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Honoring Nepal: People, Places, Art

On April 25 last year, devastating news emerged from Nepal as massive earthquakes caused high death tolls, injuries, and widespread destruction. One year later, this exhibition honors Nepal’s distinct contributions to art, culture, and history. #HonorNepal

Introduction
On April 25, 2015, devastating news emerged from Nepal. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake killed or injured  thousands of people and damaged many historical cultural monuments that had functioned as centers of Nepalese identity for centuries. Despite the loss of life and destruction, Nepal’s cultural heritage is rich, deep, and still thriving, as its people continue to restore and rebuild by drawing from their artistic legacy. A year later, we honor Nepal and its legacy by highlighting the people, places, and art that make this culture unique in the world.
People
Despite its relatively small geographical size, especially when compared to its neighbors India and China, Nepal is an incredibly ethnically diverse country with more than 120 different languages spoken within its borders. The innate variety of people and customs has led to complex religious practices that often defy the standard conventions of “Hindu” or “Buddhist.” This mixture of religions is apparent in Nepalese art, which combines South Asian religious motifs with more indigenous expressions of religious life. Coupled with a sheer aesthetic mastery of devotional art, it is apparent why Nepalese people have had and continue to have a lasting impact on the artistic traditions of Asia.

PEOPLE
The inscription on this sculpture honors the parents of the individuals who commissioned the statue: a merit-making activity for the deceased parents to be in Sukhavati Paradise—a pure land where all will attain enlightenment.
- Newark Museum

PEOPLE
Rebuilding has been going on for months. Sometimes it can seem thankless, but we all must soldier on.
- Nepal Children's Art Museum

PEOPLE
This painting of the Rato Macchendranath temple displays the importance of patrons in Nepalese artwork. The bottom third of the canvas is completely dedicated to the patrons of this image.
- Rubin Museum of Art

PEOPLE
Sharing Nepalese dances with an American tourist.

PEOPLE
Many people in Kathmandu live in rented rooms in shoddily-built, hastily erected buildings. These buildings collapsed entirely during the April 2015 earthquake, killing hundreds of people. Others, like the man pictured here, survived, but lost their homes. They live with their families in cramped tents, forced to rely on the goodwill of others to make it through.
- Nepal Children's Art Museum

PEOPLE
Youth of Nepal, determined to make a difference, volunteered in droves in the wake of devastation and chaos caused by the April earthquake in Nepal. They helped clear rubble, build schools, provide supplies and many more essential services. Here, volunteers at the Nepal Children's Art Museum are helping guide children in a sensitive art-making session for children affected by the earthquake.
- Nepal Children's Art Museum

PEOPLE
A company style painting of Nepalese ruler Shamsher Jung Bahadur, gifted to the Museum in the early 20th century by Mrs. Murray, wife of British Lt. Col. H. Murray from the Bombay Western Army Command Circle.

Such paintings were produced for the growing number of Europeans in India who wished to acquire high quality souvenirs of their travels.

Company paintings were often documentary in nature and the subject matter included paintings of royal families, monuments, occupations and scenes from life in the Indian subcontinent.
- Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum

PEOPLE
One of the three main cities of the Nepal Mandala or Kathmandu valley, Bhaktapur vibrantly displays the Hindu religion practices by the majority of the Nepalese people.

PEOPLE
As with most natural disasters, fresh water becomes a scarce commodity as groundwater or plumbing can often become contaminated. People waited in long queues to receive daily quotas of bottled water, of which every drop was precious.
- Nepal Children's Art Museum

PEOPLE
The Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum’s collection of clay models showcases the people of Mumbai, their lifestyles and culture, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The clay male figure is shown wearing the traditional Daura Suruwal with a patuka or belt that was be used to fasten a small dagger to the waist. The Nepali topi or cap is also an essential part of the traditional Nepalese attire. The Nepali women wear their sari over a full-sleeved blouse with a high collar.
- Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum

PEOPLE
Here a clay figure of a Buddhist monk is shown wearing a traditional three-piece robe with prayer beads in his hand.

This model and many others were specially commissioned for the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum by then British curator, Ernest Fern. An Indian clay modeler was hired to create the models based on popular 19th century ethnographic prints and studio photographs.
- Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum

PEOPLE
King Mahendra and Queen Ratna at Hindu purification festivals. Nepal was a monarchy until it became a democracy in 2008.

PEOPLE
Like a graphic novel, this painting shows multiple episodes in a single frame. Satrajit performs a ritual that is rewarded when the Sun-God Surya appears to him and gives him the Syamantaka jewel (here a necklace). The jewel produces wealth daily that Satrajit shares with the poor. Satrajit wears the jewel in the lower left and emits a golden halo. Drawn smaller to show they are less important, other individuals turn and gaze at him.
- Newark Museum

PEOPLE
Kathmandu's Darbar Square is the center of the city where many gather for important religious festivals and rituals.

