European Private Collection, acquired in 1994
Pratapaditya Pal, Tibet. Tradition and Change, The Albuquerque Museum, 1997, pp. 192-193, pl. 96
Apart from being a document of great cultural significance, this remarkable cover is an aesthetically elegant and rare object. Not only does it contain a sixteen-lined poem, beautifully executed in calligraphy by Marpa Gyor, but it is one of the only Prajnaparamita book covers known to be adorned with a panel of text rather than images, either painted or carved. That the cover belonged to a Prajnaparamita manuscript is clear from the first verse, where she is characteristically described as the "Mother of the Buddhas," which led to her anthropomorphization.
Interestingly, the manuscript commissioned is the version with the hundred-thousand verses (satasahasrika) rather than the more common version with eight-thousand (ashtasahasrika) verses. The donors were a father and son of the Yontsun family, described as immensely rich, and their skillful companion Zungdron. It has not been possible to identify them, but they may have been disciples of the great teacher Marpa. Significantly, the person responsible for illuminating the cover is also named after the celebrated Marpa, which may indicate his Kagyupa association.
The black central panel, with a red border adorned with silver double diamonds, is surrounded by another rotiform border of yellow, red, and blue. The yellow calligraphy and the decorative devices of flowers and geometrical forms with gems are brilliantly contrasted against the black ground. Surrounding this central panel is an exquisitely-rendered floral scroll in green and yellow on a red ground.
Regarding the geographical information in the poem: Yuru is very likely Yeru, in eastern Tsang, known as Yas-ru gtsang. Dol may be Dol Gsung-rub gling, located by Turrell V. Wylie (The Geography of Tibet According to the ‘Dzam-Gling-Rgyas-Bshad,’ Rome, 1962, pp.166-167) on the east bank of the Tib(?) river, "which flows northward, entering the Tsang-po almost directly across from Rdo-rje brag." Thus, Tsang is the likely region for the origin of the cover.
It is difficult to underestimate the importance to Tibet and the Buddhist faith of these types of classical manuscript covers. As objects that once acted as the entrance to, and enabled the protection of, sacred Buddhist texts, they are regarded as part of the Dharma (the Teaching), and, as such, are to be revered as greatly as one would the Buddha.
The inscription translates as follows:
First line, from left to right:
The Mother of all Buddhas [the
Expounded perfectly by the Master
Protector of Humanity (Buddha],
The [sutra of] Transcendent Wisdom
in 100,000 segments,
This perfect teaching was calligraphed
for gaining freedom through enlightenment.
Second line, from left to right:
By virtue of his past noble deeds,
He was born into a wealthy family,
Whose riches were greater than
those of Vaisravana (God of Wealth),
This son of Marpa was the descendant
of a good ancestral lineage.
Third down, from left to right:
Father and son were accomplished
in all arts and crafts.
The gentle, skillful lady, Rogmo
Produced this volume in Indian style
in service of the Dharma
Bottom line, from left to right:
Marpa Gyor, a male craftsman,
composed these [dedicatory verses]
At Gehutsang ..
The drawing, in Indian style,
Was made by Gongje, a master
thanka painter, in Yuru, Dol province