Monlam Pavilion, Bodhgaya
In 1407, the 5th Karmapa Dezhin Shekpa (1384–1415), arrived in the Imperial Chinese capital of Nanjing at the invitation of the Yongle Emperor Cheng Zu, who ruled from 1402 -1424 CE. The Emperor required religious ceremonies to be performed for his deceased parents, and to this end, he requested the 5th Karmapa to offer the Ritual of Universal Salvation, at Linggu Monastery.
In return for performing ceremonies for the Emperor's family, the Emperor gifted the Karmapa with 700 measures of silver objects, gave him the title 'Precious Religious King, Great Loving One of the West, Mighty Buddha of Peace', and presented him with a material representation of the famous 'Vajra Crown‘. This was the crown which Dusum Khyenpa received from the dakinis, woven from their hair. It is said to be invisible to all except those pure in spirit. The Emperor’s version of the crown was woven in black brocade and studded with jewels and is one of the Karmapa lineage treasures still in existence.
The Karmapa Scroll was commissioned by the Emperor and records the events that occurred during Dezhin Shekpa’s visit. 50 metres long and painted on silk, the scroll depicts scenes of miraculous signs that took place over twenty-two days during the performance of the ritual. These are described in Chinese, Arabic, Uighur, Tibetan and Mongolian.
Unfortunately, the Emperor had ulterior motives. Having usurped power from his nephew the Jianwen Emperor, he intended the scroll as evidence of the legitimacy of his claim to be Emperor. In addition, he hoped to establish a Ming-Tibetan alliance in a similar fashion to that established between the Yuan Emperors and the Sakyas. The Fifth Karmapa, however, rejected the Yongle Emperor’s overtures and returned to Tibet.
An original of the scroll has been preserved in the Tibet Museum, Norbulingka Palace, and Lhasa.
Based on photographs of this scroll, an elderly Taiwanese monk, who tutored the 17th Karmapa in classical Chinese drawing and painting, was able to reproduce the original in collaboration with His Holiness. His Holiness himself painstakingly completed the Tibetan calligraphy on each panel. The reproduction does not include other languages in the original. This recreation of the scroll was then put on display in the Monlam Pavilion, but people commented that it was difficult to see the details. His Holiness responded by commissioning a high-quality photographic enlargement. It was made in Taiwan and is on display at the Kagyu Monlam this year.