Places
Along with its diverse ethnicities, Nepal also boasts an incredibly diverse topography, with dense tropical jungles in the south and the tallest mountains on earth in the north. This breathtaking landscape is littered with spiritual significance for the Nepalese people, leading them to use their excellent craftsmanship to create some of the most impressive religious monuments in the world.  

PLACES: PATAN
Another of the three main cities of the Kathmandu Valley, Patan boasts some of the most impressive architecture in the country. This photo highlights the traditional Pagoda style buildings developed in Nepal.

PLACES: KATHMANDU
The Palace Squares of Kathmandu Valley are all UNESCO World Heritage Sites due to their cultural and historical significance. Filled with beautiful carved temples from the Malla Era, they sustained the most damage during the earthquake, which completely flattened dozens of important Nepali landmarks.
- Nepal Children's Art Museum

PLACES: KATHMANDU
Durbar Square 21 years after 1934 earthquake.

PLACES: KATHMANDU
Kathmandu's Darbar Square after the earthquake.

PLACES: BHAKTAPUR
Bhaktapur Durbar Square

- Photosphere by Panedia

PLACES: BHAKTAPUR
Bhaktapur Durbar Square after the 2015 earthquakes.

- Video by Reasonet Mania

PLACES
This painting renders Mount Maniparvata topped by Audaka Palace seat of Pragjyotisha Kingdom (also called Kamarupa, affiliated with present-day Assam). It also represents Narakasura’s conquest of the three worlds—heavens, earth and underworld. Another demonstration of Narakasura’s power are the “16,000” hostage princesses seen crowding behind him in the upper left. Five of his sons sit in front of him awaiting instructions as their brothers defend Audaka from Krishna (an incarnation of Vishnu) and his wife Satyabhama, who fly in on Garuda’s back to rescue the princesses.
- Newark Museum

PLACES
In the aftermath of the April 2015 earthquake, many Nepali schools were too damaged to safely hold classes. In collaboration with the Nepali Government and UNICEF, many organizations in Nepal helped build TLCs, or Temporary Learning Centers, for schools that no longer had safe classrooms.
- Nepal Children's Art Museum

PLACES: SWAYAMBUNATHA
The origins of the Kathmandu Valley are described in the Swayambu Purana. This painted interior book cover displays Swayambunath Stupa hovering above the lake surrounded by snow-topped mountains. Devotees who commissioned this painted cover (and probably the text it once contained) are depicted on the sides.
- Newark Museum

PLACES: SWAYAMBUNATHA

- Photosphere by Kyle Welsby

PLACES
Nagas or snakes spirits are said to have ruled the lake that once covered the Kathmandu Valley and still play a significant role in the religious life of the valley.
- Rubin Museum of Art

PLACES: KATHMANDU
A pillar from a former temple in Kathmandu showing the impressive woodworking capabilities of the Nepalese people.

Art
The art of Nepal has been renowned for millennia across Asia, influencing the religious and artistic traditions of Tibet, China, and beyond. The exquisite attention to detail and layers of meaning hidden in each piece create a fascinating depth in both paintings and sculptures, bringing the religious scriptures that inform the proportions and presentations of each piece to life. This rich artistic legacy is perhaps more important now than ever, as the Nepalese people rebuild their cultural treasures and restore the monuments that were lost during the earthquake.

ART
Tributes to the city that had lost so much of its heritage popped up around town, so the citizens had new works of art to look at while our ancient ones were being restored.
- Nepal Children's Art Museum

ART: FEMALE DEITIES
Throughout Nepal’s recorded history, Hinduism has flourished, alongside Buddhism, as one of the country’s two major faiths. Both religions were introduced from India but developed uniquely in Nepal through interaction with local belief systems and ritual practices. Chamunda is a fearsome form of the Hindu goddess, associated with death and destruction, and often venerated in Nepal as one of the Matrikas (Mother Goddesses). This sculpture is one of the most iconographically complex and artistically refined images of Chamunda known.
- LACMA

ART: FEMALE DEITIES
This silver and brass image of the eighteen-armed Durga riding a lion, subduing the anthropomorphic form of the buffalo demon "Mahishasura" with her left leg. The demon is shown arising out of a buffalo, whose head Durga has severed. This form of Durga is known as Mahishasurmardini and its mythology can be traced back to ancient Hindu mythology.

