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Chakrasamvara Mandala

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Period: Qianlong reign (1736–1795), Qing dynasty (1644–1911)
Medium: ink and colors on cloth
Date: 1780
Artist(s): Zhashi jicai Workshop, Tashi Lhunpo Monastery

Dimensions: mounting height: 97.7 cm, width: 68.2 cm; painting height: 83.5 cm, width: 63.6 cm

The composition of this thangka has three main sections. The uppermost tier primarily has depictions of various gurus. The central section is the featured Chakrasamvara Mandala itself while the bottom has a diversity of deities called dharma protectors (Chinese hufa shen). With a range of depictions, Chakrasamvara (Chinese Shengle jin’gang) is a deity of the mother tantras in the Anuttarayoga Tantra (Chinese Wushang yujia bu, lit. “Unsurpassed Yoga Tantra”). Mandalas associated with the deity have been created with differing combinations. This thangka is designed in the most commonly seen configuration of the Chakrasamvara Mandala with sixty-two figures. Centrally situated within the mandala is the featured deity Chakrasamvara, shown with four faces, twelve arms, and blue skin. He embraces his consort Vajra Nairatmya (Chinese Wuwo fomu, lit. “Selfless Dakini”) while surrounded by four ritual bowls (Sanskrit kapala, lit. “skull”) made from human skulls and four deities. The outer edge of the mandala comprises three concentric circles with a radial arrangement of twenty-four deities. Eight dharma protectors are found at the four gates and corners. Outside the square palace are lotus, vajra walls, and flames with eight depictions of Shri Shmashana Adhipati (Chinese Shilin), which represents the purification of the eight consciousnesses (Chinese bashi). The uppermost tier of the mandala has a total of sixty figures, most of which are successive gurus (Chinese shangshi) and mahasiddhas (Chinese dachengjiuzhe, lit. “those of great attainment”), including historical figures such as the third Panchen Lama Ensapa Lobsang Döndrup (1505–1568), the seventh Dalai Lama Kelzang Gyatso (1708–1757), the fifth Panchen Lama Lobsang Yeshe (1663–1737), Sonam Tsemo (1142–1182) of the Five Sakya Masters (Chinese Sajia wuzu), and Butön (1290–1364). Additionally, the host includes important figures from India such as Kanha (Chinese Hei xingzhe), Saraha, Naropa, and Tilopa—all of which are associated with the propagation of the Chakrasamvara Mandala. Above the mandala to the left and right are Akshobhya (Chinese Achu jin’gang) and Yamantaka (Chinese Daweide jin’gang), which with the featured Chakrasamvara make a trio of important deities in the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. Below the mandala are found a variety of deities, including the six-armed Mahakala (Chinese Daheitian), white Mahakala, Vaishravana (Chinese Caibao tianwang), and Yama (Chinese Yanmoli).

Intended for meditative or sacrificial use, this thangka is a full depiction of the sixty-two figures of the Chakrasamvara Mandala and the associated buddhas, dharma protectors, and gurus. The colors are brilliantly applied with detailed painting techniques. The arrangement is orderly, in spite of the large number of vividly portrayed figures.

The bottom of the thangka has a white damask label with inscriptions in Chinese, Manchu, Mongolian, and Tibetan. The Chinese inscription indicates the sixth Panchen Lama presented this work as a gift to the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736–1795) at Jehol (present-day Chengde) on the eighteenth day of the eighth lunar month of the forty-fifth year (1780) of his reign. The inscription uses the Chinese translation Shangle wangfo (lit. “King Buddha of Utmost Pleasure”) rather than Shengle jin’gang for Chakrasamvara.

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

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