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Guhyasamaja Mandala

  • Artist : Sunlal Ratna Tamang
  • Produced : 2006
  • Type : Giclee Print
  • Category : Mandalas and Diagrams
  • Original Painting Size : 26.75 x 32.25 inches (680 x 825 mm)
  • Original Medium : Gouache, gold and mineral pigments on cotton

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Guhyasamaja Mandala :

Synopsis

The thirty-two-deity mandala of Guhyasamaja-Akshobhyavajra is one of the principal 'method' or father-tantra mandalas that are described in the Vajravali or 'vajra-garland' cycle of texts, which were originally compiled by the great 11th century Indian Pandit, Abhayakaragupta. And this exquisite mandala is an accurate copy from the famous series of twenty-seven Vajravali (vajra-garland) mandalas that were painted in the late 14th century by a group of Newar artists for the Ngor Monastery in Tibet to commemorate the exemplary life of Dampa Sonam Gyaltsen (1312-1375), who appears in the first niche of the four Sakya lineage holders in the bottom left corner of this painting. Guhysamaja, meaning the 'secret assembly', is the principal yidam deity of the Guhyasamaja Tantra, which is considered to be earliest or foundational text of the 'Highest Yoga Tantra' class of sadhana practices, and in this respect it is known as the 'King of all Tantras'. Guhyasamaja is semi-wrathful and blue-black in colour, with three faces (white, black, red) and six arms, and he sits in vajra-posture upon a sun disc, a multicoloured lotus, and a lion-throne. With his two principal arms he embraces his blue consort Sparshavajra (vajra-touch), who is similar in form to himself with three faces and six arms. And both deities hold the same attributes of the 'Buddha Families': a vajra, wheel and lotus (right hands), and a bell, jewel and sword (left hands). All of the other thirty solitary male and female deities that occupy the mandala palace are similar in appearance to Guhyasamaja, with three faces and six arms; although the twelve protective deities that guard the outer corners and gateways are wrathful in appearance and stand within blazing auras of wisdom fire. In the corners beyond the three great protection wheels (lotus-womb, vajra-fence, and fire-mountain) are: yellow Vairocana-Manjuvajra (lower left); orange Manjuvajra (upper left); red Guhyasamaja-Manjuvajra (upper right), and black Yamari (lower right). Across the top and bottom left of the painting are niches that enshrine the various Indian and Tibetan lineage masters of this tradition, and in the ten lower right niches are the ten great Vedic guardian gods or 'dikpalas' that protect the ten directions, who are common to both the Hindu and Buddhist Traditions.



Full Description

This intricate composition of the thirty-two-deity mandala of Guhyasamaja-Akshobhyavajra is one of a series of mandalas that are textually described in the Vajravali, or 'vajra-garland' cycle, which was compiled by the great 11th century Indian Pandit, Abhayakaragupta (died 1125). This painting is part of a unique set of twenty-seven mandalas that were painted in the late 14th century by a group of Newar artists to commemorate the exemplary life of Buton Rinpoche's disciple, Dampa Sonam Gyaltsen (1312-1375), who appears in the first niche of the four lineage holders at the bottom left corner of this composition. Sonam Gyaltsen was the 14th Sakya Trizin, or throne-holder of the Sakya tradition, and a teacher of both Tsongkhapa and Longchenpa. The original mandala, the second in this Vajravali mandala series, is now in the private collection of Navin Kumar in New York.

Guhyasamaja (Tib. gSang-ba 'dus-pa) is the principal yidam or meditational deity of the Guhyasamaja Tantra, which is considered to be earliest or foundational text of the 'Highest Yoga Tantra' (Skt: anuttarayogatantra) class of sadhana practices, and in this respect it is known as the 'King of all Tantras'. Guhyasamaja, meaning the 'secret assembly', belongs to the 'father-tantra' division of the Highest Yoga Tantra class, which emphasizes the development of method or skilful means, whereas the 'mother-tantras' essentially cultivate the female aspect of wisdom or discriminating awareness. There were many Indian textual and practice lineages of Guhyasmaja, but the two most important traditions that entered Tibet were those of the Arya or Nagarjuna lineage, where Guhyasamaja appears as a blue aspect of Akshobhya Buddha; and the Jnana or Buddhajnanapada lineage, where Guhyasamaja appears in the golden or yellow-red aspect of Manjuvajra. The main Indian Arya lineage of Guhyasamaja-Akshobhyavajra (Tib. gSang'ba 'dus-pa mi-bskyod rdo-rje) stems from Vajradhara, Vajrapani, Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Chandrakirti and Abhayakaragupta.