Durga Puja or the festival worshiping Goddess Durga is celebrated by the large Hindu population in Nepal.
- Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum

ART: FEMALE DEITIES
This large and complex image of Tara, Goddess of Compassion, is the product of two different workshops. The sharp line of the figure’s nose, exaggerated swelling hips and her jewelry and garments are common features of solid-cast goddess figures made by the Newar ethnic group of Nepal during the tenth and eleventh centuries. Highly prized, Newar artworks traveled far beyond their country of origin where they were revered in new ways. The nimbus and throne base reveal styles of later centuries that may have been made in Tibet. The hollow base allows for the insertion of Tibetan consecration materials, such as sacred texts and cloth once worn by holy individuals, impossible to insert into the solid-cast statue.
- Newark Museum

ART: FEMALE DEITIES
Vasudhara is the Buddhist goddess of wealth and abundance, capable of dispensing good fortune and prosperity upon devotees. In Nepal, a six-armed form of Vasudhara was especially popular, her attributes and gestures reinforcing her associations with plenitude, wisdom, and Buddhahood. Vasudhara is the exoteric aspect of the esoteric Buddhist goddess Vajravarahi and, as such, would have been placed in an outer, public, shrine of a Newar monastery where such sculptures can still be found in worship today.
- LACMA

ART: FEMALE DEITIES
Kali, a prominent Hindu goddess, represents the feminine power of the universe or Shakti. Here, Kali is represented as an eight armed goddess standing on a lotus-shaped pedestal with flames emanating from her head. Her ferocious aspect is depicted in this bronze sculpture in the form of a skull above her forehead and large tusks protruding from her lips. Hindu mythology associates Kali with the concept of Time and the acts of creation and destruction.
- Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum

ART: FEMALE DEITIES
Jina-prajnas, also known as Taras in Newar Buddhism, are the female wisdom aspects of the Jina Buddhas. While the exact identification of this Jina-Prajna is unclear, its surface condition suggests a long history of active worship. The sculpture likely belonged to a group that would have been arranged around a stupa on ritual occasions. The artist of this remarkable image has perfectly captured the transcendent beauty associated with these Buddhist goddesses.
- LACMA

ART: FEMALE DEITIES
Ardhanarishvara, the “lord who is half-woman,” is a form of the Hindu god Shiva in which he is depicted, literally, as one with his divine consort Parvati. This sculpture—one of the most exquisite such representations from all of South Asia—is also among the earliest of this iconographic type known from Nepal.
- LACMA

ART: FEMALE DEITIES
The Pancharaksha goddesses, including Mahasitavati and Mahasahasrapramardini, are revered as protective deities in Nepal. These folios once belonged to a complete manuscript enumerating the various charms or spells—said to have been formulated by the Buddha—with which the Pancharaksha goddesses were associated.
- LACMA

ART
"The small but burgeoning community of graffiti artists in Nepal responded to the devastation of the April earthquake by creating messages of hope and optimism on the various walls of the city of Kathmandu. In this piece by the artist Imagine, the Buddha's eyes are closed in meditation over a soothing blue background, creating feelings of peace and calm."
- Nepal Children's Art Museum

ART: MANDALAS
An eight-petal lotus is one of the most basic forms of a mandala, a diagram of a sacred space populated by a central deity with a divine entourage. Although here the central deity is missing, what remains indicates the Great Goddess Durga originally was housed in the center, surrounded by important Hindu goddesses, each placed in an interior lotus petals seated upon a different identifying animal (elephant, peacock, bull, etc.). When not in use, the petals fold up, revealing a closed lotus-bud rising from a water-pool. Lotus-mandala—displaying a range of Hindu and Buddhist deities—survive from as early as the Pala Period. This later Nepalese work may have been used in Nepal or exported to Eastern India through continuous mutual exchanges between these regions. Even today, worship of the Goddess remains strong in both areas.
- Newark Museum

ART: MANDALAS
The term “mandala” literally means circle or sphere akin to “circle of friends,” “sphere of influence,” “entourage of followers,” and has come to be recognized as the proper name for art works that geometrically outline a celestial palace populated by a central deity and a divine retinue. The palace is viewed like an architectural diagram where the four sides are folded outward from the center. This stunning example houses Vishnu standing upon Garuda joined by Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth) upon her tortoise. They are encircled by five kneeling supplicants and five additional images of Vishnu.
Cont'd

ART: MANDALAS
Four inner gates (marking the four cardinal directions) punctuate the square wall surrounding the inner entourage. Each gate is flanked by winged figures (kinnera) flying among floral patterns. Eight gates populate the outer ring and are regularly interspersed with two sets of the eight auspicious symbols and eight guardians with a range of weapons and mudra. The outermost edge is a ring of lotus-petals with an auspicious sun-key incised in the metal rim. Gem-encrusted works like this were a brief fashion in Nepal in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.
- Newark Museum

