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Natasha Kimmet and Gerald Kozicz. Ushnishavijaya: On the Relationship Between a Buddhist Deity and her Architectural Framework in Ladakh

Ushnishavijaya, the Buddhist deity of longevity, holds a unique place in the Himalayan Buddhist artistic and ritual tradition. She is the personification of the Ushnishavijaya Dharani Sutra, a text from at least the 7th century. This dharani was widely translated and known in East Asia, but its representation in anthropomorphic form as the deity Ushnishavijaya is largely a Himalayan phenomenon. While this early text indicates that Ushnishavijaya is resident in the chaitya, visual depictions of the goddess within an architectural framework exist only from a later period. Depictions of Ushnishavijaya inside a stupa do not occur in Nepal until the 15th century and there are no known examples from (non-Himalayan contexts in) India. Yet examples of this iconography appear as early as the 12th century in China and the 13th century in the western Tibetan cultural region of Ladakh in northern India. Rob Linrothe has previously drawn attention to the importance of the Ushnishavijaya cult under the Tangut empire (1038-1227) of the Xia state in northwestern China and its transfer from Nepal via Tibet to Xia. He has also commented on Ushnishavijaya’s role in the Bhimaratha and Lakshachaitya rituals, which are still practised in Nepal’s Kathmandu valley. In this essay, we seek to extend this discussion by highlighting the importance of Ushnishavijaya in Ladakh. 

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