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Four Mandala Vajravali Thangka
ca. 1430



Opaque watercolor on cloth
H: 87.7 W: 78.0 cm
Tibet

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Six hundred years ago, a Tibetan abbot venerated his teacher and celebrated the establishment of a monastery by commissioning these precisely painted and richly colored mandalas, or meditation diagrams, on a cloth thangka(also tanka). Exquisite scrollwork, slender figures, and a spirited depiction indicate that the painters came to Tibet from the adjoining Himalayan kingdom of Nepal.

Buddhist adepts visualize the mandala as a three-dimensional palace. During meditation, practitioners imagine themselves traversing macabre cremation grounds and then passing through a ring of flames to enter the square of the mandala-palace. After meditating upon the deities in the four outer circles, they reach the principal deity dwelling in the mandala's center. The red, yellow, and blue forms of the female deity Varahi appear in three of the squares, and the male deity Vajra-Humkara, in union with his consort, appears in this thangka's fourth innermost shrine.