Gudrun Bühnemann

Complex Configurations: Śiva, Avalokiteśvara and the Golden Window in Patan

One major tourist attraction in the city of Patan in Nepal is the Golden Window above the portal of the (former) royal palace in Keshav Narayan Cok. The window features a  representation of a Bodhisattva surrounded by miniature images of Brahmanical deities. The tympanum above the window likewise displays Hindu deities. It is often said that the window was constructed in the mid-17th century under Śrīnivāsamalla of Patan, but it has also occasionally been ascribed to Viṣṇumalla, who ruled in the 18th century. The configuration of divinities on and above the window, it is thought, was meant to suggest an identification of the king (who periodically appeared at the window) with the Bodhisattva, who in turn was subordinated to the major Hindu deity featured on the tympanum. This was supposed to
illustrate the Malla kings’ support of the Buddhist practices of their subjects, while providing a Hindu interpretative framework for them. Unfortunately, we do not have any reliable information on the date of the Golden Window, and the matter is complicated by the fact that there have been considerable renovations and additions to the royal palace over the centuries. On the basis of Sanskrit texts and images, the paper will examine the history and iconography of the Buddhist image represented on the Golden Window and elsewhere by tracing the development of the image from the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara who emanates Brahmanical deities (described in versions of the Kāraṇḍavyūha and Guṇakāraṇḍavyūha) to Sṛṣṭikartā Lokeśvara, one member of various groups of 108 Lokeśvaras. From the evaluation of the
extant material it appears that artistic representations, which share many common characteristics, became popular from the mid-19th century. The paper will also suggest a later date for the construction of the Golden Window than thus far assumed and shed new light on the configuration of deities represented on it.

Gudrun Bühnemann is Professor in the Department of Languages and  Cultures of Asia at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her recent publications include Maṇḍalas and Yantras in the Hindu Traditions (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2003; New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2007), Eighty-four Āsanas in Yoga: A Survey of Traditions (with Illustrations) (New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2007) and Buddhist Iconography and Ritual in Paintings and Line Drawings from Nepal (Lumbini: Lumbini International Research Institute, 2008).