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Early Tibetan Mandalas

Buddhakapala Mandala
sangs-rgyas thod-pa'i dkyil-'khor

Central Tibet, 14th century
63.5 x 54.4 cm

Buddhakapala Mandala

The deity Buddhakapala, "Skullcup of the Buddha," presides over this mandala of twenty-five deities.1 The wrathful god embraces his consort Citrasena, while his four other hands hold the skullcup, chopper, ceremonial staff and hand drum. He assumes the dancer's pose (ardhaparyanka) upon a corpse which is itself supported by a lotus borne by the sun.

Attendant deities in the mandala's first circle appear on the petals of an open lotus: Sumalini (E), Kapalini (N), Bhima (W) and Durjaya (S).2 Skullcups supported by lotuses mark the four intermediate points of the compass. The second circle of deities includes: Subhamekhala (E), Rupini (N), Vijaya (W), Kamini (S), Kapalini (NE), Mahadadhi (SE), Karini (SW) and Marani (NW). The third circle includes: Tarini (E), Bhimadarsana (N), Sudarsana (W), Ajaya (S), Subha (NE), Astaraki (SE), Kalaratri (SW) and M ahayasa (NW). Sundari (E), Vajrasundari (N), Subhaga (W) and Priyadarsana (S) guard the mandala's four gates.

This mandala was once part of a set of mandalas illustrating Annuttarayoga teachings. These teachings were transmitted by an historical lineage illustrated in the painting's top and bottom registers, and including the four historical figures encircled by scrolling vines just outside the mandala circle.3 The lineage begins with the celestial Buddha Vajradhara and includes Indian masters such as Nagarjuna (act. second century A.D.) and prominent Tibetan masters of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, such as the famed translator Marpa (mar-pa, 1012-96).

1 Buddhakapala and his consort are counted as a single deity.

2 Iconographic descriptions of this mandala appear in chapter thirteen of the NSP, and in the Sadhanamala, sadhana number 254. The two descriptions offer variant names for some of the attendant deities. See Mallmann, Introduction a l'iconographie du tant risme bouddhique, pp. 52-53.

3 These figures are identified by inscription, but in some cases are illegible due to abrasion.

Images and text © Rossi and Rossi, London.

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