What do the symbols on these tibetan wall hangings represent?
December 19, 2009 5:33 PM   Subscribe

What do the symbols on these tibetan wall hangings represent?

Especially this one? Or this other one?
posted by mgogol to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not very knowledgeable on this topic, but they're called thangkas.
posted by SpringAquifer at 5:42 PM on December 19, 2009

See if this helps you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:47 PM on December 19, 2009

The first one is a fairly simplified Tibetan wheel of life (see here for some more elaborate ones) and the second is the mandala of some deity, not sure which. The first one is given as an object lesson in how various kinds of desire and action lead to rebirth (not regarded as a good thing – you're supposed not to want to be reborn, it's the consequence of urges and desires you haven't dealt with yet), the second is a meditation aid: it's an aerial view of a structure in which you are meant to visualize entering, as a kind of inner initiation rite.
posted by zadcat at 5:52 PM on December 19, 2009

More info here.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:53 PM on December 19, 2009

Best answer: Like zadcat says, the first is the wheel of samsara being held by the demon Mara - similar design here.
I suspect the eight-petalled flower in the centre of the mandala in the second one will represent the Noble Eightfold Path (seen similar elsewhere) but no idea about the bird. Don't think it's a garuda. Could be Green Tara centre figure above, going off the face colour, but again that's a guess (like most of the rest of my answer here - had to look at this stuff for work I've done in the past but am no expert at all)
There's a whole detailed language and iconography to these things, including the various colours, so I bet if you emailed the pic to a current painter you'd get a really detailed answer covering all the various elements.
posted by Abiezer at 11:09 PM on December 19, 2009

MrTaff (is Tibetan) and says of the first one with the scary looking guy : it is meant to ward off evil spirits and generally you will find above your doorway. Of the five smaller pictures up the top... the first is a kalachakra , second from the left is White Lotus Tara, the third one is Manjushri. Hard to tell with the rest of it.

The second thangka: it's a kalachakra of an unknown deity.

My brother-in-law (B-I-LTaff) is a professional thangka painter at a Tibetan art institute and I can send him the links and ask him for more information if you want. It could take a week or two as his internet connections are a little sporadic.

Let me know if you're desperate to find out more.

Best of luck.
posted by taff at 11:55 PM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, of the first one... a couple more thoughts...

MrTaff reckons it's probably not the wheel of Samsara as it's not depicting the 12 stages of life. I reckon, and I know nothing, that the fourth guy up the top might be Chana Dorje. MrTaff said I might be right when I posited this.
posted by taff at 12:00 AM on December 20, 2009

taff: the second thangka is not a "kalachakra" but a mandala. Every major deity has a mandala which portrays their perfect habitation on another plane – some have multiple ones.

Kalachakra is only one of those deities, but since it's the one major tantric initiation commonly given to laypeople, it's the one people tend to have heard about. This doesn't look like anything to do with Kalachakra.
posted by zadcat at 11:17 AM on December 20, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, everybody, that's all very informative...
posted by mgogol at 2:02 PM on December 20, 2009

Have double checked with MrTaff and he said of zadcat's descrition of number 2 as being a mandala: "Kalachakra is a broader, more generic term which is a form of initiation, of which mandala is a part. Specifically speaking, that is a mandala. Bascially, I'm looking at it in a broader perspective. He is not incorrect, he is right. When you are receiving the Kalachakra initiation, you need a guide map. The mandala forms the architectural guide map. "

So, I hope that clarifies a little. MrTaff was describing the significance and zadcat was naming the actual geometric shape. MrTaff agrees with zadcat but also says the symbolism doesn't stay static... he's struggling to give an example of what he means... but is definite it is a Kalachakra.

But now we've had a bit of a discussion... and he suggests that zadcat has probably studied formally and is technically correct. But according to MrTaff Tibetans have changed their beliefs over time to include all mandalas to the Kalachakra. He says the symbols change through how you come to know about them. He also says that Mandala is a sanskrit word. Tibetans call it Dhuekhorwangchen (he's guessing at the English spelling) which means Kalachakra.

As I said, Brother-in-LawTaff is also Tibetan and a professional Thankga painter. And slightly less convoluted in his analysis, I would hasten to suggest. And probably more formal.
posted by taff at 2:13 PM on December 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

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