T his rare mid-15th century painting of a Kalachakra Mandala, offered in our upcoming Sotheby’s Paris Asian Art sale on 11 December, is one of a set of of Vajravali paintings commissioned in the Nepalese style for the Sakya monastery of Ngor in Tsang province, central Tibet.
The painting’s donor is depicted at the far right of the lower register where he is identified by inscription as Sonam Sangye, a disciple of Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo (1382-1456), the founder of Ngor monastery. While Sonam Sangye’s exact dates are not known, his apprenticeship with Kunga Zangpo suggests his career at Ngor was well within the fifteenth century, thus confirming the date of the painting.
The Kalachakra tantra was devised in the eleventh or early twelfth century by Indian scholar Abhayakaragupta at the eastern Indian monastery of Vikramashila, and is one of the most complex in Vajrayana Buddhism — some seven hundred and twenty-two deities are described in the textual source — making for perhaps the most intricate and aesthetically appealing of all Tibetan mandala painting.
It depicts the six-hundred and thirty-four deity mandala of Kalachakra within a circle depicting the charnel grounds, with Vajradhara, Sahaja Kalachakra and nine Shambala kings in the upper register, Indian masters, Shambala kings and mahasiddha in the upper corners and Tibetan masters in the lower corners, with Tibetan teachers and the chakravartin symbols in the lower register.
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