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Early Tibetan Mandalas


Mandala of an Esoteric Form of Vajrapani
Central Tibet, 15th century
69.5 x 53.5 cm

Mandala of an Esoteric Form of Vajrapani

Vajrapani, "he who holds the thunderbolt sceptre," appears at the center of this mandala in one of his many esoteric forms.1 The three-faced, four-armed god holds his characteristic thunderbolt sceptre and the bell, while his other hands grasp the body o f a serpent, held firm between his teeth and trampled beneath his feet. His red hair is gathered like a helmet of molded flames, further adorned with a serpent. A delicate serpent winds about his neck.

The mandala includes in its first circle gods who resemble the central figure, although they differ in color: white (E), yellow (S), red (W) and green (N). In the next circle, at the intermediate points of the compass, are offering goddesses, perhaps the standard four: Puspa (flowers; NE), Dhupa (incense; SE), Dipa (light, SW), and Gandha (perfume, NW). There are four guardians of the temple gates.

Outside the mandala proper are esoteric deities in yab-yum ("father-mother"), the posture of sexual embrace; Tibetan teachers (once identified by inscription, now abraded); and the seven jewels of the cakravartin ("universal monarch"): horse, wish-fulfill ing gem (here, probably the triratna or "three jewels of Buddhism" representing the Buddha, the Buddhist doctrine and the monastic community), the elephant, the wheel of the Buddhist law, a general (figure with shield), queen, and a minister who holds tre asure in his hands (here, the god of wealth, Jambhala).2 In the top register is a lineage of mortal and celestial teachers associated with Vajrapani's teachings. The bottom register includes a monk seated before offerings, deities, and protectors of the faith.

1 See Walter Eugene Clark. Two Lamaistic Pantheons (New York: Paragon Reprint Corp., 1965), p. 57 (2A45) for a similar image of Vajrapani.

2 Perhaps for reasons of symmetry, an eighth figures of the esoteric female deity, dakini, appears.


Images and text Rossi and Rossi, London.

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