Himalayan Art Resources

Teacher: Sakya Pandita, Kunga Gyaltsen

Sakya Pandita Masterworks

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
- Biography
- Funerary Stupa
- Panchen Lama Set Composition
- Sakya Tradition Main Page
- Lamdre Lineage Paintings
- Confusions: Buton Rinchen Drub, Tsongkapa, Bodong Panchen, Ngorchen
- Others...

- Sakya Pandita
- The Sword & Book

As a historical figure Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen (1182-1251) can be depicted in non-iconic poses and portrayed depending on context and the wishes of the donor and artist. He is also one of only a very few historical figures to be depicted with an ushnisha on the crown of the head. The other historical figures with buddha charachteristics, such as an ushnisha, are the Elder Rahula, Nagarjuna and Garab Dorje.

In the 14th century the great scholar Yagton Sanggye Pel, 1350-1414 (biography [P7997]) wrote the first of many guruyoga practices based on Sakya Pandita. (Catalogue List).

''...the Lord of Dharma, Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen Pal Zangpo, in essence Manjughosha, in the aspect of a pandita, with a body orange in colour, one face, two hands, two feet seated in vajra posture. The two hands [are placed] at the heart in the Dharma teaching gesture, holding stems of utpala flowers blossoming at the right and left ears. Above the right [blossom] is a sword blazing with fire, above the left, the Prajnaparamita book. Adorned with the thirty-two major and eighty minor excellent marks and examples; on the head, wearing a Sakya hat and for the body, three saffron religious robes." (Sakyapa Kunga Lodro, 1729-1790, the 32nd Throne Holder of Sakya).

"With wide eyes perceiving all things,
Compassionately achieving the good of all beings,
Having power performing acts beyond thought;
Guru Manjunata, to your feet I bow my head."

The four line praise to Sakya Pandita was originally written by Kunga Gyaltsen himself and offered to his teacher Jetsun Dragpa Gyaltsen, however, Dragpa Gyaltsen replied that it was better suited for Sakya Pandita.

Sapan is commonly depicted as a central figure in scrollwork compositions and as a secondary figure in visual lineage teacher enumerations. He belongs to the number sets known as the Five Superior Lords of Sakya and the Two Red Ones. The latter referring to Sapan and Chogyal Pagpa.

Beginning in the 15th century depictions of Tsongkapa Dragpa Gyaltsen (1357-1419) were portrayed in the same posture, gesture and attributes as Sakya Pandita, a sword and book, with the only difference being the yellow pandita hat rather than a red hat. In the 17th century the Gelug Tradition adopted Sakya Pandita as a pre-incarnation of Panchen Chokyi Gyaltsen (1570-1662). In the 18th century a famous set of Nartang paintings and subsequent block print reproductions were produced in quantity. In the Nartang depiction Sapan is portrayed in a posture of debate.

Aside from Tsongkapa, there are a number of other teachers similar in appearance to the iconic representation of Sakya Pandita such as Buton Rinchen Drub, Bodong Panchen, Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo and others. The colour and shape of the pandita hat and the attributes above the two utpala blossoms are the important characteristics of observation for correctly identifying these and other historical figures.

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Jeff Watt [updated 6-2017, 1-2020, 5-2021]

Collected Works & Related Texts:

Buddhist Digital Resource Center: Sakya Pandita

Lotsawa House: Sakya Pandita Series

Read more at BDRC