Kadam Thangka Description
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Courtesy of Himalayan Art Resources
Description of a Kadam Thangka
by Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö
For the thangka of the triad Jo, Drom and Ngok, Jowo Atiśa is in the centre, with a very handsome and resplendent appearance. His body is straight and his head poised in a dignified manner. His two hands, at his heart, form the gesture of teaching the Dharma. He wears a blue tunic, red lower garment, and saffron robes. On his head is a yellow paṇḍita hat with short ear-flaps and a saffron design. His legs are crossed. To his right is a Kadam stūpa, several stacked volumes, and a mendicant’s staff. To his left is a casket. His seats are a lotus, moon disk and lion throne. In front is an anointing vase, an alms-bowl filled with curd, a cup, crystal container and fruit.
On his right is Dromtönpa, a layman with strands of braided hair. He is stocky with a serene smile, majestic, with a peaceful, subdued manner. His head is bowed towards Lord Atiśa. His right hand, in the mudrā of granting refuge, holds a crystal rosary. His left hand is in the gesture of supreme generosity and holds a white lotus adorned with a jewel. He wears a white inner garment, a broad robe, and a cloak that is dark brown or another colour not used by monastics. He has no hat.
On his left is Ngok Lekpé Sherab as a middle-aged monk. His right hand, in the gesture of teaching the Dharma, holds an utpala adorned with a sword, while his left hand, in the gesture of equanimity, supports a volume of text. He wears a red shirt, red skirt, saffron dharma robes, and a yellow outer cloak. He is stocky with a charming demeanour and seated upright. Both disciples have seats of silken cushions.
Above Lord Atiśa’s head is the Sage Trisamayavyūha, who generally resembles the Lord of Sages [I.e., Śākyamuni]. His hands are in the gesture of teaching the Dharma, and his seats are lion throne, lotus and moon disk. In front of him and to the right is the principal deity of the Vajradhātu, who has four faces and resembles Sarvavid. His body and all his faces are white. Both his hands form the gesture known as ‘supreme awakening’ at his heart, for which the left hand is below, gripping the right fist, upon which he holds a full five-pronged vajra. He wears a jewelled crown with silk ribbons, a choker, long and short necklaces, anklets and bracelets, a sash, and upper and lower garments of white silk. (Although both are said to be white, to avoid any fault of confusion, distinguish the outer [clothing] or bluer flesh tones within, as appropriate.) His seats are lion throne, lotus and moon disk.
To the left is Vairocana Abhisaṃbodhi, whose body is bright gold and whose two hands rest in the gesture of equanimity. His precious ornaments are like Vajradhātu’s. He wears an upper garment of blue silk and a multi-coloured lower garment. His legs are crossed in vajra posture. His seats are a white lotus and moon disk.
To their right is White Tārā, Wish-Fulfilling Wheel, with seven eyes as usual, and showers of five-coloured nectar. To their left is Green Tārā, in her usual form, with rainbows reaching as far as Lord Atiśa and cascading jewels.
Above Dromtönpa’s right shoulder, upon a streaming rainbow and within a rainbow cloud, is Four-Armed Avalokiteśvara in the usual form. Upon a rainbow that extends from Ngok’s left shoulder, and amidst a rainbow cloud, is Ḍombī Heruka, riding a tiger together with his consort, in the standard form.
In front of Lord Atiśa is Vajradhara Könchok Tenpa Rabgye, whose form and face resemble the basic form of Jé Rinpoche [i.e., Tsongkhapa]. His nose is not so large and his eyes have a slight hint of vibrancy. His hands are in the ‘knot’ gesture and his clothes are similar to Ngok’s. The upper garment should not be lengthy but drawn in the usual way. For the paṇḍita hat on his head the ends of the long ear-flaps are turned in. His seats are a jewelled throne and silk cushions. He has an anointing vase and so on in front, just like Lord Atiśa.
Beneath Dromtönpa is Mahākāla with a hooked knife in the style found in some of the thangkas of Nechu. His body is dark blue, and he brandishes a hooked knife in his right hand. His left hand holds a skullcup of blood at his heart. He has three eyes. He bares his fangs and has a lolling tongue. His hair and eyebrows are orange and point upwards. His limbs are short and thick, and he has a large belly. He stands with his left leg slightly extended. He wears a crown of dried skulls, a necklace of freshly severed heads, a tiger-skin skirt and snake ornaments, and he blazes with fierce, dark red flames. His seats are a lotus, sun-disk and human corpses.
