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King of Shambhala

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Period: 1773–1774, Qianlong reign (1736–1795), Qing dynasty (1644–1911)
Medium: colors on cloth
Format: hanging scroll

Origin: Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, Zhashi jicai workshop
Dimensions: mounting height: 127 cm, width: 77 cm; painting height: 63 cm, width: 44 cm

Shambhala (Chinese Xiangbala), also known as Shangrila (Chinese Xianggelila), is the origin of the teachings of the Kalachakra (i.e., Wheel of Time, Chinese Shilun). Consequently, Shambhala and the Kalachakra are connected intrinsically. It is said that the Kingdom of Shambhala is located among the northern snowy peaks of Western Tibet. Considered a holy place of spiritual cultivation, the site houses the kings of Shambala in the centrally located palace. According to the legends of Shambhala, during a battle between the forces of Shambhala and the outside world, the kings of Shambhala and supernatural warriors will appear to destroy the power of the outside world and create the world’s golden age. In Western Tibet, Tashi Lhunpo Monastery became a center for the propagation of Shambhala. The Sixth Panchen Lama wrote Guide to the Kingdom of Shambhala (Chinese Xiangbala wangguo zhinan), which became popular throughout that western region.

This king of Shambhala is known in Chinese as the King of Moonlight (Yueguang wang), one of a succession of kings of Shambhala perpetuated by the Gelug school and the manifestation of Sarvanivarana-Vishkambhin (Chinese Chu gaizhang pusa, lit. “Bodhisattva of Eliminating Hindrances”). The king has a white cloth tied upon his head and is further adorned with earrings and a gold crown inlaid with colorful jewels. He wears a silk shawl (yunjian) about his neck and shoulders. The splendidly dressed figure sits lavishly upon a cushion backed with a design of gold dragons in a display of his royal status. He holds a blue lotus that supports a Dharma Wheel in his right hand with a conch and fragrant flower in his left. The Tibetan inscription written in gold below the main figure reads, “sGgib sel kyi sprul pa zla bai od”, which means “Moonlight, the manifestation of Sarvanivarana-Vishkambhin”. The upper left corner of the thangka features an image of the guru associated with the teachings of the Kalachakra while the upper right corner is an image of the bodhisattva.

The back of the thangka has a white damask label with Chinese, Manchu, Mongolian, and Tibetan inscriptions in black ink indicating the work was presented by the Panchen Erdeni on the fourth day of the first lunar month of the thirty-ninth year (1774) of the Qianlong reign (1736–1795). Indeed, the work was given by the Sixth Panchen Lama to the Qianlong Emperor as one of a series of works portraying the kings of Shambhala.

Chinese entry by Zhang Yajing
Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign and Zhuang Ying

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