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Paintings > Thangka > Yab-Yum
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Black Meditational Tibetan Buddhist Thangka Painting - with 24 carat gold

22.5" X 31.0"
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Viewed 1583 times since 2nd Oct, 2008
A Thangka is a painted or embroidered banner which was 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.

In this thangka the deity Kalachakra is shown in union with his consort, Vishvamata, the mother of all beings.

Kalachakra has four heads, with three eyes in each head. He has twenty-four arms and each hand holds a different symbol. His two main arms are crossed around the waist of his consort, and each of his main hand holds a vajra, one of these is golden in color and the other is silver.

He is wearing a tiger skin skirt and underneath his outstretched right leg is Kamadeva (desire-realm god) with one face and four arms. Under his bent left leg is White Rudra, with four arms. Gama, the consort of Kamadeva is holding Vishvatma's outstretched heel, and Uma, the consort of White Rudra, is holding Vishvatma's bent heel.

Vishvatma is shown with four heads, each having three eyes. She has eight arms with each hand holding a symbol.

Yab-Yum – literally 'father-mother' – are pairs of male and female deities depicted in sexual union. These paired figures express a fundamental concept of Buddhism, the essential process of joining insight with compassion, also referred to as the union of wisdom and skilful means of action. The male figure, who embodies compassion, embraces the female, who represents transcendent wisdom. The development and marriage of wisdom and compassion are necessary for transcending the self-concerns that hinder progress towards understanding the ultimate nature of reality. The yab-yum image is linked to fundamental aspects of the unconscious, serving to identify and sublimate conscious and unconscious instincts into a potent visual metaphor.


This description by Nitin Kumar, Executive Editor, Exotic India.


Beer, Robert. The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1999.

Chakraverty, Anjan. Sacred Buddhist Painting. New Delhi: Roli Books, 1998

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.

Shaw, Miranda. Passionate Enlightenment: women in Tantric Buddhism. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1998.

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