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Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle

Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle

Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Tibet (Sakya School); ca. 1456
Pigments on cloth
C2007.6.1 (HAR 81826)

This exquisite thangka is the thirteenth painting in a set depicting the mandalas of the Vajravali cycle, a compendium of esoteric teachings compiled by the eleventh-century Indian master Abhayakaragupta and widely transmitted in Tibet. It features four mandalas and numerous figures between them belonging to two deity assemblies that, although not described in the Vajravali text, relate to the top two mandalas.

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Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle Two Inscriptions Bhutadamara Mandala Marichi Mandala Durga Mandala Two Assemblies Two Assemblies Vajradhatu Mandala Back of Painting
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle

Four Mandalas and Two Assemblies

Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Tibet (Sakya School); ca. 1456
Pigments on cloth
C2007.6.1 (HAR 81826)

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Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle

Two Inscriptions

Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Tibet (Sakya School); ca. 1456
Pigments on cloth
C2007.6.1 (HAR 81826)

On the top and bottom border of the canvas are two inscriptions written in gold.

The top inscription identifies the painting as the thirteenth in the Vajravali set.

The bottom inscription wishes that the intent of the glorious nobel teacher Sabzang Phagpa (Zhönnu Lodro, 1358-1412/1424) may be fulfilled. The set to which this painting belongs was made in commemoration of this teacher.

Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle

Back of the Painting

Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Tibet (Sakya School); ca. 1456
Pigments on cloth
C2007.6.1 (HAR 81826)

The back of the painting features a mantra for each of the figures on the front and thus reflects the front’s composition. The texts that radiate from the four centers show the placement of the figures in the four mandalas, while the parallel vertical texts above and below represent the positions of secondary figures. The longer verse at the bottom is the verse of dependent origination.

Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle Bhutadamara Mandala Marichi Mandala Durga Mandala Vajradhatu Mandala
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle

Four Mandalas

The four mandalas of the Vajravali are the Vajradhatu mandala with an eight-armed form of Vairochana in the center (upper left); the Durgatiparishodhana mandala with the central Buddha Shakyasimha, another aspect of Vairochana (upper right); the mandala of the wrathful Bhutadamara (lower left), and the mandala of the goddess Marichi (lower right).

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Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle

Fifty-Three Deity Mandala of Vajradhatu

In the top-left corner is the Vajradhatu, or “Diamond Sphere,” mandala, the principal mandala of the yoga tantras. This mandala is presided over by a four-headed, eight-armed form of Buddha Vairochana, who is surrounded by four goddesses that personify the attributes of the surrounding buddhas.

Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle

Thirty-Seven Deity Mandala of Durgatiparishodhana

In the top-right corner is the Durgatiparishodhana, or “Elimination of Bad Destinies,” mandala. It is a major mandala of the cycle described in the Sarvadurgatiparishodhana
Tantra. Its principal deity is Shakyasimha, or “Lion of the Shakya Clan,” another name for the historical Buddha Shakyamuni. In this context Shakyamuni is understood to be an aspect of Buddha Vairochana, who is the principle deity of the top-left mandala.

Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle

Thirty-Three Deity Mandala of Bhutadamara

In the bottom-left corner is the mandala of Bhutadamara, a form of Vajrapani who subdues the elemental spirits. The central deity is blue and has four arms, the main hands performing a subjugation gesture and the others holding a vajra and a noose. He is surrounded by an assembly mainly drawn from the Hindu pantheon.

Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle

Twenty-Five Deity Mandala of Marichi

In the bottom-right corner is the mandala of the goddess Marichi, or “Ray of Light”, the goddess of dawn. Marichi has three faces, one that is a sow, and six arms that hold a bow, arrow, vajra, lotus, needle, and thread. She stands on a stupa shaped chariot drawn by seven sows. All of the deities in her entourage have the heads of sows.

Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle

Two Assemblies

The subsidiary deities that surround the four mandalas form two assemblies that complement the top two mandalas but are not described in the Vajravali teachings. At the center of the four mandalas is an assembly related to the Buddha of Endless Life, Amitayus. The remaining figures in the painting belong to the large assembly of Sarvavid Vairochana.

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Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle

Amitayus Assembly

In the middle of the painting, between the four mandalas, is an assembly of five deities with the Buddha of Endless Life, Amitayus, at the center. He is surrounded by the principal bodhisattvas of the Five Buddha Families holding their respective attributes (clockwise from top): a lotus, crossed vajra, vajra, and jewel. This is the core assembly of the Amitayus mandala from the Durgatiparishodhana teachings.

Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle Monks Right Monks Left Center Monks Bottom Monks Top Buddha LL Buddhas UL Buddhas UR Buddhas LR 16 Boddhisattvas 16 Gate Keepers
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle

Sarvavid Vairochana Assembly

The Sarvavid Vairochana mandala assembly consists of the following deity groups, each of them identified in the painting by captions:

  • central deities of the top-left Vajradhatu mandala
  • the Sixteen Bodhisattvas of the Bhadrakalpa in the painting’s top register
  • sixteen monks on the sides four sides of the painting
  • twelve Pratyekabuddhas at the four corners of the composition
  • sixteen gate-keepers in the painting’s bottom register

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Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle

Center of the Vajradhatu Mandala

The central deities of the Sarvavid Vairochana mandala assembly and that of the Vajradhatu mandala are almost identical as is their geometry. For this reason the center of the Vajradhatu mandala, which sits at the top-left of this painting, can also be read as the center of the Savavid Vairochana Assembly represented through the secondary deities.

Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle

Sixteen Bodhisattvas of the Bhadrakalpa

In the top register of the painting are the Sixteen Bodhisattvas of the Bhadrakalpa, or the “Fortunate Aeon.” They are distinguished only by their color, which reflects the direction to which they are related, with the bodhisattvas of the east depicted in white instead of the typical blue. All of these bodhisattvas hold a vajra and bell. When they are shown in a mandala, these figures occupy the inner square of the second palace.

Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle

Monks

In the spaces between the four mandalas at the center of each side are four monks each holding a book and a begging sta”. When shown in the mandala, these monks and the pratyekabuddhas occupy the outer square of the second palace.

Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle

Pratyekabuddhas

In the corners around the four mandalas are four pratyekabuddhas, or solitary buddhas, each with an ushnisha (a cranial protuberance and mark of a Buddha) and holding a begging bowl and staff. When placed in a mandala, both they and the monks occupy the outer square of the second palace.

Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle
Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle

Sixteen Gatekeepers

In the bottom register of the painting are the sixteen gatekeepers of the Sarvavid Vairochana mandala assembly. When positioned in the mandala, they occupy the gates of the outer palace in groups of four. The primary gatekeepers, the first from the left in each group of four, have the color and hold the attribute of the buddha family of their respective direction.

Explore the Four Mandalas of the Vajravali Cycle