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32. Chakrasamvara Mandala

 Chakrasamvara Mandala

32. Chakrasamvara Mandala
Central Tibet, ca. first half of the 14th century
Distemper on cloth
 68.6 x 57.2 cm (27 x 221/2 in.)
Pritzker Collection

This vibrant painting depicts Chakrasamvara and his consort, Vajravarahi, together with the deities who form their sacred assembly (mandala). The fourheaded, twelve-armed Chakrasamvara embraces Vajravarahi as he clasps the thunderbolt scepter (vajra) and the ritual bell (ghanta); his other arms hold the skin of an elephant, hand drum, ritual chopper, three ceremonial staffs, skull cup, noose, and head of the Hindu god Brahma. Kalaratri and Bhairava are trampled underfoot. Both central figures are adorned with the white bone ornaments and the necklaces of skulls and severed heads traditionally worn by wrathful Esoteric Buddhist deities. just outside Chakrasamvara's fiery halo are scenes associated with the eight cremation grounds (smashanas); these abbreviated scenes provide an interesting comparison with the more fully developed narrative in the earlier Chakrasamvara Mandala (cat. no. 2).

Observing iconographic prescriptions for this deity, the artist included five groups of deities meant to form five concentric circles, but here they are arranged in registers. Within the main rectangle of the painting, resting on lotuses associated with the four cardinal points of the compass, are: Dakini (east, blue), Lama (north, green), Khandaroha (west, red), and Rupini (south, yellow). At the intermediate points of the compass are four skull cups (kapalas) that rest on vases supported by lotuses and that contain "the thought of enlightenment," blood, the five ambrosias, and "the five awakenings."' The second circle is called "the circle of thought" (chittachakra); it is represented by the eight blue male and female couples in the top register. The third circle, "the circle of speech" (vakchakra), is represented by the eight red male and female couples in the top and upper side registers. The fourth circle, "the circle of body" (kayachakra), can be seen in the white male and female couples in the side registers. And the fifth circle, "the circle of intuition" (samayachakra), appears in the lower register in the form of eight deities; the bicolored figures bear the colors associated with those quadrants of the mandala they are meant to bisect. Of considerable interest are the sixteen goddesses in the bottom register who appear in front of a red curtain. Each bears an offering, such as dance, song, incense, food, or garlands, which they present to the main figures in the mandala.

The style of this painting may be compared with that of the late-thirteenth- or early-fourteenth century painting of Scenes from the Life of the Historical Buddha (cat. no.27). Like that work, this painting is bordered by red, green, and white rectangles surrounded by gold, a motif that suggests colored gems with gold settings. Both paintings also rely on a similar motif to distinguish registers within the painting (here, seen above the bottom register). The lotus petals in the two paintings are similar, as are the figures rendered by broad color fields with only occasional attempts at modeling. Costumes are also closely related, most especially those of the sixteen offering goddesses in this work and those of Sujata and the female attendants of the bodhisattva prince in the earlier work (cat. no. 27). It is also interesting to compare this work with the slightly later mandala seen here (cat. no. 43). The paintings differ chiefly in composition. Chakrasamvara and his consort dominate the later composition, as they are larger in height and width than in this work; they are also proportionally larger than their attendant deities, who are almost uniformly diminutive. The dominance of Chakrasamvara and Vajravarahi in the later work contrasts with that in the work under consideration, wherein less of the composition's area is given to Chakrasamvara and Vajravarahi, and the size of the attendant figures increases as one moves toward the bottom of the painting. Thus, while both paintings fulfill essentially the same iconographic requirement, differences in composition, color tone, and the artist's technical virtuosity all contribute to the different aesthetics seen in the two paintings.     JCS

1. For the names of all the deities in this mandala. see Mallmann 1975, pp. 50-52. 

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