AN EXTREMELY RARE LARGE GILT-BRONZE FIGURE DEPICTING A CHITIPATI OR KINKARA TIBET OR HIMALAYAS, 17TH – 18TH CENTURY
For a representation of the Chitipati, see a 15th century thangka in the Rubin Museum of Art, New York, illustrated in Rob Linrothe and Jeff Watt, loc.cit., pp. 126-127, cat. no. 10 . See also a detail on an 18th century thangka of Vajrayogini, sold in our Paris rooms, 10th June 2014, lot 69. These images demonstrate how the current figure may originally have appeared as a pair, depicted dancing alongside each other in a temple or other ritual setting.
In the Tantric context, the charnal ground is both a literal and metaphorical arena for Buddhist practice—a potent reminder of the impermanence of life; the mental constructs of aversion and impurity; and the craving for a human body and future rebirths. There are subtle iconographical differences between the kinkara and Chitipati. The kinkara is depicted in a dancing posture, with a prominent and pointed skull with curvilinear bone fissures; hollow eye sockets; the gaping mouth with teeth bared and vicious fangs. A decorative necklace and breastplate or textile adorns the upper body, and a short dhoti adorns the lower body. Further decorative bone fissures are visible at the back of the skull, the wrist, knees and ankles. The skeletal torso reveals the bony rib cage at the front, and the ribs with protruding spinal column at the back. The iconography of the Chitipati is almost identical, however, the kinkara has two eye sockets and a human-like body, with flesh-covered hands and feet and delicately articulated nails.
Chitipati are associated with the eight great charnel grounds (astamahasmashana) of the Chakrasamvara and Vajrayogini mandalas, and invoked as the skeletal protectors of Tantric practitioners. Chitipati are typically depicted completely denuded of flesh, with a third eye, wearing a five-leaf or five-skull crown, holding kinkara-danda (skeleton clubs) or other ritual implements aloft, and with knees intertwined. The ghouls and spirits of the charnal ground, including the kinkara, are governed by the Chitipati.
It has been speculated in the past that this sculpture may have been used to support the oversized Tibetan ritual long horn known as dungchen. Found throughout the greater Tibetan Buddhist cultural region, dungchen are long, telescoping bronze or mixed metal trumpets often more than three meters in length, used in a ritual context and always played in pairs. The wide ends of the dungchen typically rest on mounted stands, and are held aloft by a handheld mount, or rested on the ground. In the current example, it is possible that a curved mount for the wide end of a dungchen would have fit into the figure’s raised proper right palm, as it also would in that of its pair. For further discussion, see Linrothe and Watt, Demonic Divine: Himalayan Art and Beyond, New York, 2004, p. 134, cat. no. 14.