ART: MANDALAS
This inscribed and dated painting is a classic Newari example of the Chakrasamvara Mandala, an iconographically complex support for the most esoteric meditation and visualization techniques leading to enlightenment. The painting furthermore describes the phenomenal world of Newar Buddhists in the Kathmandu Valley. The region is often conceptualized as the Chakrasamvara Mandala, its sacred landscape inhabited by the deities in such paintings.
- LACMA

ART
The concept of a "safe space" is an important one when dealing with traumatic events such as an earthquake. Nepal Children's Art Museum encouraged children affected by the earthquake to visualize what a "safe or happy space" meant for them, which they represented as an image in a camera.
- Nepal Children's Art Museum

ART
This stunning and visually complex painting depicts the deities Chakrasamvara and Vajravarahi in union, a visual expression of the nonduality and bliss of complete enlightenment. Although several features of the painting reflect Tibetan iconographic traditions, its style is Newari, attesting to the important role played by Newar artists in the production of Buddhist paintings for Tibetan patrons.
- LACMA

ART
A prabhamandala, also called a nimbus or an aureole, is an ornament placed behind statues to indicate their hallowed status. The ornate punch-work, use of repoussé, characteristic scrollwork and remnants of ritual powders, suggest that Newar craftsmen of Nepal made this for use in Nepal. Typical of early Newar art are the flickering border of curls that represent both flames and foliage, and house a fantastic zoo. At the top a mythical garuda bird grasps serpentine water-wealth deities (naga). Two elephantine makara figures roar above horned goat-lions (sharabha). Strands of jewels issue from the sharabhas’ mouths and their hind-legs prance upon two elephants. This stack of animals indicates a regal throne—a grouping found in Buddhist, Hindu and Jain religious art.
- Newark Museum

ART
This lampstand is an example of the decorative artifacts that were exported to Europe through the Asian subcontinent as land and sea trade expanded in the late 19th century. This dragon from Nepal has wings, an expressive ferocious face, a highly decorated tail and a candle stand, which it holds on its right foreleg.
- Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum

ART
An exemplary work of Newar woodcarving, this sculpture depicts Amoghapasha Lokeshvara (Unfailing Noose Lord of the World), a form of the compassionate Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. In Nepal, Amoghapasha is regularly venerated by lay worshippers who attempt to transform themselves into exemplars of compassion through meditation on, and visualization of, his form.
- LACMA

ART
This ornate plaque depicting the Hindu god Vishnu is dated by inscription to the late twelfth century and was likely offered by the donor as a sheath to cover and beautify a stone image under worship. Several unique features of the image—the particular arrangement of attributes, and the suggestion of an erect phallus beneath the lower garment—point to a syncretic and uniquely Nepalese conception of this Hindu god.
- LACMA

ART
An important visual document in the history of Nepalese art, this painting records in its inscription the meritorious acts of the Mahasiddha Vanaratnapa (1384-1469) and his attainment of Buddhahood upon his death. In the painting, Vanaratnapa receives initiation from the goddess Sita Tara, who pours liquid from a small jar into a bowl held by the Mahasiddha. Born and ordained in India, Vanaratnapa later traveled extensively in Tibet and Nepal, residing for many years in Patan. The Kathmandu Valley was a crucial center for the study and transmission of tantric knowledge and methodologies.
- LACMA

ART
Despite the loss of life and important cultural monuments one year ago, Nepal continues its religious and artistic traditions as they have for centuries and will be able to rebuild as they have done in the past.

NEPALESE SEASONS: RAIN AND RITUAL
May 6, 2016 – March 27, 2017

Featuring almost fifty objects from the Rubin Museum’s premiere collection of Nepalese art and select loans, Nepalese Seasons: Rain and Ritual illustrates the enduring manifestation of rituals, agrarian festivals, and the natural environment in the art of Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley.

This is the first exhibition connecting well-known deities represented in Nepalese art to rituals and festivals surrounding the rainy season, or monsoon, and highlighting the importance of the seasons to the culture and everyday life of Nepalese people. Through this lens, the exhibition will offer visitors a new understanding of the region and its art, which is already renowned for its high quality and aesthetic appeal.

Learn more

A collaborative virtual exhibition with contributions by the British Museum, Freer and Sackler Galleries, LIFE Photo Collection, Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Nepal’s Children Art Museum, Newark Museum, the Royal Ontario Museum, and conceived and organized by the Rubin Museum of Art.
Credits: Exhibit

The Rubin Museum of Art would like to thank the following institutions for their contributions to this virtual exhibition:

- The British Museum, UK
- Freer & Sackler Galleries, US
- Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum, India
- LIFE Photo Collection, US
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art, US
- Nepal Children's Art Museum, Nepal
- Newark Museum, US
- The Royal Ontario Museum, Canada

Conceived and organized by
THE RUBIN MUSEUM OF ART, US

Credits: All media
The exhibit featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.