Adi-Buddha Vajradhara 1990.

Adi buddha Vajradhara from the school of Öndörgegen Zanabazar

In the realm of late lamaistic Buddhist art. it is regrettable that the artistic products from the vast territories occupied by Mongolian tribes (the Mongolian People’s Republic, Buryat Mongolia, which forms an autonomous republic of the Soviet Union, and the former Inner Mongolia. now an autonomous republic affiliated with China) constitute a rela­tively unknown group. Even more unfortunate is the fact that most of the works known from Mongolian temples were not made in situ but originated from China or Tibet. Images definitely known to have been cast within Mongolia are rather rare.

Broadly speaking, the numerous images originating from Mongolia can be classified into several groups. Most are com­posed of a mixture of Tibetan and Chinese features-the former notable in iconography and the latter in craftsmanship. Many images reached Mongolia from China or Tibet during the Qing the dissemination of Buddhism in this region, which explains the strong Chinese influence on these works of art. This exami­nation of an image of Vajradhara (Wielder of the Thunderbolt) in the Ferenc Hopp Museum of Eastern Asiatic Arts in Budapest will focus primarily on indigenous works from what is now the Mongolian People’s Republic. The Ferenc Hopp Museum has two gilt-bronze Buddhist images, similar in style and construction, which were made in Urga (present-day Ulan Bator). One is an image of Mafijusri holding a sword (Fig. 1, discussed in Orientations, March 1987, p. 38), and the other represents Adi-Buddha Vajradhara in union with his sakti (consort), Prajnaparamita, (Figs 2 and 2a) which forms the focus of this study.

(Fig. I) Mafijusri
Made in the workshop of Ondiirgegen Zanabazar in Urga
Gilt bronze
Height 19.8 cm
Ferenc Hopp Museum of Eastern Asiatic Arts, Budapest.

(Fig. 2) Adi-Buddha Vajradhara with his sakti in yab-yum asana

Two points need to be examined in relation to Figure 2. Firstly, the iconography and significance of the represented deity are relatively simple. The Yellow Cap Sect (Tibetan: Gelugpa) in Tibet and Mongolia considered Vajradhara to be the self-creative Primordial Buddha, the creator of the whole universe. In contrast, the Red Cap Sect worshipped Samantab­hadra, and the Reformed Red Cap Sect regarded Vajrasattva as the Primordial Buddha.

In both Figures 1 and 2 there is a round, drum-shaped lotus throne. In Figure 2, the throne is composed of two rows of lotus petals over a wavy line, above which are vertical striations (Fig. 2b). The upper rim of the base is decorated with a row of beading. Vajradhara is seated in yab-yum asana. He wears rich bodhisattva ornaments with many jewels, including bracelets and ankle rings. The flower-patterned hem of his garment is spread out on the base at his feet. He has a five-leafed bodhi­ sattva crown, urna and usnisa. Three strands of hair hang down from the blue-painted top of his head and over the shoulders. The hands of Vajradhara are in vajrahumkara mudra (holding a vajra [thunderbolt] in the left hand and a ghanta [bell] in the right), while his arms embrace the sakti. Prajnaparamita wears similarly rich bodhisattva garments, jewels and a five-leafed crown. Her hands reach up beyond the head of Vajradhara, the right holding a karttrka (chopper), the left a kapala(skull cup). On the closing plate of the base, a four-pronged vajra is en­graved.

Representations of Vajradhara with his sakti, although not common. are known from several publications: Ulrich von Schroeder. for example, has reproduced a fifteenth-century image from Nepal, a sixteenth-century Tibetan piece and a Chinese statue dating from the Qing dynasty ( 1644-1911) in Indo-Tibetan Bronzes(Hong Kong. 1981. pls 98e. 136a and 160d). However, the style, body and facial type of the two images in the Ferenc Hopp Museum are completely different from those examples. The unusual round base and peculiarly shaped lotus petals should be emphasized. Analogies to this type of base are ex­tremely rare. In his extensive publication, Schroeder has no corresponding images with the exception of those to be seen in the interiors of lamaseries in Ulan Bator. which are reproduced from Mongolei. Kunst und Tradition, (Lumir Jisl, Prague. 1960. pls 71-74, and 85). A.K. Gordon has published a beaten, silver­-gilt image of the White Tara, in which the base, lotus petals and body type of the statuette are similar to this Vajradhara (Tibetan Religious Art. New York. 1952. pp. 64-6). However. the author gives no indication of either the origin or the date of this piece.

