The third Dalai Lama Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588) and his entourage. Distemper painting.

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The third Dalai Lama Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588) and his entourage. Distemper painting. Wellcome Collection. Public Domain Mark. Source: Wellcome Collection.

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The central figure, the third Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso (bSod-nams rGya-mtsho) is flanked by four large hands. This probably serves to indicate that he is a manifestation of the four-handed Avalokiteśvara. He is traditionally represented as having a moustache. His right hand forms the teaching gesture while holding a white lotus containing the image of the white Tārā. His left hand holds a book. His legs are in sattvāsana posture, his feet being covered by his robe. He is wearing the green hat of the Gelugpa order of monks and a monk's robe. His halo is green

At the top centre is Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa school. He forms the Wheel of the Law gesture with both hands. His legs and feet in full lotus posture are covered by his monk's robe. His halo is green, his body-nimbus is dark blue traversed by golden rays and surrounded by a golden radius

At the top left is the Buddha Gautama wearing a monk's robe. His halo is golden and his body-nimbus is green. His body-colour is white, his right hand makes the earth-touching gesture, and his left hand is in the meditation-gesture. At the top right is a blue Buddha whoose face, ears and neck are white. He is wearing a top knot, and his hands form the añjali mudrā, the worship-gesture with palms touching, but in his case the little fingers are crossed. This may be symbolic of the Ten Perfections being linked together

Flanking the Dalai Lama on the left-hand side is a Yidam (Yid dam), a meditational deity, probably Sitacaraśaṃvara in his peaceful aspect, with one head and two arms, holding a vajra (thunderbolt) in his right hand and an upturned bell in his left, his legs in full lotus posture. His pink consort is folding her left leg round him. He is wearing a red robe with a green scarf; she is wearing a red skirt, and her black hair is long. Both are wearing Bodhisattva ornaments

Flanking the Dalai Lama on the right-hand side is the Green Tārā. Her body-nimbus is pink, traversed by golden rays, and her halo is green. Her hair is dressed in beehive style, her right hand forms the giving-gesture, and her left hand the preaching-gesture while holding the lotus. Her legs are in the enchanter's posture with the right foot pendent and the left leg bent in meditation-posture

In the bottom centre is Arapacana Kālamañjuśrī, cutting through ignorance with his sword uplifted in his right hand. He has three eyes, and his colour is dark blue. He is sitting in meditation-posture, with a white scarf over his shoulder knotted in front. His red body-nimbus, traversed by golden rays, is surrounded with flames. he is wearing Bodhisattva clothing: a green scarf and a red and blue loincloth. A book is lying on a white lotus at his left. He is attended by two shaven-headed disciples in monks' robes, one of them offering a book, the other making the worship-gesture

On the bottom left-hand side, Vajrapāṇi appears in the form of a Garuḍa bird, with horns, beak, claws, feathered legs and wings. He has three eyes. He holds a garland of snakes in both hands, and wears a golden necklace and Bodhisattva ornaments. His left hand also forms the fascination-gesture. The top of his body is red, the bottom white. He stands with his legs apart and treads on the snakes surrounding him. On the bottom right-hand side is a White Defender of the Doctrine, perhaps the peaceful form of rDo-rje Śugs-ldan, with three eyes and surrounded by flames, his head surrounding a flame aureole. But, though the flames indicate a Dharmapāla, he is wearing Bodhisattva ornaments. His right hand is holding a ritual wand, his left hand a club, and he is sitting in the enchanter's posture, mounted on a makara (fabulous sea animal)

Just as some figures in this painting have dual skin-colours, so the whole picture gives the impression of a mixture of peaceful and wrathful features

Physical description

1 painting : distemper on linen ; distemper 57 x 39 cm

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. 82-84, thankas banners and paintings no. 17


Wellcome Collection 47104i

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