Dharmapala Thangka CentreSchool of Thangka Painting

4.66 Samantabhadra & Bardo Deities

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In the tantric traditions of Buddhism, such as the Nyingma and Kagyu schools, Samantabhadra is considered not only a bodhisattva, but additionally an adibuddha.

In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, he is described as the Buddha who appears to the deceased during their journey through the intermediate realm to free them from their remaining karmic bonds and remind them of their original origin and destiny.

On the forty-nine day journey of the deceased described in the Bardo Thodol [Tibetan Book of Dead], the first seven days bring encounters with the benign or peaceful deities depicted in this thangka. Thereafter he encounters the wrathful deities.

At the centre of this painting is the Primordial Buddha Samantabhadra embracing his consort Samantabhadri. His hands are in the dhyani mudra [gesture of meditation] and he is seated on a lotus placed on a jewelled dais.

Mirroring this pair in miniature below him is the white Transcendental Buddha Vairochana embracing his consort Akasadhatvisvari on a lotus supported by a throne bearing images of his mount, the lion.

The other four Transcendental Buddhas can be found in one of the four roundels at the corners of the painting. Each Buddha holds in their left hands a ghanta [bell], but their right hands, as well as their colours, are according to their individual iconographies: respectively, the vitarka mudra [instruction gesture] and white colour [Vairochana], triratna [triple jewel] and yellow colour [Ratnasambhava], vajra [diamond sceptre] and blue colour [Akshobhya], vitarka mudra and red colour [Amitabha], and vishvavajra [a ritual object of two diamond sceptres crossed perpendicularly] and green colour [Amoghasiddhi]. The four in the roundels are also seated embracing their consorts on lotus resting on thrones containing images of their mounts, respectively the horse, elephant, peacock, and garuda [half bird/half human deity].

In addition, they are flanked by a pair of bodhisattva and by a pair of goddesses bearing offerings. The Primordial Buddha and the five Transcendental Buddhas appear to the deceased over the first six days of the Bardo journey.

On the seventh day one encounters the five vidyadharas [`bearers of knowledge'] who in the painting appear with their consorts above the central image of Samantabhadra. Each dances on a lotus, and they tear the colours of the five Transcendental Buddhas. The vidyadharas guide the deceased to paradise, but if he cannot recognise that their blinding radiance in fact emanates from himself, he will be reborn in the world of the animals. Within the landscape of green mountains to either side of Samantabhadra are the six Manushi [Mortal Manifestation] Buddhas who guard the entrances to the six worlds of rebirth, and who try to dissuade the deceased from entering them, and to instead continue on the path towards Buddhahood. In the register of seven figures at the top, the blue manifestation of the Primordial Buddha as Vajradhara embraces his consort at the centre.

The couple is immediately flanked by two lamas wearing the peaked red hat of the Nyingma order, beyond whom are two further lamas, one wearing the black hat of the Karmapa Kagyu and the other the red hat of the Shamarpa Kagyu. In either corner of the top register are two of the group of four krodha guardian deities, Yama [yellow] and Hayagriva [red]. Each embraces their consort while standing on a lotus. The other two krodlra are among the wrathful manifestations at the bottom of the painting. Takkiraja [white] and Vajrapani [blue] also embrace their consorts on a lotus.

At bottom centre is a rare form of the dharmapala [defender of the faith] Mahakala, namely Gonpobernaktsan ['Black-Robed-One']. As iconographically prescribed, he holds a banner in one hand and a heart in the other. In the right corner is an additional image of Vajrapani with a vajra in his raised right hand. This is Black Time or Great Time and a representation of Shiva in his destructive character.

The soft, green aspect of the landscape suggests an origin in the eastern parts of Tibet. The painting was prohably executed in the Kham area towards the end of the 19th century.

The painting belongs to the Korean Hahn collection and it is published in "Art of Thangka - Vol. 4, no. 11, page 35

Measurements: 15.7 x 22.4" | 40 x 57 cm
Price: on request
Shipment: Parcel Service from Germany or Nepal
Color: Color Version
Material: Natural Stone Colors