Showing posts with label General Hanuman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label General Hanuman. Show all posts

Monday, July 31, 2023

India | Mongolia | Shambhala Thangka

When I first visited the Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum in 1996 I saw a large thangka depicting the Kingdom of Shambhala. It  was the first such thangka I had seen outside of depictions in books. Subsequently I would see dozens if not hundreds of thankgas and wall paintings depicting Shambhala in temples and museums around the world but the one in the Zanabazar Museum remains the best example I have ever seen. The last time I was in the Zanabazar Museum the thangka was no longer on display. A museum docent said simply that it was “in storage.”

Eventually I decided I wanted  a Shambhala thangka of my own. During the late 1990s and early 2000s I visited dozens of shops and galleries featuring Buddhist art in Mongolia, China, Tibet (Lhasa and Shigatse), India, Nepal, and elsewhere but was never able to locate one. People in the shops and galleries either protested ignorance or insisted that such thankgas were no longer made. A well-known lama and artist in Ulaanbaatar was familiar with the thangka but claimed that no one in Mongolia was capable of making one. I doubted this at the time and subsequently I would meet Mongolian artists who were certainly capable of creating a Shambhala thangka. The first lama-artist I had spoken to had disparaged my interest in Shambhala and was openly antagonistic to non-Mongolians, especially Americans. I had a feeling he simply did not want me to have a Shambhala thangka. 

In the meantime, I wandered by Darjeeling, India, where I made a pilgrimage to the grave of eccentric Hungarian wanderer-scholar Csoma de Koros (1784–1842), who had been instrumental in introducing the Shambhala Mythologem to the Occident. Of course I also wanted to sample the region’s justly famous teas (I will admit I was  then partial to Chinese Puerh Tea, but I was willing to give Darjeeling black teas a try). 

Tomb of Csoma de Koros

Csoma de Koros

Tea bushes on the outskirts of Darjeeling

Black tea for sale

The receptionist at the hotel where I was staying turned out to be a emigre from Tibet. I mentioned to him  that I was interested in Buddhist art, specifically thangkas. He suggested I visit a Tibetan artist of his acquaintance. I was directed to the studio of the artist, a man in his early forties named Dawa Bhutia, in a wooded area on the outskirts of Darjeeling. He had been born in Lhasa and later moved to India. In the course of our conversation about Buddhist art I mentioned that I had looked everywhere for a Shambhala thangka but had been unable to find one. Dawa Bhutia was familiar with Shambhala thangkas but had never made one himself. I asked if me could make me one. I could tell he was intrigued by the idea. He said he would first have to do a lot of research on the subject matter before doing the actual painting. The whole process would, he said, take to eight to ten months. We agreed on a price—half up front and the other half upon completion of the thangka—and subsequently kept in touch via email. I was back in Mongolia when I got word ten months later that the thangka was completed. It soon arrived via FedEx. After the usual hassles with getting it through customs—the officials did not know how to evaluate it and I pleaded total ignorance—I finally was able to display the thangka on the wall of my apartment. 

The complete thangka on display in my apartment (click on photos for enlargements)

The painted portion of the thangka

Buddha at upper left hand corner of thangka

Buddha at upper left hand corner of thangka

Kalachakra deity at upper right hand corner of thangka. Shown here in sexual union with his consort Vishvamata. The Kalachakra deity has four heads with three eyes in each head, and twenty-four arms. 

The Kingdom of Shambhala, with eight cities surrounding  the capital of Kalapa 

One of the eight cities of Shambhala

Residents of Shambhala

Kalapa, the capital of Shambhala, with the palace of the King of Shambhala in the middle

The King of Shambhala in his palace

The King of Shambhala

Below the Kingdom of Shambhala is depicted the Shambhala War with the La-Los, or Barbarians, described in some Mongolian sources as Muslims, although this remains a highly contentious issue.  Tibetan tradition asserts that the warrior on the blue horse is Rudra Chakra, the 25th Kalki King of Shambhala.  According to the Shambhala Mythologem, in 2424 Rudra Chakrin will initiate a war against the enemies of the Dharma and after their defeat usher in a new Golden Age when peace and prosperity will reign on the earth. Some Mongolian sources claim, however, that the figure on the blue horse is General Hanuman, the final incarnation of the Bogd Gegeens of Mongolia. In any case, General Hanuman is one of the leaders of the Shambhala Army. 

Rudra Chakrin, or perhaps General Hamuman

The Shambhala Army engaging the barbarians

Detail from above depictions. Not sure who this man is. 

Another officer in the Shambhala Army

Officers in the Shambhala Army leading war elephants and horse-drawn wagons carrying archers into battle

Soldiers in the Shambhala Army

Vanquished foes of Shambhala

Denisons of the realms outside of Shambhala

Detail of Denisons of the realms outside of Shambhala

An Asura?

I subsequently donated this thangka to the Lam Rim Temple, just outside of Gandan Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, where it can now be seen. 

In conclusion, it should be pointed out that as of 2023 Shambhala thankgas, including some supposedly made by Tibetan artists now living in Hong Kong, are available on eBay and other outlets on the internet.