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Early Tibetan Mandalas

Vajravarahi Abhibhava Mandala
phag-mo mngon-'byung-gi dkyil-'khor

Central Tibet, 14th century
62 x 52 cm

Vajravarahi Abhibhava Mandala

An inscription in the lower register identifies this painting's iconography as phag-mo mngon-'byung dkyil-'khor (vajravarahi abhibhava mandala), "Mandala of the Awakening of Vajravarahi." At the center of the mandala is Vajravarahi in her four-faced, twe lve-armed form. Two arms stretch an elephant skin behind her, others hold the hook, chopper, trident, noose, and head of the Hindu god Brahma.1 There are many mandalas associated with Vajravarahi; this particular mandala appears to relate to the Vajrava rahi Abhibhava Tantra.2

The goddess's first assembly is usually described as the Devicakra, or wheel of goddesses, likened to the center of the world. Thus, Vajravarahi is surrounded by Dakini (E), Lama (N), Khandaroha (W) and Rupini (S). At the intermediate points are vases b earing skullcups, containing "the thought of enlightenment" (bodhicitta, SE), blood (SW), "the five ambrosias" (pancamrta, NW), and the ìfive illuminations" (pancapradipa, NE). The precise identities of the other circles are unclear.

The painting's historical figures, depicted in the top and bottom registers and connected by scrolling vines outside the mandala proper, are associated with the transmission of Vajravarahi teachings. The latest master represented is Urgyanpa (u-rgyan-pa, d. 1309), famous for his travels to eastern India and Kashmir in order to secure Buddhist teachings.

1 Due to abrasion of fine details, it is impossible to verify the implements in her other hands.

2 See Marie-Therese de Mallmann, ìNotes d'iconographique tantrique IV. A propos de Vajravarahiî, Arts Asiatiques 20 (1969), 21-40; Mallmann, Introduction a l'iconographie du tantrisme bouddhique, pp. 425-29; R.O. Meisezahl, ìDie Gottin Vajravarahi, Eine ikonographische Studie nach einem Sadhana-Text von Advayavajraî Oriens 18-19 (1965-66), 228-303; and Roerich, The Blue Annals, 375.

Images and text © Rossi and Rossi, London.

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