During the recent visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I happen to walk into Curatorial Department room of East Asia Art on the second floor. In here, lie marvellous and well-crafted artworks and sculptures. From reading books about the cultures about the Asian nations, these artworks drive more sense into the narration of the tales. One such art that got my eye was the statue of Luohan (Disciple of the Buddha). The statue of Luohan is one of the eight figures or groups of Luohan. The others are available in various locations like the British Museum and the Royal Ontario Museum. The Monkey: Folk Novel of China quickly comes to mind in this artwork.
The sculpture was made between the 11th century and the 13th century. It is made of white clay and polychrome glaze. It is roughly a meter tall and half a meter wide. The Luohan is crafted seated cross-legged and appeared to be in active meditation process. The sculptor designed it in such a way that it shows Luohan wearing an outer clothing which the Chinese term it as Kasaya. At the right shoulder, is an undergarment which is green in color. An instructor at the museum notes that the green undergarment was symbolic and it meant that the Luohan was trying to help "save sentient beings." In addition to this, the Luohans, the instructor said to me, no longer undergo reincarnation. I learnt further that this kind of artworks (Luohan), are placed in monastery halls, usually along the sidewalls. The face shows Luohan looking aside and a bit of a serious look to say the least. It appears to be listening to someone or something.
It is these features that bring the calming effect of the artwork. It represents the calming and reassuring nature of meditation process. The facial expressions show someone who looks knowledgeable, and its calm stature is pacifying. Luohan is a disciple of Buddha. Luohan in another term is an Arhat.
In the book Monkey: Folk Novel of China, Sandy is transformed to a Luohan after meeting with Buddha. He assumes a new name, the "Golden Bodied Arhat. Tripitaka was once a disciple of Buddha, hence at one time, he was probably a Luohan. The Patriarch, I believe is also a Luohan. I picture the scene when he is speaking to his pupils in his home as like in the sculpture. Page 24 of the Kindle Edition says, "Time passed swiftly, and three years later the Patriarch again mounted his jewelled seat and preached to his assembled followers." From the statue, the seat is decorated with green and golden colors. I imagine the Patriarch seating with the same posture and passing wisdom to his followers. The posture is calming and would sure make the students keen.
Could this have been the face of the Patriarch when he got sight of the Monkey dancing and stamping his feet? I believe so. I picture a startled face saying, as written on page 20 "What is the use of your being here if, instead of listening to my lecture, you jump and dance like a maniac?" Whereas the Monkey does not feel scared of this face, the other pupils are scared and full of awe.
Ch'eng-en, Wu. Monkey: Folk Novel of China. Grove/Atlantic, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
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