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22. Achala


22. Achala
Central Tibet, ca. 1200
Distemper on cloth
75 X 57.5 cm (291/2 x 225/8 in.)
Private collection

Achala, the Immovable, assumes his characteristic kneeling pose (achalasana) atop a lotus platform and against a fiery halo of gold-tipped flames. His right hand wields a sword as his left makes the gesture of menace (tarjani mudra) while holding a lasso. He bites his lower lip, exposing sharp fangs, which together with his bloodshot eyes suggest his wrathful nature. Achala is one of a group of wrathful deities (krodha vighnantaka) who enable practitioners to overcome obstacles; he may be invoked to eliminate both "inner" (e.g., negative mental tendencies) and "outer" (e.g., enemies) hindrances. Achala's chief role, however, is to awaken the initiate to his or her own negative aspects and "to transform these into compassion and wisdom."1 He is sometimes described as a wrathful form of the Celestial Buddha Akshobhya, a symbol of the Buddha's unshakable resolve to attain enlightenment. Achala is also called Chandamaharoshana, an appellation by which he is known in the Chandamaharoshana Tantra, a text that Tibetans classified among the Anuttarayoga (Supreme Yoga) Tantras. Known both as Achala and Chandamaharoshana, he is the enlightened exponent of truth in the Chandamaharoshana Tantra, answering questions posed by his consort as they are joined in sexual embrace.2 The text itself explains the etymology of his name: "Canda means one who is very violent (tivratara) and ... very wrathful (maharosana).3

Achala often appears as a subsidiary figure in Tibetan paintings; only rarely in surviving works is herepresented as the central figure.4 Although the various other religious orders might also have worshiped Achala, the styles of headgear worn by the teachers in the top register indicate that this painting may have been associated with the Sakya order. Gold and red high-peaked caps and a rounded red cap with long earflaps appear in other paintings firmly associated with the Sakya order, for instance, a Chakrasamvara Mandala dated to about 1500 in the Michael J. and Beata McCormick Collection.5

Achala's entourage of deities is linked by two meandering vines that encircle the figures in a pleasing,
rhythmic pattern as blossoms burst from the many tendrils. The vines emerge from the open lotus at the center of the painting's bottom register. In front of the lotus is a vajra symbol of the adamantine nature of Buddhist teachings. The compositional device of the scrolling vine appears in other works in the exhibition: the Buddhist Hierarch (cat. no.17) Of about the early thirteenth century and the fifteenth-century Kunga Nyingpo portrait (cat. no. 51).    JCS

1. See Linrothe 1999. [back]

2.  lbid.,pp. 230-32. [back]

3. George 1974, p. 44 n. 1, as cited in Linrothe 1999, p. 228. [back]

4. See the thirteenth-century painting featuring four deities, including Achala, in the Musée Guimet; Béguin 1990, pp. 22-23. [back]

5. Published in New York 1997, pp. 92-93. [back]

all text & images © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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