Explore Iconography Decode Iconography
Explore Iconography

Introduction to Iconography

Buddha Akshobhya and the Eastern Assembly
of the Sarvadurgatiparishodhana Mandala
Tibet; 14th century
Mineral pigment and raised gold on cloth
C2010.8

In early Tibetan paintings, the relative size and placement of the figures is based upon a strict hierarchy that occurs both within individual paintings and across a set of paintings. This work, which features Buddha Akshobhya at its center, is a representation of the hierarchy of deities within the eastern quarter of a mandala.

Explore Iconography Guardians of the Directions Left Guardians of the Directions Right Four Outer Gatekeepers Inner Gatekeeper Four Outer Bodhisattvas Left Four Inner Bodhisattvas Left Two Offering Goddesses Left Four Outer Bodhisattvas Right Four Inner Bodhisattvas Right Two Offering Goddesses Right Buddha Akshobhya Repeated Buddhas
Explore Iconography

Decode Iconography

TOUCH A DETAIL ON THE PAINTING TO EXPLORE

Explore Iconography
Explore Iconography

Buddha Akshobhya

Buddha Akshobhya presides over the eastern quarter of the mandala. He is blue, sits on an elephant throne, and his de!ning attribute is the vajra—he is the head of the vajra family of Tantric Buddhist deities. His hand gesture of touching the earth and his name, which means “unshakeable,” are references to the enlightenment of the buddhas. Symbolically this buddha counters feelings of aggression.

Explore Iconography
Explore Iconography
Explore Iconography

Four Inner Bodhisattvas

These four bodhisattvas reside in the inner mandala palaces. They are positioned on either side of Akshobhya in a hierarchy that begins at the bottom left and moves clockwise. They are headed by the white Bodhisattva Vajrasattva (“Vajra Being”), who holds a vajra and bell, followed by Vajraraja (“Vajra King”), Vajraraga (“Vajra Passion”), and Vajrasadhu (“Vajra Good”).

Explore Iconography
Explore Iconography
Explore Iconography

Four Outer Bodhisattvas

These four bodhisattvas, who like the inner bodhisattvas flank Akshobhya, are iconographically identical to Bodhisattva Vajrasattva, who sits beside the buddha’s right hand. They are all white and hold a vajra and bell. These bodhisattvas represent a quarter of the Bodhisattvas of the Fortunate Aeon, a group of traditional bodhisattvas recognized by Mahayana Buddhism. The remaining twelve bodhisattvas of this group can be found in the other quarters of the mandala.

Explore Iconography
Explore Iconography
Explore Iconography

Two Offering Goddesses

These two offering goddesses occupy the southeast corner of the mandala. On the left is Vajralasya (“Vajra Charm”), who has both of her hands on her hips in a coquettish manner. On the right is Vajradupa (“Vajra Incense”) holding an incense burner.

Explore Iconography
Explore Iconography
Explore Iconography

Inner Gatekeeper

At the center of the buddha’s throne is the keeper of the inner mandala palace’s eastern gate, Vajrankusha (“Vajra Hook”). He holds a hook in his hand, encouraging the practitioner to enter the mandala. The vajra in his name, as well as the other deities of the inner palace, indicates his superior efficiency.

Explore Iconography
Explore Iconography
Explore Iconography

Repeated Buddhas

Buddha Akshobhya is surrounded in this painting by small buddhas, all golden in color, wearing monastic dress, and performing the gesture of touching the earth. These buddhas represent a portion of the One Thousand Buddhas of the Fortunate Aeon. The remaining buddhas in this group would be shown in the four paintings that accompany this one in a five-painting set.

Explore Iconography
Explore Iconography
Explore Iconography

Four Outer Gatekeepers

These are the four gatekeepers of the outer mandala palace. They are headed by the wrathful protector named “Illuminator of the Three Worlds.” He is white and has six arms. This group of four is characteristic for this mandala assembly.

Explore Iconography
Explore Iconography
Explore Iconography

Guardians of the Directions

At the bottom corners of the painting are the directional guardians. At the far left is Indra, the guardian of the east. Beside him is Dhrtarashtra, king of the divine musicians known as
gandharvas. He is wearing armor and playing a string instrument. At the far right is Agni, the fire god and guardian of the southeast.

Explore Iconography