In Tibetan Buddhism, Lord Dzambhala belongs to the jewel family of Ratnasambhava. He is the equivalent of the Hindu presiding deity over the cosmic treasury, the great Kubera. His name translates to the ‘honourable (‘la’) accumulation (‘dzam’) of wealth (‘bha’)’. Many Buddhists turn to Him in order to be blessed with prosperity and plenitude. The thangka of Dzambhala that you see on this page depicts Him in togetherness with His wife, as is the norm with the iconography of the yakshas (Buddhist guardian deities).
Note the almost identical complexions of their bodies but for a shade here, a tint there. She becomes almost fluid within the limits of His grasp as He draws Her close and fuses into Her Himself. To the onlooker, their mouths are seemingly inching closer to each other. Each line on their faces, with the crowns of gold and five spires on their respective heads, has been painted with great care and attention to detail. The hands of the Devi are raised in ecstasy, in one of which She holds the stem of a fresh blue lotus. A sea of dishevelled green and scarlet sashes floats about them. As a piece of home or office decor, such a thangka would make a powerful aesthetic statement.
An interesting feature of this thangka is the colour palette. There is peach in Dzambhala’s halo, pale pastels in the petals of the lotus beneath them, and muted metallics in the surrounding aureole. These understated colours are juxtaposed with the deep, solid black of the backdrop and the glimmering jewel-tones of cloud and vine.
Jambhala is shown here in intimate union with his consort. The depiction of sexual imagery has immense significance in Buddhist art. Male and female elements are nothing but symbols of the countless pairs of opposites (e.g. love and hate; good and
evil etc.) which one experiences in mundane existence. Sexual imagery can also be
understood as a metaphor for enlightenment, with its qualities of
satisfaction, bliss, unity and completion.
He is shown corpulent and covered with jewels. His right foot is pendant and supported by a lotus flower on which is a conch shell.
A Thangka is a painted banner which is hung in a monastery
or a family altar and carried by lamas in ceremonial processions. In Tibetan
the word 'than' means flat and the suffix 'ka' stands for painting. The
Thangka is thus a kind of painting done on flat surface but which can be
rolled up when not required for display.
Thangkas with a black background like this one form a special category of
contemplative paintings. They are a highly mystical and esoteric type,
usually reserved for advanced practise. Black is the color of hate,
transmuted by the alchemy of wisdom into the ultimate-reality-perfection
wisdom. The dark connotes death, which enlightenment converts into the Body
of Truth. It is used for terrific ritual actions, the radical conquest of
evil in all its forms-conquest not by annihilating, but by turning even evil
into good. Thus, in the black paintings (Tib. Nagtang) the black ground
casts forth deities in luminous visions of translucent color.
This description by Nitin Kumar, Executive Editor, Exotic India.
Beer, Robert. The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1999.
Getty, Alice. The Gods of Northern Buddhism. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1978.
Lipton, Barbara, and Ragnubs, Nima Dorjee. Treasures of Tibetan Art: Collection of the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
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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