Himalayan Art Resources

Mandala: Painting Composition Types (Number of Mandalas)

Mandala: Art History

Mandala Painting Composition Types:
- Single Mandala
- Two Mandalas
- Three Mandalas
- Four Mandalas
- Five Mandalas
- Multiple Mandalas
- Peaceful & Wrathful Circle Mandalas (Guhyagarbha Deities)

The vast majority of mandala paintings contain one single large circular mandala as the subject of the composition. With early paintings a top and bottom register is often added which may contain images of Buddhas, deities or lineage teachers. The corners of the composition may also depict deities or related figures. In later mandala paintings after the 17th century the space surrounding the mandala is often left empty with except for some landscape at the bottom and blue sky and cloud at the top.

Two mandala compositions are not typically found except with the Peaceful and Wrathful Deity depictions originating with the Guhyagarbha Tantra of the Nyingma Tradition.

Three mandalas per composition is also rare with only one example known which depicts mandalas of the Sakya tradition in a slightly awkward composition and another example depicting the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities above linear scenes of the Six Realms of Existence.

Compositions that have four mandalas per painting are the second most common type of layout and are often found with sets of paintings. It is worth noting that the vast majority of examples of this composition belong to the Sakya Tradition and related schools such as the Ngor.

Five mandala compositions are rare and only a few examples have been found. Two of the examples appear to be of Nyingma/Kagyu origin with the third example belonging to the Ngor Tradition and forming part of a set that mixes four mandala composition and five mandala composition together. In these cases a central but smaller mandala is added at the center of the four outside mandalas.

Multiple mandala compositions are again rare with very few examples. Typically there is one large central mandala subject with related mandalas surrounding. In one example the main subject is Hevajra with all of the secondary mandalas of related Hevajra deities from the various tantras such as the Vajrapanjara, Samputa, and others. Another example of multiple mandalas depicts are large central Maha Vairochana with the related eleven mandalas of the Sarvadugati Parishodhana Tantra.

It is likely that multiple mandala paintings are carry over from large mural project at locations such as Ngari cave murals, Sakya Monastery, Shalu, Gyantse and Lo Manthang (Mustang) where large shrine room walls are devoted to only mandalas large, and small, filling the walls completely.

Jeff Watt 8-2016