About the Artwork

The thirty-two-deity mandala of Guhyasamaja-Akshobhyavajra is one of the principal 'method' or father-tantra mandalas that are described in the Vajravali or 'vajra-garland' cycle of texts, which were originally compiled by the great 11th century Indian Pandit, Abhayakaragupta. And this exquisite mandala is an accurate copy from the famous series of twenty-seven Vajravali (vajra-garland) mandalas that were painted in the late 14th century by a group of Newar artists for the Ngor Monastery in Tibet to commemorate the exemplary life of Dampa Sonam Gyaltsen (1312-1375), who appears in the first niche of the four Sakya lineage holders in the bottom left corner of this painting. Guhysamaja, meaning the 'secret assembly', is the principal yidam deity of the Guhyasamaja Tantra, which is considered to be earliest or foundational text of the 'Highest Yoga Tantra' class of sadhana practices, and in this respect it is known as the 'King of all Tantras'. Guhyasamaja is semi-wrathful and blue-black in color, with three faces (white, black, red) and six arms, and he sits in vajra-posture upon a sun disc, a multicolored lotus, and a lion-throne. With his two principal arms he embraces his blue consort Sparshavajra (vajra-touch), who is similar in form to himself with three faces and six arms. And both deities hold the same attributes of the 'Buddha Families': a vajra, wheel and lotus (right hands), and a bell, jewel and sword (left hands). All of the other thirty solitary male and female deities that occupy the mandala palace are similar in appearance to Guhyasamaja, with three faces and six arms; although the twelve protective deities that guard the outer corners and gateways are wrathful in appearance and stand within blazing auras of wisdom fire. In the corners beyond the three great protection wheels (lotus-womb, vajra-fence, and fire-mountain) are: yellow Vairocana-Manjuvajra (lower left); orange Manjuvajra (upper left); red Guhyasamaja-Manjuvajra (upper right), and black Yamari (lower right). Across the top and bottom left of the painting are niches that enshrine the various Indian and Tibetan lineage masters of this tradition, and in the ten lower right niches are the ten great Vedic guardian gods or 'dikpalas' that protect the ten directions, who are common to both the Hindu and Buddhist Traditions.

© text by Robert Beer

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