This little piece of wood (IOL Tib N 2280) was found among the Tibetan woodslips in the hill fort of Mazar Tagh, one of the outposts of the Tibetan Empire. It can be dated to the period of the Tibetan occupation of Khotan, between the 790s and 840s. On the top is written ban de slong ba, “a begging monk”. It is probably a portrait, sketched by one of the soldiers at the fort, of an actual monk who came to beg there. Though Mazar Tagh lies some way from the nearest city, Khotan, it was actually a pilgrimage site, known to the Khotanese Buddhists as The Hill. Thre is evidence for this among the Khotanese manuscripts, where we find a poetic account of one monk’s pilgrimage to The Hill.
So our monk in the portrait probably made the pilgrimage to The Hill, and then visited the Tibetan fort to ask for food. We know that the Tibetan soldiers often ran out of food supplies, from their many letters written to the main garrison at Khotan to ask for more. I wonder how often they gave anything to the pilgrim monks. That partly depends on how far Buddhist values had permeated the ordinary Tibetan soldiers manning the Empire’s outposts. Since giving to monks was an important way of generating merit for oneself, a soldier who had truly absorbed Buddhism might give something despite running short of food.
The picture of the monk is, obviously, rather crude and certainly not the work of a trained artist. So we can’t draw conclusions about the monk’s ethnic origin based on the way his facial features are drawn here; I would still suggest that he is most likely to have been Khotanese. The upper undergarment and robe (worn over the right shoulder) are drawn clearly enough, as is the fan he holds in his left hand. It’s not clear what he is meant to be holding in his right hand; perhaps a begging bowl is intended.
Further suggestions welcomed!
Emmerick, R.E. A Guide to the Literature of Khotan. Tokyo : The International Institute for Buddhist Studies, 1992.