Himalayan Art Resources

Buddhist Deity: Jambhala (Five Jambhalas Confusion)

Jambhala Iconography

Subject, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
- White Jambhala (5 Deity)
- Five Jambhala Body Mandala
- Five Jambhala Conflation
- Others...

Video: Five Jambhala Confusion

There are many forms of the Buddhist wealth deity Jambhala with at least ten in the Sarma traditions alone with out including the many 'Revealed Treasure' tradition figures found in the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. The White Jambhala according to the tradition of Jowo Atisha is known as a five deity Jambhala because of the four accompanying dakinis in the retinue. If a thorough study is undertaken it is certainly possible that other forms of Jambhala in a five figure composition might be found. It appears as though the modern paintings of a five Jambhala configuration is based on a text composed by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye (1813-1899).

In some Jambhala ritual and meditation texts there are descriptions of five forms of Jambhala representing the Five Symbolic Buddhas integral to the initiation process. Some texts describe a body mandala-like composition incorporating five Jambhalas each identical to the main figure except for the colour changing to that of the specific buddha family. These initiation descriptions are rarely if ever reimagined as a painted composition.

In modern times (20/21st century) the notion of five Jambhalas has become popular. There are many current examples of paintings in the art marketplace. The arrangement of the composition generally has a Yellow Jambhala at the center with four iconographically different surrounding forms such as red with a consort, green with a consort and the solitary figures of white and black Jambhala. Sometimes a blue form with a consort will be at the center, or possibly even an image of Vaishravana. Compilation paintings of protector deities, power deities or wealth deities is not uncommon. Compositions such as these can also be called 'desire' paintings where the practitioner chooses the figures and deities to include in a painted composition regardless of the textual or traditional relationships between the iconographic forms.

The earliest known example of a scroll work depicting a group of five figures of Jambhala, textually and iconographically unrelated, is that of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, HAR #88908, dated 20th century. The textual origins of the central blue Jambhala are currently unknown.

The Yellow Jambhala is found in a number of unique and shared tantras and is practiced universally in Tantric Buddhism. The Red Jambhala with consort originates with the Chakrasamvara cycle of tantras and descends through the Sakya tradition. The White Jambhala is likely a 'Pure Vision' experience of Jowo Atisha and was popular in the Kadam and Gelug traditions. The Black Jambhala was relatively widespread in numerous early textual sources and later promoted by Bari Lotsawa and Shakyashri Bhadra. The Green Jambhala with a consort arises from the Kalachakra Tantra and has a retinue of eight surrounding goddesses. With some modern compositions a blue figure of unknown origin is placed in the composition rather than the green form of Jambhala.

These compositions of Jambhala placed in a five figure composition as if they are a single harmonious practice is a modern concept. It is of course possible that a 20th century religious teacher created an amalgamation or conflation of five popular yet different Jambhala forms, possibly a verse praise, or even a 'Revealed Treasure' of the Nyingma tradition. Fundamentally and historically, the five Jambhalas do not go together. They all belong to different lineages, traditions and Sanskrit source texts. It is a modern concept to group these five distinctly different forms of Jambhala together.

Jeff Watt 4-2022

(The images below are only a selection of examples from the links above).