The Thirty-two Deities of the Guhyasamaja-Akshobhyavajra Mandala

Guhyasamaja-Akshobhyavajra is semi-wrathful and blue-black in colour, with three faces and six arms, and he sits in vajra-posture upon a sun and moon disc, a multicoloured lotus, and a lion-throne. His central face is black with a slightly fierce expression, his right face is white with a peaceful expression, and his left face is red with a passionate expression. Each of his faces has three piercing eyes and is adorned with a five-jewel crown, and he wears the five divine silk garments and the eight jewel ornaments of a sambhogakaya deity. With his first two arms he embraces his consort as he holds the vajra and bell attributes of Akshobhya and Vajradhara in his crossed right and left hands. With his second and third right hands he holds the wheel of Vairocana, and the lotus of Amitabha. And with his second and third left hands he holds the jewel of Ratnasambhava, and the sword of Amoghasiddhi.

His wisdom consort or prajna, Sparshavajra (Tib. Reg-bya rdo-rje-ma) - the 'vajra goddess of touch', sits in his lap in lotus-posture with her two legs wrapped around his waist. She is similar in form to Guhyasamaja, with a lighter blue-black complexion, three faces and six arms. Her three-eyed faces are likewise coloured blue-black (centre), white (right), and red (left), and she wears the same silk garments and jewel ornaments as her lord. In mirror image she holds the same attributes as Guhyasamaja, with her first right and left hands she embraces his neck while holding a vajra and bell. With her other two right hands she holds a wheel and a lotus, and with her other two left hands she holds a jewel and a sword.

In the east chamber (bottom) is white Vairocana, with three faces: white (centre), black (right), red (left), and six arms. He sits in vajra-posture upon a sun disc, lotus and an elephant throne, and Akshobhya is at his crown. With his three right hands he holds a wheel before his heart, a vajra, and a white pundarika flower. With his three left hands he holds a bell at his hip, a jewel, and a sword.

In the south chamber (left) is yellow Ratnasambhava, with three faces: yellow (centre), black (right), white (left), and six arms. He sits in vajra-posture upon a sun disc, lotus and a horse throne, and Akshobhya is at his crown. With his three right hands he holds a jewel before his heart, a vajra, and a wheel. With his three left hands he holds a bell at his hip, a yellow lotus flower, and a sword.

In the west chamber (top) is red Amitabha, with three faces: red (centre), black (right), white (left), and six arms. He sits in vajra-posture upon a sun disc, lotus and a peacock throne, and Akshobhya is at his crown. With his three right hands he holds a red lotus before his heart, a vajra, and a wheel. With his three left hands he holds a bell with the stem of a blossoming red lotus at his hip, a jewel, and a sword.

In the north chamber (right) is green Amoghasiddhi, with three faces: green (centre), black (right), white (left), and six arms. He sits in vajra-posture upon a sun disc, lotus and a garuda throne, and Akshobhya is at his crown. With his three right hands he holds a sword, a crossed-vajra, and a wheel. With his three left hands he holds a bell at his hip, a green lotus, and a jewel.

In the southeast chamber (lower left) is white Locana, with three faces: white (centre), black (right), red (left), and six arms. She sits in vajra-posture upon a sun disc and lotus, and Vairocana is at her crown. With her three right hands she holds a wheel, a vajra, and a white pundarika flower. With her three left hands she holds a bell at her hip, a jewel, and a sword.