When looking for analogies to the Vajradhara and Manjusri figures, we find the field limited to the gilt­ bronze images made in Urga by Ondilrgegen Zanabazar and his school in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The peculiar lotus throne base, body type and artistic style of the Ferenc Hopp Museum pieces are wholly consistent with certain images made in Urga which display the following characteristics:

  1. The images have a round or well-rounded triangular base.
  2. The shaping of the lotus petals on the base is unique and quite different from that seen on images from Tibet, China or elsewhere.
  3. The bodies and facial features show a characteristic beauty and perfection, and the body type differs from that of other images. In this regard there is an interesting historical description of the making of images in Tibet. When a certain Tibetan king was building a temple to Tara, Padmasambhava (the Indian mystic who propagated Buddhism in Tibet) advised him to choose beautiful women and handsome men from among the assembled Tibetans as models for the images of the deities (C.F.H. Karlllay. Early Sino-Tibetan Art, Warminster. 1975. pp. 4-5). Since the images made by Zana­bazar and his followers characteristically display perfect body types and beautiful faces, it is conceivable that they too were modelled from life.

(Fig. 2a) Rear view of Figure 2

(Fig. 2b) Lotus pedestal of Figure 2

  1. The gilding of the figurines is perfect and has an unusual yellowish-gold colour.
  2. Frequently, wave-like drapery is spread out on the base of the image at the feet of the deity.
  3. The bodhisattva crowns also have a characteristic shape and decoration.

Until recently, very little was published about the life or work of Zanabazar. Ch. R. Bawden mentions Zanabazar several times in his work on the religious leaders of the Mongols. The Jebtsundamba Khutuktus of Urga, based on Mongolian sources (Wiesbaden. 1961). He emphasizes, however, that the bio­graphical data relating to Zanabazar is interwoven with purely legendary material. Bawden also mentions the controversy over Zanabazar’s status as the first or only the second khutuktu (a religious leader) in Urga.

On the artistic activities of Zana­bazar. Bawden writes only a few lines, but it would appear that he was noted as a talented sculptor and that many exquisite images are attributed to him or to his school.
N.O. Tsultem – a modern Mongolian painter and scholar – ­has had access to a wider range of historical sources. but in his book on Zanabazar. The Eminent Mongolian Scluptor – Zanabazar (Ulan Bator. 1982), he also emphasizes that biographies of the sculptor contain historical data mingled with legendary tales.

Ondürrgegen Zanabazar, who later became a religious leader (Bogdo Gegen) of the Khalkha Mongols. was born in the year 1635 and at the age of fifteen was sent to Tibet to become a monk. While there, he received the title ‘Jebtsundamba’, a rein­carnation of the Buddha, and was granted the yellow umbrella, a sign of high rank. On his return to Urga, he was escorted by several Tibetan artists from whom he learned the Buddhist iconographic canons.

As a religious leader in Mongolia, he was faced with the problem of balancing Chinese and Russian influences in the interest of the Mongolian tribes. For protection, he turned to the Manchu rulers of China and later spent many years in the court of the Kangxi emperor (1662-1723). In 1655. he returned to Tibet for further studies. and died in a Buddhist temple near Beijing in 1724.

Even as a young boy Zanabazar was able to paint and draw, but he was best known as a sculptor. Zanabazar’s outstanding artistic qualities are revealed in the individual characterization and outstanding beauty of his works. According to historical sources, Zanabazar made quite a number of images in gold and bronze but apparently more images have been attributed to him than he could possibly have produced. There is no authenticated list of his works bur according to records of his life he can certainly be credited with a number of large (about fifty to seventy centimetres high) gilt images, including an image of Vajradhara, the chief deity of the Gandantegchinling monas­tery, and a series of five images of Dhyanibuddha and twenty-­one figures of Tara (fig. 3). He also made eight gilt suburgans (memorial stupas). Most of these images are now preserved in the Choijin Lama Temple Museum. the Bogdo Gegen Palace Museum and the National Museum of Ulan Bator.

According to Tsultem, the smaller lamaistic images made by the followers of Zanabazar did not achieve the high artistic standards of their master. Considering the excellent quality of the Vajradhara image in the Ferenc Hopp Museum, it must be considered either as a work by Zanabazar himself or by one of his best pupils.

(Fig 3.) Sitatara By Urgegen Zanabazar. late 17th/early 18th  century
Gilt bronze
Fine Arts Museum. Ulan Bator (After Tsultem. Op. cit. pl. 49)