The formidable sword in His possession makes the Bodhisattva Manjushri instantly recognisable. He is the prajna (intrinsic wisdom) of Mahayana Buddhism and, with sword, He cuts through ignorance and vulnerability. While Manjushri is the oldest and the most important Bodhisattva of the Mahayana tradition, He is looked upon as a fully enlightened Buddha in Vajrayana Buddhism. The thangka that you see on this page captures the classical iconography of the Bodhisattva Manjushri (also known as Manjughosha or Manjushrikumarabhoota).
The gold-olive complexion of His body shines through gold-hewn robes of scarlet. In His left hand is the delicate stem of a mythical lotus; in His right hand, of course, the sword raised high above the head. The calmness and serenity on His face contrasts sharply with the highly determined stance of the torso and the arm that wields the sword. A halo of jewel-green colour brings out the flaming red colour of the Bodhisattva’s tresses as well as of the flame that surrounds the blade of the sword.
Three tathagatas - Amoghasiddhi (golden), Ratnasmabhava (purple), and Akshobhya (blue) - are seated along the upper edge of the thangka. Along the lower edge are Avalokiteshvara and Mahakala. The solid-coloured background features motifs found in traditional thangkas such as mountains and streams and trees growing in the otherworldly realm.
The first day of the year is dedicated to Manjushri. He is looked upon by certain sects as the god of Agriculture, by others as the Celestial Architect, and is believed to have inspired with his divine intelligence those who have been active in the propagation of the Buddhist doctrine. He is the god of science, and swings his sword of wisdom with its flaming point to dissipate the darkness among men, to cleave the clouds of ignorance. The Chinese say that when he preaches the Law every demon is subjugated, and every error that might deceive man is dissipated. He is an extremely popular deity in all the Northern Buddhist countries, and one often sees his image in magic paintings, charms, and mandalas.
This description by Nitin Kumar, Executive Editor, Exotic India.
Beer, Robert. The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1999.
Chakraverty, Anjan. Sacred Buddhist Painting. New Delhi: Roli Books, 1998
Leidy, Denise Patry, and Thurman, Robert A.F. Mandala: The Architecture of Enlightenment. London: Thames and Hudson, 1997.
Pal, Pratapaditya. Art of Tibet. Los Angeles: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1990.
Rhie, Marylin M. & Thurman, Robert A.F. Wisdom and Compassion: The Sacred Art of Tibet. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996.
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Book: Symbols of Art, Religion and Philosophy
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