At his crown is Blue Acala, whose body is only thumb-sized and dark blue in colour. His three eyes are red and round. His right hand brandishes in the air a flaming sword. His left hand holds a vajra lasso at his heart while making a threatening gesture. His eyebrows and hair are orange. His upper teeth bite his lower lip as he bares his pointed fangs. He wears a tiger-skin skirt, jewel ornaments, and snake ornaments, and he stands dominantly with his left leg extended. He stands upon seats of lotus, sun disk and the supine form of Gaṇapati, amidst blazing fire.
Below Ngok Lotsāwa is White Jambhala riding a dragon. His body is radiant white. He has a peaceful, smiling expression, passionate and slightly wrathful. He has three eyes, light yellow hair that streams upwards and upturned light yellow eyebrows. In his right hand he brandishes a trident. With his left hand he holds a jewelled staff that rests upon his left hip. He is adorned with jewel ornaments and wears a silk upper garment and a skirt of various colours. He stands upon a lotus, moon-disk and turquoise dragon in the midst of multi-coloured clouds and cascading jewels.
Around the outside the decorative patterns should be as beautiful as possible.
In the east is the Vajra Ḍākinī, blue and holding vajra in her right hand and a precious cup full of jewels, fruit, silk and so on in her left hand. In the south is the Ratna Ḍākinī, yellow and holding a flaming jewel in her right hand and a treasure vase in her left. In the west is Padma Ḍākinī, red and holding a lotus in her right hand and a hook in her left. In the north is Karma Ḍākinī, green and holding a crossed vajra in her right hand and a mongoose in her left. They stand in dancing posture with their left legs extended. All four are like sisters, very small in size, and can be drawn however is most convenient amidst the clouds.
To Dromtönpa’s right is Radreng Monastery in the middle of a dark juniper forest. The temple is red with a golden roof. It has a large river in front and a spring on the left. Behind it is a white cliff like the face of lion with tiny retreat huts to the fore. All around, above and below, is dense juniper forest. Within the monastery there are meditating monks wearing only lower robes. Before the garuḍa-headed temple are monks practising accumulation and purification by offering maṇḍalas and performing prostrations. Within the juniper forest some shaven-headed monks are performing circumambulation. Draw some in meditation and others teaching the Dharma. In the distance behind Radreng is the cloudy glacier of Thanglha from which a rainbow emanates and which is adorned with a snow lion.
Near Ngok Lotsāwa, in the upper reaches of the Sangphu Valley, with its beautiful meadows is a red temple and white monks’ quarters. At the foot of the temple, monks are engaged in exposition, debate and composition. All the lamas of the saṅgha have yellow hats. To the left, in front of the monastery, are meadows of flowers and a small grove of tiny juniper bushes, as in standard illustrations.
In front of Könchok Tenpa Rabgye, amidst a tent of rainbow light, is a small maṇḍala arrangement complete with Mount Meru, the four continents and the sun and moon, and filled with precious jewels, drawn as beautifully as possible. To its right and left are offerings of various kinds.
Aside from the differences in landscape everything should be drawn as in the three [thangkas] for Sakya, Ngor and Tsarpa, as beautifully as possible.
On the back, equal in size to Jowo Atiśa’s form, seat and throne, draw a ‘repairing schism’ stūpa with the correct lines of proportion and the doorway within the dome, in gold ink. Maṅgalam.
| Translated (provisionally) by Adam Pearcey with the generous support of the Khyentse Foundation and Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2021.
'Jam dbyangs chos kyi blo gros. "bka' gdams zhal thang bri yig" in ’Jam dbyangs chos kyi blo gros kyi gsung 'bum. 12 vols. Bir: Khyentse Labrang, 2012. W1KG12986 Vol. 11: 593–598
The Tibetan text as we have it says Loden Sherab (blo ldan shes rab) here, but elsewhere refers to the same figure as Ngok Lotsāwa, i.e., Lekpé Sherab (legs pa'i shes rab), who was Loden Sherab's uncle. The translation has therefore been amended accordingly. ↩
Reading 'gul rgyan as mgul rgyan. ↩
dkon mchog bstan pa rab rgyas (1801–1866). He was an abbot of Labrang Tashikyi and a teacher of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. ↩