Lama Shangton Chobar was a contemporary of the third Sakya tridzin or throne holder, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092–1158). In the early 12th century, Sachen spent eight years under the tutelage of Shangton Chobar in private retreat, receiving the oral instructions of the Lamdre teachings, per tradition. Shangton Chobar commanded Sachen to keep these teachings to himself for eighteen years, after which time he was permitted to pass on the teachings to his disciples and also commit them to writing. Sachen followed his guru’s instructions, and transmitted the teachings to his disciples, including his sons Sonam Tsemo and Drakpa Gyaltsen.
Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, Lobpon Sonam Tsemo and Jetsun Drakpa Gyaltsen are the first three of the ‘Five Great Sakya Masters’, and the founding patriarchs of the Sakya order in Tibet. Indeed, Sakya Monastery was itself founded by Sachen’s father, Khön Konchok Gyalpo. For further discussion of the legacy of Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, see the catalogue essay for lot 238.
Both of Sachen’s sons were, like their father, scholars and practitioners of tremendous capability, who dedicated their lives to intensive study, practice, textual composition, and their respective communities of disciples. As members of the aristrocratic Khön family of Central Tibet and thus holders of the hereditary Sakya throne, all three were, in their time, responsible for Sakya Monastery. Sonam Tsemo (1142-1182), Sachen’s eldest son and the fourth Sakya tridzin, wrote numerous commentaries on tantra, Sanskrit grammar, and short expositions of Sakya doctrine. Drakpa Gyaltsen (1182-1231), the fifth Sakya tridzin, was the author of many works of tantric exegesis, dogmatics, medical treatises, and commentaries on his father’s writings. For further discussion of the lives and accomplishments of Sonam Tsemo and Drakpa Gyaltsen, see C. Stearns, Luminous Lives: The Story of the Early Masters of the Lam 'bras Traditions in Tibet, 2001.
The register-based composition with four main figures, such as the present work, was a Sakya convention popularized during the 15th and 16th centuries in Central Tibet. Two further works from this important series of paintings of the Sakya Lamdre lineage holders, formerly in a renowned Swiss collection, were sold by Galerie Koller, Zürich, Auktion 87/3, June 26, 1993, lots 109, 110. A number of thangkas made for the Sakya order were included in the exhibition Wisdom and Compassion, the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1991; see Kunga Nyingpo, dated to circa 1429, from the collection of Robert H. Ellsworth, cat. no. 61. Compare also with three register-based thangkas, circa 15th century, depicting Indian and Tibetan Lamdre lineage holders in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, including mahasiddhas Damarupa and Avadhutipa, Gayadhara and Lachen Drogmi (accession nos. 1970-198-1, 1994-148-639 and 1970-198-2).
The reverse of the present works is inscribed with mantra and is framed above and below in its original blue silk mount, with exposed left and right edges of the picture bound in green silk. The inscription at the bottom register can be freely translated as follows:
Salutations to Nganye Chöbar, the learned one, who, for the sake of others, works diligently towards realization; and has thereby obtained power in samadhi, in realization and in magical transformation.
Salutations to Kunga Nyingpo, powerful yogi of the Sakyapa, who works continually for the sake of others, because he possesses great compassion. You, lama of the excellent learned ones, being without obscurity in all knowledge, are a real manifestation of Manjushri. You have (the real nature) of all dharmas impressed upon your mind.
Salutations to Sonam Tsemo, excellent friend of all beings, through your vast wisdom, you accomplish actions of immeasurable merit.
Salutations to Drakpa Gyaltsen, lord of all the vajradhara, who has gone over to the other shore of the ocean of tantra, seeing the essence of all dharmas.
With special thanks to Dr. Heather Stoddard and Jeff Watt for their scholarship on this topic and kind assistance in research and translation.
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