Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Mandala of Ushnishavijaya (Buddhist Deity) - (Thirty-three Deity)

གཙུག་གཏོར་རྣམ་པར་རྒྱལ་མ། ཚེ་ལྷ། 尊圣佛母(本尊)
(item no. 88540)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1500 - 1599
Lineages Ngor (Sakya) and Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Private
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Peaceful

Gender: Female

Summary: Kriya Tantra

Interpretation / Description

Ushnishavijaya Thirty-three Deity Mandala: the long-life goddess/deity/ishtadevata, 'Victorious Crown Ornament.' She is one of three long-life deities (tse lha nam sum) popular in Himalayan and Tibetan Buddhism. The other two deities are Amitayus Buddha and White Tara. Although seemingly specific in function as a long-life Deity, Ushnishavijaya belongs to the larger classification of Meditational Deity.

Iconographic Elements of the Painting: Size, Descending Order & Hierarchy:
- Ushnishavijaya Mandala (central image)
- Tibetan Teacher (top center)
- Amitayus & Amitabha alternating figures (registers)
- Ushnishavijaya (bottom center)

Artistic Elements of the Composition:
- Subject: Diagrammatic, figurative
- Composition Type: Registers
- Ground Colour: Multi-coloured
- Painting Style: Ngor Ewam Monastery, Nepalese-Tibetan Style
- Region: Tsang Province, Tibet
- Date: 1500-1550
- Inscriptions: none on the front
- Back of Painting: om, ah, hum inscriptions
- Artist: unknown at this time
- Comparables by Subject & Style: (See Ngor Tradition Main Page)

Ushnishavijaya has several forms with the most common being the three faced and eight armed. In addition this particular form is known as the Thirty-three Deity Mandala and the painting belongs to a set of compositions numbering approximately forty-five in total which are based on the Vajravali text of the Indian scholar Abhayakaragupta (11th century). The Ushnishavijaya mandala is number #44 in the Vajravali set, belongs to the Kriya Tantra classification, and is the last mandala in the series. The Mitra Gyatsa of Mitra Yogi is another compilation text of meditational deities with corresponding mandala descriptions which contains the Thirty-three Deity Ushnishavijaya, however that text was not nearly as popular in the Sakya or Ngor Traditions to which this painting belongs. The Ushnishavijaya Mandala was added to the Vajravali from another text called the Kriyasamucchaya of Darpan Acharya.

"...Ushnishavijaya, the colour of an autumn moon, with three faces, white, yellow and blue and eight hands. Each face has three very large eyes. The first right hand holds a vishvavajra, second a white lotus with Amitabha [Buddha] residing, third an arrow and the fourth in [the gesture of] supreme generosity. The first left holds a vajra lasso, second a bow, third [in the gesture of] bestowing protection and fourth in [the gesture of] meditative equipoise holding an auspicious nectar vase; complete with silks and jewel ornaments, seated in [vajra] posture." (Jamyang Kyentse Wangpo, 1820-1892).

Within the center of the two dimensional circular diagram (mandala) representing the top view of a three dimensional celestial palace and surroundings is the deity Ushnishavjiaya, white in colour, with three faces, eight hands, seated in vajra posture. Surrounding the central figure are eight deities in various colours, each with one face and two hands, seated in vajra posture. They are all adorned with crowns and ornaments and each holds their own distinct hand objects.

The floor of the celestial palace is divided into four colours ornately patterned with floral designs: red, green, blue, and yellow. On the surrounding square red veranda outside of the palace walls, on each side of the four doors ('T' shaped), are two dancing offering goddesses, sixteen in total. The outer blue and white lines forming a square enclosure represent the stylized decorative facade on the four sides of the palace roof, adorned with looped garlands and upright poles with red streamers. The elaborate lintels above each of the four doors are constructed of four tiered steps topped with a Dharma wheel and two yellow coloured reclining deer, with a silk canopy above.

The palace is placed squarely on a horizontal multi-coloured double vajra (Sanskrit: vishvavajra) with only the prongs and makara heads (an Indian mythological water creature) appearing on the four sides. The outer ring is a circle of multi-coloured (rectangular) lotus petals representing the enormous lotus upon which the entire palace structure rests. The final ring is composed of the multi-coloured flames of pristine awareness completely enveloping the entire Ushnishavijaya Mandala.

Reverse of the Painting: On the back of the composition, verso, there are Tibetan letter inscriptions for each of the figures that appear on the front of the painting. The letters are om, ah, hum representing the pure nature of the body, speech and mind of the deities. Where necessary the letters are also written on their sides and upside down to follow the physical depiction, and correct body placement, of each of the figures in the mandala. The letters are written in Tibetan but the sound and meaning is derived from the Sanskrit language. (See the Backs of Paintings Main Page).

The letters are placed on the back of the painting at the locations on the front of the painting corresponding with the forehead of the central figure of the composition and each and every secondary figure in the mandala and in the upper and lower registers. For the forehead (body) - om. For the throat (speech) - ah. For the heart (mind) - hum.

Sometimes these letters along with much longer mantras and dharanis (sacred verses of blessing) are placed on the front of a painting after the initial drawing has been completed and before being further covered by layers of coloured paint.

Again on the back, there are examples of adding handprints of a respected teacher, dipped in saffron water. There can also be drawings of stupas, mantras, dharanis, and prayers, special verses of benediction such as the famous 'Monk's Creed' and the 'Ye dharma hetu prabawa.' Occasionally the name of the donor, or patrons, are added or the name of the artist, or the religious teacher that blesses the painting after completion of the work. In some cases the names of all of the individuals involved are named and including the context for the creation of the work.

Figure Configuration: - Central Figure (1) - Eight Figure Circle (8) - Sixteen Figure Circle (16) - Four Figures, Four Corners (4) - Four Figures, Four Doors (4)

Jeff Watt 12-2000 [updated 10-2015]

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Buddhist Deity: Long-Life Deities
Mandala: Mandala Main Page
Buddhist Deity: Ushnishavijaya (Thirty-three Deity)
Mandala: Types of Mandalas Glossary List
HAR: Art Subjects
Buddhist Deity: Ushnishavijaya (Mandala Masterworks)
Buddhist Deity: Ushnishavijaya Main Page
Collection of Anna Maria Rossi & Fabio Rossi
Buddhist Deity: Deities (Female)
Painting Main Page: Painting & Composition (Flat Art)
Mandala: Masterworks Page
Buddhist Deity: Ushnishavijaya Iconography
Collection: Bonhams, New York (Painting & Sculpture. March, 2021)
Buddhist Deity: Ushnishavijaya (Early Paintings)
Collection: Bonhams New York (Painting. March 14, 2016)