- Art History
- Religious Context
There are two main types, or divisions, for the subject of Manjushri:
- Non-iconic (narrative based): a student of the Buddha from Mahayana literature
- Iconic (meditational deity): based on the Tantra (Vajrayana) literature
Manjushri (Tibetan: Jampalyang, Jampaiyang (rje btsun 'jam pa'i dbyangs) is a popular Buddhist figure commonly represented in art. He first arises from the Mahayana Sutra literature of Northern Buddhism where he is regarded as a bodhisattva - the bodhisattva of wisdom. In artistic depictions these forms are non-iconic in appearance which means that the iconography is not fixed. Manjushri will still have one face and two arms. His typical emblem is a Prajnaparamita sutra book held in the left hand or supported by a flower blossom. A sword is often held in the right hand. In art he is typically depicted in a relaxed posture, in front of a temple or portrayed in narrative settings.
In the Tantric literature of Northern Buddhism Manjushri is seen as a completely enlightened Buddha with a great number of manifestations and appearances spanning all four classes of Tantra, simple and complex in form. From the Eleven Figurative Forms Manjushri is represented in Peaceful, Semi-peaceful, Wrathful and Animal Featured. All of the Tantric forms are Iconic in Appearance. This means that the descriptive forms are static in appearance. The iconography is set as to the appearance type, colour, number of faces, arms and the attributes held in the hands along with the retinue figures.
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Jeff Watt 2-2000 [updated 2-2016, 4-2017, 12-2019]