Wednesday, September 14, 2005

China | Beijing | Anige's White Pagoda

Back in the Big Dumpling I headed for the Maio Ying Temple and White Pagoda located in the western part of the city. The White Pagoda was built during the Yuan Dynasty, construction beginning in 1271 and ending in 1279. It was designed by the Nepalese artist Anige, who is thought to have had an influence on the artwork of Zanabazar, First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia. A huge monastery, one of the big projects Khubilai Khan initiated to mark his creation of the Yuan Dynasty, formally named in 1272, was built in front of the pagoda. This monastery was destroyed by fire near the end of the Yuan Dynasty (1368). In the first year of the Ming Dynasty the monastery was rebuilt and given the name Miao Ying Temple.

The Maio Ying Temple with the White Pagoda behind

The pagoda itself is 167 feet high. There are some indications that the stupa also commemorates a Kalachakra Initiation given to Khubilai and members of his court, but I am still trying to track down the details of this.

The White Pagoda

As mentioned Anige was from Nepal. He and twenty-four of his fellow Nepalese-Newari artists had been invited to the court of Khubilai by the Tibetan lama Phagspa, who had been appointed the “Imperial Preceptor,” or head of Buddhism, under Khubilai. Here Anige and his followers introduced to the Mongols a new Nepalese-inspired style of Tibetan Buddhist art. “The earliest Tibetan pantheon known to the Mongols, notes one art historian, ”was that of the Newari school, expressed in the artistic idiom of the Newari, or Belri style, as it was called in Tibet,” Anige eventually turned in his monk’s robes and became head of the Directorate-General of Artisans for the Mongol court. He himself made a statue of Mahakala for Khubilai and a golden Mahakala for Phagspa. Although quite famous in their time, both these works subsequently disappeared.

Indeed, few of the works of Anige and his school survived until Zanabazar’s time, and there is no direct evidence Zanabazar saw any of them, but art historians have noted the apparent influence of Anige’s aesthetic in the delicate detailing of the necklaces, armbands, bracelets, and other ornaments on Zanabazar’s Own Statues. In any case, the influence of Anige and his school continued on in Tibet up until at least the seventeenth century, when Zanabazar himself visited Lhasa, and the Newari artists he met there and perhaps brought back to Mongolia with him in his entourage would have been familiar with the style of art originally developed by the Newari artist.

The White Pagoda

The Zanabazar-style of stupa, which he may have developed on the model of Anige’s stupas, like the White Stupa in Beijing, are still being made today in Mongolia; for example the One Recently Built in Arkhangai on the site of the so-called Taliyn Khuree or Steppe Monastery