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Introduction to Bodhisattva's - The Great Thangka

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 3:48 AM


Bodhisattvas are the emanations of the Dhy'anti Buddha’s. They delayed their attainment of nirvana and remained in the world to assist in the salvation of all living beings. In Northern Buddhist pantheon Bodhisattvas receive the active power of creation from Adi Buddha through the Dhyani Buddha’s. Of the group of eight Bodhisattvas three are specially venerated throughout Tibet viz., Avalokitesvara, Manjusri, and Maitreya. Even some female Bodhisattvas like Sitatapatra, Usnisavijaya, Prajnaparamita and Vasudhara are widely worshipped.

MaitreyaMaitreya, the future Buddha and the successor of A5kyamuni is said to reside in the Tusita heaven before descending on earth. The god is represented in Bodhisattva form with all the Bodhisattva ornaments and is seated on throne in bhadrasana with feet resting on lotus. His long hair drawn up on the head forming the usnisa is surmounted by a stupa-shaped ornament. He is two-armed holding the stems of lotus flowers sup-porting his two attributes the vase and the wheel. His right hand shows vitarkamudra. The lower section of the thanka represents a kneeling devotee with folded hands at the left corner while at the centre a bowl has been depicted containing five objects viz., mirror, fruit, cymbals, conch-shell and a shawl. These five objects symbolise offering of five senses to the deity, the mirror representing sight, the fruit signifying taste, the in-cense-shell representing smell, the cymbals standing for hearing and the shawl indicating the sense of touch. The back of the thanka contains four lines of inscription in Tibetan script.

The goddess Sitatapatra Aparajita, "the invincible goddess with the white parasol" seated in dhyanasana has three heads and eight arms. Her three heads are of white, blue and red colour and the most distinctive emblem of the goddess is her white parasol. She also bears third eye on her fore-head. According to the Sadhanamala she is of white complexion, wears celestial ornaments and garments and is an emanation of Dhyani Buddha Vairocana. Being a deification of white parasol, Sitatapatra is believed to protect the devotees from all sorts of evil spirits. In her right hands she holds atapatra (umbrella), ankusa (elephant goad), Nina (arrow) and vajra (' (thunderbolt) while the four left hands show atapatra, pasa (noose), dhanu (bow) and cakra (wheel).

At the top, the central figure is Dhyani Buddha Vairocana flanked by Buddha in bhumispar`samundra and probably Asoka, the famous Maurya king. A group of monks and disciples of the lineage of the Ka-dam-pa school like Rindag, Dagkar, Rigzin Gyalpo, Chanchupa Bhawa, and Palden Dhondup along with Bodhisattva Manjusri are portrayed at the right and left corners of the thanka. Sitatapatra is accompanied by goddess Usnisavijaya to her right and Padmapani Avalokitesvara (Chenrizig) to her left. The two female deities in the lower right and left sides represent the two and six-armed manifestations of the goddess Sitatapatra. In the centre, at the bottom is the standing figure of eleven-headed, eight-armed Aryavalokitesvara with Sita Tara (white Tara) and. syama Tara (green Tara) on either side. All the figures depicted in the thanka are inscribed. Besides, the back of the thanka contains two lines of mantras of Sitatapatra in Tibetan script.

Sitatapatra-AparajitaThe god is standing on lotus with eleven heads and thousand arms. His principal pair of hands are in anjalimudra holding cintamani. Other hands radiating around him forming an aura have an eye in each palm. His other attributes are rosary, lotus, cakra, bow, arrow, kalasa and varadamudra. The god is decked in all sorts of Bodhisattva ornaments. This particular manitestation of Avalokitesvara with eleven heads and thousand arms was conceived to emphasize his omniscience and power which enabled him to look in every direction (samantamukha) and to save the wretched and the distressed. He is also called the great compassionate Bodhisattva who sacrificed his nirvana to serve the people. According to legend, his head split into ten pieces from sorrow and grief in utter despair of saving the mankind. Amitabha caused each piece to become a head on the body of Avalokitesvara. The expression of his three heads in three lower tiers is placid; the tenth head is fierce while the top most one is that of his spiritual father Amitabha. The two standing bodhisattvas flanking him are Bodhisattva Manjusri and Vajrapani.

At the top of the thanka the central figure is Dhydni Buddha Amitabha seated in meditation holding a bowl. At the left corner are portrayed the figures of Amitayus, the Buddha of eternal life, holding ambrosia vase, goddess Usnisavijaya and Tara, while at the right corner Tsong-kha-pa, the founder of the Ge-lug-pa sect is shown with his two disciples. At the left side of the thanka is the representation of seven jewels (sapta-ratna) viz., the wheel, cintamani, the jewel of a wife, the gem of a minister, the white elephant, the horse and the gem of a general.

At the bottom are three Dharmapalas viz., Kuvera holding dhvaja with mongoose vomitting jewels, Mahakala holding kartrika, kapala, and danda (staff) and Lha-mo seated on a mule with khadga (sword) and kapala. The back-side of the thanka contains four lines of Sanskrit inscription in Trib-tan script that reads

Namah RatnatrayayallNamaly, Namah Aryajnanasagara Vairocana Vyuharjays Tathagataya aite Samyaksambuddhaya, Namah Sarvatathagatebhyah Samyaksanbuddhebhyah, Namah Aryajnanasagara Bodhisattvaya mahakarunikaya.

Sadaksari Lokesvara decked in all sorts of ornaments is seated in

AryavalokitesvaraDhyanasana on lotus throne. The god is four-armed holding aksamala (rosary) and padma (lotus) in the right and left hands while his principal hands are joined against the chest in anjalimudra holding jewel. The mantra om-ma-ni-pad-me-hum consisting of six syllables is assigned to this form of Avalokitesvara and this is the most popular mystic formula in Lamaism uttered by both lamas and laity. His high usnisa adorned with jewels is topped by the head of Amitabha, his spiritual father.

The upper part of the thanka represents the figure of Dhyani Buddha Amitabha at the centre and Maitreya, the Future Buddha and Bhaisajya-guru, the Medicine Buddha in the two corners. On either side of the central deity are portrayed Tsong-kha-pa, the founder of the Yellow cap sect, Bodhisattva Manjusri, Dhyani Buddha Aksobhya and Vajrapani. Below, at the centre is represented the great Guru Padmasambhava with his two disciples or mystic consorts Mandrava (Jnanasagara) and Yesho Khado (Cloud Fairy) on either side. The one on his right carrying the umbrella is the goddess Sitatapatra while the other on his left is Vajrasattva holding vajra and ghanta. An offering of five senses symbolised by mirror, cymbals, in-cense shell, fruits and shawl is depicted in a bowl in front of Guru Padmasambhava.

Writer – Sipra Chakravarti

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