In the southwest chamber (upper left) is blue Mamaki, with three faces: blue (centre), white (right), red (left), and six arms. She sits in vajra-posture upon a sun disc and lotus, and Akshobhya is at her crown. With her three right hands she holds a vajra before her heart, a wheel, and a blue lotus. With her three left hands she holds a bell at her hip, a jewel, and a sword.

In the northwest chamber (upper right) is red Pandaravasini, with three faces: red (centre), black (right), white (left), and six arms. She sits in vajra-posture upon a sun disc and lotus, and Amitabha is at her crown. With her three right hands she holds a red lotus before her heart, a vajra, and a wheel. With her three left hands she holds a bell and the stem of a blossoming red lotus at her hip, a jewel, and a sword.

In the northeast chamber (lower right) is green Tara, with three faces: green (centre), black (right), white (left), and six arms. She sits in vajra-posture upon a sun disc and lotus, and Amoghasiddhi is at her crown. With her three right hands she holds a crossed-vajra, a wheel, and a vajra-sealed green lotus. With her three left hands she holds a bell at her hip, a jewel, and a sword.

Outside of the central dais, with its nine chambers, vajra and flame rings, are the three inner tiers of the mandala palace, which are all square in section and divided into white (east), yellow (south), red (west), and green (north) quadrants. The first tier is decorated with stylized lotuses and leaves, and the two outer tiers and their gateways are ornamented with scrolling roundels. The four inter-cardinal corners of the second tier are occupied by the four sense goddesses: Rupavajra (vajra-form), Shabdavajra (vajra-sound), Gandhavajra (vajra-smell), and Rasavajra (vajra-taste): who along with Guhyasamaja's consort, Sparshavajra (vajra-touch), at the mandala's centre, represent the five sense faculties.

In the southeast corner of the second tier is white Rupavajra, with three faces: white (centre), black (right), red (left), and six arms. She sits in vajra-posture upon a sun disc and lotus, and Vairocana is at her crown. With her first pair of upper right and left hands she holds a red mirror before her heart as a symbol of form (rupa) or sight. Her other two right hands hold a vajra and a white pundarika flower, while her other two left hands hold a jewel and a sword.

In the southwest corner is yellow Shabdavajra, with three faces: yellow (centre), black (right), white (left), and six arms. She sits in vajra-posture upon a sun disc and lotus, and Ratnasambhava is at her crown. With her first pair of upper right and left hands she plays a blue lute (vina) as a symbol of sound (shabda). Her other two right hands hold a wheel and a purple lotus, while her other two left hands hold a jewel and a sword.

In the northwest corner is red Gandhavajra, with three faces: red (centre), black (right), white (left), and six arms. She sits in vajra-posture upon a sun disc and lotus, and Amitabha is at her crown. With her first pair of upper right and left hands she holds a skull-cup full of perfume as a symbol of smell (gandha). Her other two right hands hold a vajra and a wheel, while her other two left hands hold a jewel and a sword.

In the northeast corner is green Rasavajra, with three faces: green (centre), black (right), white (left), and six arms. She sits in vajra-posture upon a sun disc and lotus, and Amoghasiddhi is at her crown. With her first pair of upper right and left hands she holds a bowl full of sweets as a symbol of taste (rasa). Her other two right hands hold a wheel and a vajra-sealed white water lily (utpala), while her other two left hands hold a jewel and a sword.

All eight of the inter-cardinal goddesses listed above are described as being extremely graceful with smiling faces, beautiful in the sidelong glances of their three eyes and their full maturity as they playfully delight with the objects of desire. Their long black hair is bound up into topknots above their five-jeweled golden tiaras, and they are adorned with the eight jewel ornaments, billowing silk scarves, and lower garments of multicoloured silks.

On the third tier are the Eight Great Bodhisattvas, who appear in pairs on either side of the four gateway entrances and are coloured to correspond to their directional quadrants. At the right and left sides of the eastern gateway entrance (bottom) are the white Bodhisattvas Maitreya (right), and Kshitigarbha (left), each of whom have three faces: white (centre), black (right), red (left), and six arms They both sit in vajra-posture upon sun discs and lotuses, and are crowned by Vairocana. With his first right hand Maitreya holds a wheel-marked flowering branch of a nagakesara tree before his heart, with his other two right hands he holds a vajra and a white pundarika flower; and with his three left hands he holds a bell at his hip, a jewel, and a sword. With his first right hand Kshitigarbha holds a wheel before his heart, with his other two right hands he holds a vajra and a white pundarika flower; and with his three left hands he holds a bell at his hip, a jewel, and a sword.

