elements of the sketchbook and painting are virtually identical.

The Newari Craftsman Anige

Perhaps the most famous of the Newar craftsmen is Anige, who went to the Chinese Yuan court with the Sakya hierarch Phagpa along with eighty craftsmen. Anige impressed the great Kublai Khan and was commissioned to create a colossal stupa as well as various metal, dry lacquer, ceramic, and unfired clay images and paintings. Influencing Chinese, Tibetan, and Mongolian art, he served as the head of the metal-casting division and in 1299 was commissioned by the Emperor to undertake 191 images and 64 paintings.

Chinese accounts state that in 1304, 181 images were produced and restored by him. Though little that survives can definitely be credited to Anige's hand, there are two objects from his workshops in the exhibition. Moreover, there are several paintings in the exhibition representing the ongoing aesthetic exchanges between the Tibetans and Chinese, which Anige initiated.

An Era of Artistic Production

After the Licchavi dynasty, the Transitional (880-1200) and Malla (1200–1768) periods were the most prolific and inspired eras of artistic production, with extensive cultural exchanges with Tibet. The Valley's creative excellence of stone, wood, and metalworking are best exemplied by the complex visual imagery of the Buddhist institutions of the Valley.

Shrine façades of the bahas are embellished with exquisite toranas, elegant strut figures, sculptural decorations, and votive offerings in the courtyards, such as chaityas and mandalas. The visual imagery in the major monasteries date from the 14th to 15th centuries, with offerings that continue to be added through the centuries by the pious lay patrons of the community.

Tantra in Buddhism

Buddhism, in contrast, arrived in China about the year 1. Tantric techniques are included in Chinese Mahayana Buddhist groups like Pure Land and Zen, but they are not nearly as complex as Tibetan tantric practices. Teachers of the Vajrayana school contrast the slower tantra road with what they refer to as Buddhism's gradual, causal, or sutra path. They refer to the Precepts, cultivating meditative attention, and studying sutras as the "sutra" route to produce the seeds, or causes, of enlightenment. Enlightenment will eventually be attained in this manner. On the other hand, Tantra is a way to realize oneself as an enlightened person to bring this future outcome into the present.

To facilitate personal spiritual development, the tantras—a category of literature exclusive to the Vajrayana tradition—are written in a highly metaphorical and symbolic style. The tantras have typically been kept hidden because of their symbolic nature, and a literalist interpretation of such texts generally has failed to make any sense of them. 


When "reality" is seen in terms of the nature of the mind itself, Tantra is a valuable tool for understanding the true nature of reality. The fundamental thesis is that human suffering results from our erroneous perception of fact. We mistakenly believe that experiences that are "empty" of any existence are objectively real, distinct, and constant. Tantra does more than only focus on the essence of reality, though. Additionally, it is about realizing one's true potential as Buddhas, or our inherent capacity to become Buddhas. 


Tantra can be practiced at four levels: Kriya, Carya, Yoga, and Anuttarayoga. Physical actions, like cleansing rites, are highly valued in kriya (action) tantra. The Carya (method) tantra creates harmony between outward activity and regular interior meditation. The inner spiritual connection is nearly totally the focus of yoga (union) tantra. The phrase mantrayana, or the method of mantra, is occasionally used to refer to the first three. According to Annutara Yoga (ultimate union), Tantra is relatively unique. It may offer complete enlightenment in one lifetime and, unlike the others, trains one not only for this life's experience but also for death and the transitional state between lifetimes. This Tantra is the most magnificent of all and the most potent spiritual alchemy. It is sometimes referred to as Vajrayana.

Before emerging as Prince Gautama, Shakyamuni is thought to have acquired enlightenment in a celestial realm. Prince Gautama adorned the Earth for eighty years, between 624 and 544 BCE. This fleeting manifestation, or nirmanakaya, was a little component of his accomplishment. It primarily helped to build the core of his teachings, which were intended to last for 10 periods of 500 years, or long beyond the fifth millennium. Bodhisattvas with exceptionally pure minds can constantly be in the presence of his sambhogakaya, which appears in their meditations as pristine lands and numerous symbolic Buddha forms throughout these five millennia. 


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