Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Portrait of Abhinavagupta



The iconic representational image of Shaiva philosopher Abhinavagupta (10th century). If you Google search now, this is the origin of most Abhinavagupta images that now flood the internet. This image first appeared in the book 'Guru Nath Paramarsha of Madhuraj - Ed. P.N. Pushp' (1960). Artist: Unknown.

The image is based on pen-portrait of Abhinavagupta by his Tamil student Madhuraj:

"Out of his deep compassion, [Śiva] has taken a new bodily form as Abhinava Gupta and come to Kashmīr. He sits in the middle of a garden of grapes, inside a pavilion [adorned with] crystal and filled with beautiful paintings. The room smells wonderful because of flower garlands, incense sticks, and oil lamps. It is constantly resounding with musical instruments, with songs, and with dancing. There are crowds of yogīs and yoginīs, realized beings, and siddhas. . . . In the center of the room there is a golden seat from which pearls are hanging. It has a soft awning stretched over it as a canopy. Here sits Abhinava Gupta attended by all his numerous students, with Kṣemarāja at their head, who are writing down everything he says. . . . Abhinava Gupta’s eyes are trembling in ecstasy. In the middle of his forehead is a conspicuous tilaka made of sacred ashes. He has a rudrākṣa bead hanging from his ear. His long hair is held by a garland of flowers. He has a long beard and reddish-brown skin. His neck is dark and glistening with musk and sandalwood paste. Two dūtīs stand at his side holding refreshments [wine etc.]. . . . He wears a silken cloth as a dhoti, white as moonbeams, and he sits in the yogic posture known as vīrāsana. One hand is held on his knee holding a japa-mālā and his fingers make the mudrā that signifies his knowledge of the highest Śiva. He plays on a resonating lute (ektār) with the tips of his quivering fingers of his lotus-like left hand."

[From Paul Muller-Ortega’s translation of Guru Nath Paramarsha of Madhuraj, 
via: tantrikstudies.org]

"1000 years ago today, Abhinava Gupta sent pen to paper for the last time, completing his last great work, a multivolume commentary on the most profound and erudite philosophical text in Indian history (the Stanzas on the Recognition of the Divine [ Isvara Pratyabhijna Karika of Utpaladeva (c 900-950)]). We know the date because he wrote it at the end of his manuscript: the end of the month of Mārgaśīrṣa, in the year 4090 of the Saptarṣi calendar (corresponding to 1015 CE)."

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2 comments:

  1. This is great, Vinayak. I still believe the most popular portrait of Abhinavagupta ever is the one here: http://ikashmir.net/abhinavagupta/index.html
    This image appeared in Kanti Chandra Pandey's famous book 'Abhinavagupta', the revised edition of which was published in 1951. The first edition had come in 1936, but I don't think this edition had the picture of Abhinavagupta. Another edition published in 1962 also had this picture.

    However, I have never been completely happy with the artistic depictions of Abhinavagupta. One of the worst recent tragedies was that there is a volume dedicated to one of the foremost scholars of Abhinavan aesthetics K.C. Pandey and the cover picture was one of the ugliest depiction of Abhinavagupta:
    http://www.mrmlonline.com/?page=shop/flypage&product_id=2302734
    This picture is really hilarious - Abhinavagupta dressed like a pan-Indian sādhu with snow clad mountains in the background and banana trees around. :). Not that the one that was published in Pandey's book mentioned in the beginning is sensible either. However, the one you posted still makes little more sense and is closer to the description offered by Madhurāja. In this portrait Abhinava is completely clad, there are grape vines around, lake and mountains in the background. As far as I recall, Madhurāja mentions that there was a canopy of grape vines etc. If you see the right corner of the picture there is also the depiction of the then contemporary Śaiva masters viz. Swami Ramji and Swami Vidyādhar Ji. I have seen another sister picture of the above (probably photoshopped) where Swami Lakshman Joo is also included next to Swami Vidyādhar. The predominant white colour of his bead is a bit irritating. All of these pictures still reflect the pan-Indian spiritual type men - mostly clad in one cloth etc. My image of Abhinava is someone who is heavily clad for obvious reasons. I do not know how helpful would it be to say that since he was a Siddha or yoginībhū, he did not feel either heat or cold.


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    1. Mrinal, Thanks for that insightful comment. I think the image I have posted was painted by a Kashmiri, so we are able to relate to it a bit more. That also explains the presence of Swami Ramji and Swami Vidyādhar Ji.

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