At the lower and upper sides of the southern gateway entrance (left) are the yellow Bodhisattvas Vajrapani and Akashagarbha, each of whom have three faces: yellow (centre), black (right), white (left), and six arms. They both sit in vajra-posture upon sun discs and lotuses, and are crowned by Ratnasambhava. With their three right hands they each hold a jewel, a vajra, and a wheel; and with their three left hands they each hold a bell at their hip, a yellow lotus flower, and a sword.

On the left and right sides of the western gateway entrance (top) are the red Bodhisattvas Lokeshvara and Manjushri, each of whom have three faces: red (centre), black (right), white (left), and six arms. They both sit in vajra-posture upon sun discs and lotuses, and are crowned by Amitabha. With their first right hands they each hold a red lotus before their hearts, while with their other two right hands they hold a vajra and a wheel. With their first left hand they each hold a bell and the stem of a blossoming red lotus at their hip, while with their other two left hands they hold a jewel and a sword.

On the upper and lower sides of the northern gateway entrance (left) are the green Bodhisattvas Sarvanivarana Vishkambhini and Samantabhadra, each of whom have three faces: green (centre), black (right), red (left), and six arms. They both sit in vajra-posture upon sun discs and lotuses, and are crowned by Amoghasiddhi. With their three right hands they each hold a sword, a crossed-vajra, and a wheel; and with their three left hands they each hold a bell at their hip, a green lotus, and a jewel.

The remaining residents of Guhyasamaja-Akshobhyavajra's thirty-two deity mandala are the 'ten wrathful protectors', who serve as directional guardians of the mandala palace. Six of these fierce protectors appear along with the eight Bodhisattvas in the mandala's third tier or square, with the other four appearing in the four gateways. These ten wrathful deities are similar in appearance, with three fierce faces and six arms. They all stand in pratyalidha posture, leaning towards the right with their right leg slightly bent and their left leg extended, upon a golden sun disc and lotus amidst a blazing mass of wisdom fire. Their tawny hair streams upward, their facial hair blazes like fire, and each of their faces have three round red eyes, and a gaping mouth that reveals their sharp white teeth and twisting red tongue. They are adorned with five-skull crowns, bone and jewel ornaments, hissing naga-serpents, billowing silk scarves, and tiger-skin loincloths.

The guardian of the eastern gateway is black Yamantaka, who appears at the bottom centre of the third tier. His three faces are black (centre), white (right) and red (left), and Vairocana is at his crown. With his three right hands he wields a skull-topped club, a wheel or chakra, and a vajra. With his first left hand held before his heart in the threatening tarjani gesture he holds a rope-noose, while his second and third left hands hold a bell and a vajra-marked axe.

In the southern gateway (left) is white Prajnantakrit, whose three faces are white (centre), black (right), and red (left), and Ratnasambhava is at his crown. With his three right hands he wields a vajra, a vajra-sealed white club, and a sword. With his first left hand held before his heart in the threatening tarjani gesture he holds a rope-noose, while his second and third left hands hold a bell and a vajra-marked axe.

The guardian of the western gateway is red Hayagriva, who appears at the top centre of the third tier. His three faces are red (centre), black (right), and white (left), and Amitabha is at his crown. With his three right hands he holds a red lotus, a sword, and a wooden pestle. With his three left hands he holds a rope-noose, a vajra-marked axe, and a bell at his hip.

In the northern gateway is black Vignantakrit, whose three faces are blue (centre), white (right), and red (left), and Amoghasiddhi is at his crown. With his three right hands he holds a crossed-vajra, a wheel or chakra, and a spear. With his first left hand held before his heart in the threatening tarjani gesture he holds a rope-noose, while with his second and third left hands he holds a bell and a vajra-marked axe.

