About the Artwork

This thangka depicts the assembly of the forty-two 'peaceful' (zhi) and fifty-eight 'wrathful' (khro) deities that constitute the Hundred Peaceful and Wrathful Deities of the Zhitro (Tib. zhi-khro) or Bardo Mandala. These deities are precisely described in the well-known text of the Bardo Thodol or 'Tibetan Book of the Dead', as they sequentially arise from the heart, throat and crown chakras during the forty-nine day period of the 'intermediate state' (bardo) that is said to occur between death and rebirth. Contemporary thangkas of the Bardo or shitro Mandala of Peaceful and Wrathful deities are relatively rare, but this beautiful thangka and is completely accurate in its detail and iconography.

At the top centre of the painting are the blue primordial Buddha, Samantabhadra, and his white consort, Samantabhadri, who represent the union of pure awareness and emptiness. Directly below appear white Vairocana Buddha and his consort, who are enthroned at the center of the 'Mandala of Peaceful Deities', and surrounded by the five vidyadharas or 'knowledge-holders', who dance upon clouds with their female consorts.
Dominating the center of the painting is Mahottara Heruka, who is wrathful, brown in color, with three triple-eyed faces, six arms, vajra-wings, and stands in sexual union with his blue consort amidst a blazing mass of wisdom fire. In front of Mahottara is a fiery skull-cup that contains the 'wrathful offering of the five sensory organs' (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and heart). Behind these sensory offerings is a triangular torma or 'sacrificial cake', which emanates flames and rainbow light. And to the lower left and right of the central skull are two smaller skull-cups mounted on skull-tripods, which contain a heart and eyes, and the 'five great forbidden meats' (cow, elephant, horse, monkey, and dog). Surrounding Mahottara's lotus throne are the eight matarah or 'mothers'. These wrathful goddesses are two-armed and human-headed, and they dance amidst clouds and winds holding their various attributes and weapons.

© text by Robert Beer

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PEM Custom Prints offers exclusive custom reproductions of artworks in the collections of the Peabody Essex Museum. Hand-made in the USA using gallery-quality materials, we create prints as true to the original work as possible, using strict color management protocols and state-of-the-art printing technology.


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