Vajradhara Mandala

14th/15th century
Distemper on cloth
65 by 50 cm - 25 ⅝ by 19 ¾ in

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This vibrant mandala represents an unusual four-armed aspect of Vajrapani,identified by the vajra he wields inhis upper right hand. Encircled bystylized lotus petals, the ferocious tantricdeity stands menacingly upon a makaraat the center of the composition. His midnight blue skin, richly covered in gold jewelry, is highlightedagainst the vibrant red background of the central section. Wrapped around the god's bulging waist,a striped tiger skin acts as a short dhoti,and around his shoulders, a white serpentine scarf forms a striking collar-likearc. Each of Vajrapani's threefaces bears an expression of belligerence, particularly evident in theexpressive features of the primary countenance. With sharp fangs exposed, he ejects writhing snakes from hisopen mouth, and his three eyes bulge in anger. Further attesting to the deity's wrathful nature, additionalserpents are woven through his fiery orange hair.

Iconographically, this form of Vajrapani isa curious composite derived from both Bhutadamara Vajrapani and MahacakraVajrapani.[1] Although Bhutadamara Vajrapani holdshis two primary arms in tarjani mudraand the vajra in his upper righthand, as does the central deity of this mandala,he is known to bear a lasso in his upper left hand instead of the ghanta seen here, and he has only asingle head. It is MahacakraVajrapani who has three faces and holds the vajraand bell, similar to the present deity, yet he is characterized by sixarms. The snakes dangling from thegaping mouth and the lunging position, alidhaasana, are typical of both Mahacakra and Bhutadamara Vajrapani.

The lineage of spiritual transmissionstemming from the central Buddha, and including numerous lamas and monks aswell as the goddess-dakiniSimhavaktra, depicted in the upper register, contextualizes the mandala. The four corners are inhabited by a series of deities; twoaspects of Hevajra reside in the upper quadrants, a yab-yum Amitayus is placed inthe lower left corner, and Samvara sits in the lower right. The lineage of protective deities inthe lower register, left to right, starts with the lama performing theconsecration followed by: the ritual offerings; Jambhala as lord of wealth; aform of Vaisravana as warrior in armour and guardian of the north; Mahakala, anunusual aspect of Vairocana -Vagisvara with eight arms and three faces, holdingthe wheel of dharma in his upperright hand and a sword in his upper left hand; Manjusri; AvalokitesvaraSadaksari; Vajrapani; Acala; and Green Tara.

On the reverse, the inscriptions are invertical alignment for OM AH HUM in very ornate and elegant lantsa alphabet (ornamental Indic scriptfor writing Sanskrit mantra syllables). At the center, in the shape of a stupa,there are dedication prayers in Tibetan script. These mantra syllables are dedicated to the Buddha ofOmniscience, Sarvavid Vairocana. In addition, there are the Ye dharma verse of the origination of allphenomena, and the Forbearance creed, which is the closing verse of the Disciplinarycode (Vinaya) of Buddhist monks.[2]


Rossi & RossiLtd., Tibetan Painted Mandalas,exhibition catalogue, (London, 1993).


[1] See remarks by Jeff Watt, "Vajrapani Bhutadamara" in Himalayan ArtResource,; and "Mahacakra Vajrapani",ibid,

[2] We are grateful to Dr. Amy Heller for her assistance andtranslation of the inscriptions on the painting's verso, a copy of which isavailable.