In the southeast corner (lower left) is black Acala, whose three faces are black (centre), white (right), and red (left), and Vairocana is at his crown. With his three right hands he holds a sword, a vajra, and a wheel or chakra. With his first left hand held before his heart he makes the threatening tarjani gesture, while his second and third left hands hold a vajra-marked axe and a rope-noose.

In the southwest corner (upper left) is blue Takkiraja, whose three faces are black (centre), white (right), and red (left), and Ratnasambhava is at his crown. With his first pair of right and left hands he makes the wrathful humkara-mudra in front of his heart. With his second and third extended right hands he holds a vajra and a sword, and his with second and third left hands he holds a rope-noose and a vajra-marked iron hook.

In the northwest corner (upper right) is blue Niladanda, whose three faces are blue (centre), white (right), and red (left), and Amitabha is at his crown. In his three extended right hands he wields a blue vajra-marked club, a sword, and a wheel or chakra. With his first left hand held before his heart in the threatening tarjani gesture he holds a rope-noose, while his second and third left hands hold a blue lotus and a vajra-marked axe.

In the northeast corner (lower right) is blue Mahabala, whose three faces are black (centre), white (right), and red (left), and Amoghasiddhi is at his crown. With his three extended right hands he wields a black vajra-marked club, a vajra, and a wheel or chakra. With his first left hand held before his heart in the threatening tarjani gesture he holds a rope-noose, while his second and third left hands hold an iron trident and a vajra-marked axe.

At the zenith (above Yamantaka in the eastern gateway) is blue Ushnishachakravarti, whose three faces are blue (centre), white (right), and red (left), and Akshobhya is at his crown. With his first pair of right and left hands he makes the ushnisha-mudra at the crown of his head, while his second and third extended right hands hold a vajra and a blue lotus. With his extended second left hand he makes the threatening tarjani gesture, and with his third left hand he holds a sword.

At the nadir (above Hayagriva in the western gateway) is blue Sumbharaja, whose three faces are black (centre), white (right), and red (left), and Akshobhya is at his crown. With his three extended right hands he holds a vajra, a wheel or chakra, and a jewel. With his first left hand held before his heart in the threatening tarjani gesture he holds a rope-noose, while his second and third left hands hold a blue lotus and a sword.


The Mandala Palace's structure

Surrounding the scrolling roundels that decorate each of the four directional quadrants and gateways of the mandala's square floor are the five-coloured walls of the palace. These five walls of transparent light are coloured blue, green, red, yellow and white, so that they appear blue on their interior and white on their exterior. The 'sixteen offering goddesses' stand on the red platform that surrounds the square exterior of the four walls, with four variegated goddesses occupying each directional side. Crescent moon and half-vajra symbols, representing relative and absolute bodhicitta, are traditionally placed at the corners and sectional ends of this red offering goddess platform, but in this painting vajra-handled curved knives appear at the sectional ends instead.

In the four corners outside this red platform are four decorative layers that represent the upper structure of the mandala's walls and roof. The first layer is an ornamental golden beam that runs along the top of the five-coloured wall, which is traditionally decorated with the geometric symbols of the four elements; earth (squares), water (circles), fire (triangles), wind (crescents), with the fifth element of space being represented by the empty spaces between the geometric symbols. The second layer is a dark blue band decorated with hanging loops of golden jewels. This layer represents the intricate ventilation frieze of the mandala palace, which consists of a lattice fashioned from seven different kinds of jewels arranged in four layers, with the upper two layers supporting the horizontal wooden beams of the mandala's ceiling. The third layer represents the herringbone pattern of wooden laths that form the ceiling, with a top layer of vajra-mud covering the roof. The inverted stupa-like bands of diminishing lines represent the guttering, waterspouts, and protruding cantilevers that overhang the roof and support the hanging emblems of a mirror, a bell, and a yak-tail pendant. The fourth layer of the outer square represents the recessed parapet of lotus-petal designs that runs around the entire roof of the palace.

