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Rossi & Rossi
91c Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6JB
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Nairatma Mandala

Nairatma Mandala
Central Tibet
15th c.
basket; distemper on cloth
59.5 x 52.3 cm.

This c. 15th century mandala of the Esoteric Buddhist divinity Nairatma was commissioned for the Gelukpa order, whose distinctive yellow?peaked cap is worn by monks in the painting's top and bottom registers. Nairatma, "Without Ego,'' colour of the sky, brandishes the ritual chopper (to cut off "ego-centered thoughts"), the skullcup, the diamond sceptre and the khatvanga staff. She dances in a tigerskin skirt. Following traditional iconographic norms, the artist presents this visual metaphor for enlightenment within a mandala palace, a structure whose sanctity is itself suggested by the deities positioned within its walls at the cardinal and intermediate points of the compass. The first fourteen are yoginis whose appearance mirrors that of Nairatma. There are four celestial musicians. And the gates to the palace are guarded by semi-human figures with animal heads (Hayasya, Shukarasya, Shvanasya, Simhasya), their bodies bi-coloured to indicate the meeting of the two quadrants of the mandala. Nairatma's fierce and wild appearance can be understood as an intimation of the untameable qualities of freedom and clarity of the enlightened state she represents.

While the structure of the mandate palace follows traditional norms, the artist has rendered many of its elements with a free hand. For example, the foliate scrollwork which enlivens the courtyard of the mandala palace observes asymmetrical shapes, allowing delightful idiosyncratic flourishes of the brush not seen, for example, in the great works produced for the Sakya order at this time. The area outside of the mandala circle is depicted as a flower-strewn sky, a treatment seen in thirteenth and fourteenth century paintings.

all images © Rossi & Rossi

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