Mandala with the eight-handed Uṣṇīṣavijayā as a Buddhist deity of long life. Distemper painting by a Tibetan painter.

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Mandala with the eight-handed Uṣṇīṣavijayā as a Buddhist deity of long life. Distemper painting by a Tibetan painter. Wellcome Collection. Public Domain Mark. Source: Wellcome Collection.

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A maṇḍala (circle) is both the sacred circular realm of an enlightened being and a symbol of the universe. In the centre of this mandala is Uṣṇīṣavijayā (Ushnishavijaya), the Buddhist deity of long life, surrounded by her retinue placed at strategic cardinal points. Between the inner maṇḍala and an outer circle is a square structure representing a heavenly palace of geometric design, in accordance with sacred architectural principles. Visualisation of a maṇḍala aids progress towards enlightenment, while the visualisation of Ushnishavijaya promotes longevity

The form of Uṣṇīṣavijayā shown here has only one head, while the more usual form has three. Since the inscription on the verso says "sgrol ma tshe rin rnam dkyil" (The excellent mandala of the Tārā of Long Life), Uṣṇīṣavijayā is probably here regarded as a form of the White Tārā. In her upper right hand, she holds an image of the Red Amitābha. Her upper left hand forms the "fear not!" gesture. Her two original hands form the dharmacakra (Wheel of life) gesture. The hands between the upper and the original hands are holding a bow and arrow while forming the tarjanī (threatening) gesture. The lowest right hand forms the giving gesture, while the lowest left hand holds a vase with a wishing tree in it. On her necklace, Uṣṇīṣavijayā is wearing the viśvavajra or double vajra (crossed thunderbolts)

Uṣṇīṣavijayā is surrounded by eight deities in a circle: the four blue male deities are forms of Vajrapāṇi, their legs stepping to the right (an action called pratyālīḍhāsana). The Vajrapāṇi at the top is swinging an elephant goad in his right hand, holding his left palm on which is a vajra (thunderbolt) poised against his chest. Moving to the viewer's right, the second Vajrapāṇi holds a vajra in his outstretched right hand and forms a threatening gesture with his left. The third Vajrapāṇi, at the bottom, holds an arrow in his outstretched right hand and a bow in his left hand against his chest. The fourth Vajrapāṇi, on the left side of the circle, holds a club in his outstretched right hand. All the Vajrapāṇis are wearing Boddhisattva ornaments, long green scarves round their necks and tiger skins round their hips

Between each pair of Vajrapāṇis there is a Tārā: 1. a green Tārā holding a fly whisk in her right hand ,while her left hand, in preaching gesture, holds the stem of a white flower. She stands with her feet pointing in opposite directions. 2. a yellow Tārā is seen walking in profile, bowing in a worshipping attitude, holding in both hands a vase with peacock feathers in it. 3.Opposite her is another yellow Tārā with the same attributes and in the same attitude. 4. a white Tārā standing, her right arm holds a fly whisk, her left arm stretched downwards, her hand forms the threatening gesture and holds the stem of a white flower.

These nine deities form the centre of a maṇḍala with eight leaves forming a circle. The circle is surrounded by a square palace with four gates leading into the palace gardens filled with wishing trees, rgyal mtshans (victorious banners), umbrellas, ascetics meditating in the gardens and Ḍākinīs (serving girls) offering fruit. The gardens are surrounded by a blue, red, green and yellow wall of fire. In the top gate is a stūpa (reliquary) surmounted by an umbrella. In the clouds are gandharvas (heavenly musicians)

Outside the circle, in the top centre of the painting, is Tsongkhapa with book and sword at shoulder level. He holds a vase with a giwang (bezoar, concretion from a cow's stomach). Tsongkhapa is flanked by Amitāyus on the left and by the White Tārā on the right. Below the firewall on the left hand side is a White Amitāyus embraced by a pink consort. She holds a wishing tree in her left hand. He holds a wishing tree in both hands which form the medicine bowl gesture. This is formed like the dhyāna mudrā (meditation gesture), but the thumbs, instead of lying flat, form a triangle with the nail end of the thumbs meeting at the top. Below the couple is a standing Red Amitāyus with his feet pointing in opposite directions, holding a bowl containing a bezoar in both hands which form the medicine bowl gesture. At the right hand side, below the maṇḍala is the four-handed Avalokiteśvara. Below Avalokiteśvara in the right hand bottom corner is Vajrapāṇi, with a blue body, wearing Bodhisattva ornaments, his body surrounded by a fire aureole, stepping to his right, his outstretched right hand holds a vajra, while forming the kāraṇā mudrā (fascination gesture). He is wearing a green scarf and a tiger skin

In the centre, below the maṇḍala, is a combined emblem of the Eight Auspicious Things: wheel, unending knot, two fishes, conch shell, umbrellas, mirror, lotus and vase, with two myrobalan plants and fruit, and a pair of cymbals in addition. To the left of Vajrapāṇi is the yellow Mañjuśrī, sitting in meditation posture, lifting the sword of knowledge with his right hand, and with a book on a lotus flower above his left shoulder; with his left hand he forms the preaching gesture. To the left of Mañjuśrī are the Eight Auspicious Things, and to the left of these is the white Mahākāla with six arms. In his upper right hand he holds an elephant goad, in his upper left a triśūla (trident), in his middle right hand a chopper, in his middle left hand (which forms the fascination gesture) a ḍamaru (double drum), in his lower right hand a wish-fulfilling gem, and in his lower left hand a skull-bowl. To his left, in the bottom left hand corner, is a standing figure of Amitāyus with his feet pointing in opposite directions



Physical description

1 painting : distemper on linen ; distemper 66 x 44 cm


sgrol ma tshe rin rnam dkyil An inscription on the verso says that the work was painted in memory of the gSer-sbug family

References note

Marianne Winder, Catalogue of Tibetan manuscripts and xylographs, and catalogue of thankas, banners and other paintings and drawings in the Library of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, London 1989, pp. 76-77, thankas banners and paintings no. 8


Wellcome Collection 47073i

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