The four directional gateways are each structurally supported by two block-like golden pillars that in turn support eleven different horizontal beams made from various gemstones, which each have symbolic designs and meanings. The interior space of each gateway arch is coloured to correspond to its direction, with hanging silk ribbons, golden loops, and strings of jewels, lotuses and bells decorating its interior. The top beam appears as a lotus parapet, with the Buddhist emblem of two deer flanking a golden eight-spoke wheel at its centre. At the end of each parapet is a monkey that holds a golden parasol, while on the red beam below are two naked white figures that hold long golden staffs with hanging strings of jewels and bells. On either side of the main lotus parapet that runs along each the palace walls are a bird, a golden flask, a silk victory banner, and a golden water-pot, while at each of the four corners of this parapet is a silk parasol adorned with jewels.

Appearing behind the golden wheels that crown each of the gateways are the 'jewel tips' of the four central prongs of the vast crossed-vajra (vishvajra) that supports the entire structure of the mandala palace as a symbol of vajra-like stability. The curved outer prongs of this great crossed-vajra emanate from the fierce heads of makaras or 'crocodiles' on each side of the four gateways, and are coloured to correspond to their respective directions - white (east), yellow (south), red (west), and green (north). The circle of green and black roundels that surrounds the square palace represents the vajra-ground of the mandala, and outside of this are the three great protection wheels of the 'lotus circle', the 'vajra fence and canopy', and the 'mountain of fire', which respectively protect the mandala palace from impurities and the natural disasters of floods, earthquakes and destruction by fire.

The 'lotus circle' consists of thirty-two stylized lotus petals of four variegated colours that could support the palace during a flood. The 'vajra fence and canopy' is an impenetrable net of interlocking vajras that completely covers the mandala like an indestructible dome or hemisphere. This wheel is traditionally depicted as a ring of sixteen golden vajras and circular 'vajra symbols', which are joined together by an undulating golden 'Čvajra thread' upon a red, green or black ring. The 'mountain of fire' is a mass of wisdom fire that also covers the mandala like a hemispherical dome, and is represented by a ring of thirty-two flame-banks of five different colours that circle in a clockwise direction.

The square red area decorated with roundels that encloses the circle of Guhyasamaja's mandala has four corner sections, each of which contains a central deity and two unidentified lineage holders. These eight teachers are identical in appearance and make the dharmachakra-mudra of teaching with their two hands. The deities in the two upper and lower left corners are all similar in appearance to Guhyasmaja and his consort, with three faces and six arms, and they sit upon moon discs and lotuses in sexual union with their consorts, who likewise have three faces and six arms.

In the upper left corner is Manjuvajra, who is saffron-orange in colour with three faces: orange (centre), blue (right), white (left), and Akshobhya is at his crown. With his first pair of hands he embraces his consort, who is similar in mirror-image form to himself and sits upon his lap in lotus-posture holding the same attributes. With his other two extended right hands he holds a sword and an arrow, and with his other two left hands he holds the stem of a blue utpala lotus and a bow.

In the upper right corner is Guhyasamaja-Manjuvajra, who is saffron-red in colour with three faces: red (centre), blue (right), white (left), and Akshobhya is at his crown. With his first pair of hands he embraces his consort, who is similar in mirror-image form to himself and sits upon his lap in lotus-posture holding the same attributes. With his other two extended right hands he holds a sword and a lotus, and with his other two left hands he holds a wheel and a jewel.

In the lower left corner is Vairocana-Manjuvajra, who is golden-yellow in colour with three faces: yellow (centre), blue (right), white (left), and Akshobhya is at his crown. With his first pair of hands he embraces his consort while holding a sword and a text on the 'Perfection of Wisdom' in his crossed right and left hands. With his other two extended right hands he holds an arrow and makes the boon-granting varada-mudra, and with his other two left hands he holds a bow and the stem of a blue utpala lotus. His golden consort, Vajradhatvishvari, is similar in mirror-image form to himself and sits upon his lap in lotus-posture holding the same attributes.

