Most Tibetan art was created in connection with the complex rituals and meditational practices of Vajrayana Buddhism (the Diamond Path), in which mandalas (cosmic diagrams) are employed as visual representations of the sacred realms inhabited by a host of deities. Used as aids in the process of spiritual enlightenment, thangkas are painted portable scrolls that depict sacred icons or mandalas. This extraordinary thangka is from a series of paintings that illustrate mandalas from the Vajravali (Diamond Garland) text. They were commissioned by the monk Ngorchen Kunga Sangpo (1382–1456), founder of the Ngor monastery, in honor of his late teacher Lama Sasang Pakpa (died c. 1380).
In this highly complex and elaborate work, four individual mandalas have been incorporated into an all-encompassing mandala of the Five Pancharaksha Goddesses. The upper-left mandala depicts these goddesses, popular deities for protection against sickness, misfortune, and calamity. The upper-right mandala depicts the golden goddess of wealth, Vasudhara, accompanied by eighteen deities, all associated with wealth and prosperity. The lower-right mandala portrays the white goddess of long life, Ushnishavijaya, surrounded by eight Ushnisha deities. The mandala at the lower left, which is associated with protecting the initiate from negative planetary influences, is that of Bhagvati Mahavidya, who sits in the upper-right corner of the mandala.
Interwoven around the four mandalas in the main field is another, floating mandala scheme consisting of the Five Pancharaksha Goddesses, who appear at the four cardinal directions and in the center, surrounded by thirty-five small Buddhas of Confession. Along the top border are sixteen seated Buddhas in niches. At the bottom are fifteen Buddhist forms of the World Gods, and the donor lama, Kunga Sangpo, the last figure on the right.
The Zimmerman Family Collection, New York;
purchased through (Sotheby’s, New York) by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 2000.