In the lower right corner is the wrathful form of Black Yamari, who stands in pratyalidha posture upon the back of Yama and his black buffalo as he crushes them upon the golden sun disc of his multicoloured lotus. Yamari is extremely wrathful, corpulent and pot-bellied, with three faces: black (centre), white (right), and red (left). Each face has three round red eyes, blazing facial hair, and a gaping mouth that reveals its sharp teeth and twisting red tongue. His tawny hair streams upward, and he wears gold and bone ornaments, a garland of fifty severed heads, a tiger-skin loincloth, and Akshobhya is at his crown. With his first pair of right and left hands he embraces his consort as he holds a vajra-handled curved knife and a skull-cup full of fresh blood. With his other two extended right hands he holds a vajra and a sword, and with his other two left hands a wheel and a lotus. His consort is similar in mirror-image form to himself, with three faces and six arms. Her naked blue-black body is adorned with gold and bone ornaments, and she wears a garland of fifty dry white skulls. In sexual union she embraces Yamari with her right leg extended, her left leg wrapped around his waist, and her six hands holding the same attributes as her lord.

Across the top of this painting is a horizontal row of fourteen lineage holders of the Arya tradition of Guhyasamaja, who each sit upon lotuses in niches that are separated by vase-and-lotus pillars. The Arya lineage stems from blue Vajradhara, green Vajravidarana and Nagarjuna, who appear in the first three niches on the left. Nine other Indian and early Tibetan lineage holders, which include Aryadeva and Candrakirti, appear in the fourth to the twelfth niches, with two Sakya hierarchs (possibly Drakpa Gyaltsen and Sakya Pandita) on the far right. The lineage continues with the first four teachers in the horizontal row of fourteen niches at the bottom of the painting, the first of which is probably Lama Dampa Gyaltsen (1312-1375), in whose memory this series of exquisite mandalas from the Vajravali cycle were originally commissioned.

In the remaining ten niches to the right of the horizontal bottom register are the ten dikpalas or 'directional guardians'. The first of these is Indra (Sakra), the yellow guardian of the east, who holds a vajra and sits upon his white elephant, Airavata. The second is Yama, the black guardian of the south, who holds a club and a rope-noose and sits upon a blue-black buffalo. The third is Varuna, the white water-god and guardian of the west, who sits within a coil of seven hooded naga-serpents upon his makara or 'crocodile' vehicle, and holds a serpent-noose with his two hands. The fourth is Kubera, the yellow wealth-god and guardian of the north, who holds a jewel and a rope-noose and sits upon his blue horse. The fifth is Agni, the red fire-god and guardian of the southeast who appears with a beard and a fiery halo, holds the attributes of a rosary and a water-pot, and sits upon his goat vehicle. The sixth is Nairriti (Rakshasa), the wrathful blue-black lord of the rakshasa demons and guardian of the southwest, who holds a sword and a skull-cup, and sits upon his yellow corpse vehicle. The seventh is Vayu, the pale blue wind-god and guardian of the northwest, who holds a jewel-topped club and sits upon his deer vehicle. The eighth is Ishana (Bhuta), the white guardian of the northeast, who holds a jewel-topped club and a skull-cup, and sits upon his bull vehicle. The ninth is Brahma, the four-faced and four-armed yellow god of creation and guardian of the zenith or heavens, who holds the attributes of a water-flask, a golden vase, a rosary and a trident, and sits upon his goose (hamsa) or swan vehicle. The tenth is Prithivi, the yellow earth-goddess and guardian of the nadir or underworld, who holds an ear of grain and a budding flower, and sits upon a pink lotus.

This exquisite mandala was painted in the studio of Sunlal Ratna Tamang, and took about a year to complete. The outer border alone, with its meticulous golden frieze of entwined lotuses, is an extremely delicate work of art in itself, and this minute attention to detail has been applied to the whole painting. But because Sunlal copied this early Newar masterpiece from a pictorial illustration in a Tibetan Art book, he unfortunately made some minor iconographical mistakes in some of the attributes depicted, many of which appear as highly stylized implements in the original 14th century thangka painting.

© text by Robert Beer

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