27 September 2014

Ultimate Magic

Thangka No. 7 - Kurukulla (Red Tara)


From the expanse of ultimate reality,
Your supremely blissful body emerges,
The colour of love and passion,
Resplendent as a dazzling lotus ...
Your compassion is boundless and unchangeable;
Your four arms brandish a hook that summons,
Noose that flings to the unexcelled realm, and
Bow and arrow of wisdom and artful liberation.
Praises to you, beautiful goddess!

-Nyingma ritual prayer

Material: Cotton Canvas, framed in original antique Tibetan silk brocade

Colours: Watercolours, and 24-carat Gold

Size (painting unframed): 39.4 x 59.2 cm

Creation Period
around 400 hrs - painted in Nepal and India, completed in August 2014.

Availability: available.
Please send your email enquiry to ariyanandi[at]gmail[dot]com if you are interested in this original. For new thangka commissioning orders, as well as for thangka prints, posters etc. please see under the About Thangkas and How to Order Them section (sidebar) and visit my online shop Ariya's Thangkas .

Deep gratitude goes to Miranda Shaw and her wonderful book "Buddhist Goddesses of India", from which I quoted freely a lot of the information gathered on Kurukulla below.

Kurukulla (also known as Red Tara) is a goddess with unlimited powers of enchantment. Her voluptuous body is bright, glowing red, the hue of passion and amorous desire. Glistening with ruby radiance, mistress of the art of seduction, Kurukulla displays the tools of her magical craft: the flowered bow and arrow with which she pierces the hearts of those she would enchant, the noose with which she binds them, and the elephant goad with which she draws them into her sphere of liberation. Kurukulla's magic has the power to sofen the hardest heart, dissolve disharmony, and bestow the highest bliss.

detail: head

Kurukulla represents the absorption into Buddhism of a popular genre of pan-Indian love magic. Her practice is clearly linked to a popular tradition of love potions and magical spells that were (and still are) dispensed by local folk practitioners. This form of sorcery has ancient roots in India's past. The Atharva Ved tells of many recitations and rites of love magic, including an incantation to pierce the heart of a chosen lover with an arrow, arousing the heat of desire and passionate love. 

]ust as the practices of Kurukulla have roots in Indian love magic, her attributes reflect the influence of deities associated with the broader lndian tradition. Thus, she shares several striking similarities with Kamadeva, the Hindu god of love, who provokes overpowering lust with his fower-tipped arrow. Moreover, in her four-armed Tantric manifestation, she bears an intriguing resemblance to Lalita (a.k.a. Tripura and Tripurasundari) , the great goddess (Mahadevi) of Hindu Tantra. The striking convergence between Kurukulla and Lalita in their red coloration, handheld attributes, and floral adornments introduces the possibility that the Tantric iconography of Kurukulla was patterned on that of her Hindu counterpart. 

Kurukulla's association with love magic and connections with Kamadeva and especially Lalita disclose that her character was profoundly shaped by non-Buddhist elements of lndian culture.


The etymological derivation of the name Kurukulla is unclear. Indian sources identify it as the name of her mountain dwelling. The name may formerly have been in usage, and Buddhists may have recognized the peak (located in Gujarat) as a sacred site. 

The Tibetan version of her name, Rigdjema, "Mistress of Magic," or "Mistress of Knowledge," is not a literal rendition of the Sanskrit.


Kurukulla's iconography, as befits the mistress of enchantment, emphasizes the theme of passion. Her characteristic color is red, signifing her ardent nature, for red is associated with passion in Indian culture. The Sanskrit word for red (raga) also denotes inflammation and feelings of attachment, love, and desire. 

Kurukulla's mood, as reflected in her facial expression, is generally characterized as the "amorous sentiment," for hers is the "essence of sweet desire." Her countenance should convey that she is "overwhelmed by desire" and has a "passionate heart," but she is also said to be loving as well as ardorous, for compassion and passion both stem from a deep capacity for sympathy and attachment. This emotional quality can blossom into an impersonal yet devoted affection that anchors an enlightened being in the phenomenal realm, among those who still suffer, to serve their needs with tenderness, empathy, and fervent commitment. Thus, a divinity who is free from personal desire may nonetheless be said to be "attached" to living beings, that is, devoted to their welfare. 

Kurukulla's implements reflect her roles in both ritual subjugation and meditative transformation. Her bow and arrow, appropriate implements for a goddess of enchantment, are used to pierce the hearts of the targets of her magic. The arrow moreover has a long-standing association with the infliction of lust. The Atharva Veda speaks of "arrows of desire." In Buddhist lore, the demon king Mara sought to impassion Shakyamuni with flower-tipped arrows of desire in order to disrupt his meditation. Thus, this classical weapon of emotional ensnarement is artfully wielded by Kurukulla both to captivate and to liberate. She uses her noose, ofen clasped with a threatening gesture, to snare and hurl and her elephant goad to hook and pull. If the aim is to gain a lover, her arrow inflicts the coveted love object with desire, her noose binds them with passion, and her hook draws the captive to the waiting paramour. In other cases, her arrow inflicts someone who is sought as a friend or devotee with geniality, goodwill, and devotion, in a practice that may be used to win over an adversary, placate someone who is angry, or gain a political or military ally. 

detail: implements

At a subtler level of activity, her implements can effect a change in consciousness, transmuting passion into wisdom. She uses her flowery bow and arrow to penetrate the minds of her targets and subjugate their selfish desire and dualistic thought, the hook to summon them into her blissful presence, and the noose to fling her fortunate captives into a higher realm of consciousness. 

She also exhibit attributes shared with other female Buddhas: a dancing dakini pose, intense or impassioned countenance, upward-flaming hair, tiara of skulls, tiger-skin skirt, garland of severed heads, and ornaments of carved bone. 

Floating above Kurukulla on a lotus and surrounded by rainbow light emanating from her heart, is Amitabha, Buddha of the lotus family of the Dhyani (Wisdom) Buddhas. He is red and represents discriminating awareness-wisdom and its (transmuted) opposite, passion or grasping. The Padma (Lotus) Buddha family is associated with the element of fire. 

The amorous mood and sensuous body befitting a goddess of love are augmented in the Tantric conception by wrathful traits appropriate for the "subjugator of the three realms." The corpse or united couple upon which she dances and the severed heads garlanding her body represent persons, situations, and objects she has conquered, as well as mental states she can help the meditator bring under control. The five-pointed crown and bone jewelry signify her possession of the five transcendent insights of a Buddha: immovable concentration, impartial generosity, universal compassion, unimpeded liberative activity, and the ability to mirror reality without distortion.

detail: corpse


The interests originally served by Kurukulla are admittedly doctrinally alien to Buddhism, with its emphasis on cultivating detachment and freedom from desire. Moreover, Buddhists could not fail to notice that the coercive rites of Kurukulla merit little justification in their ethical system. However, her magical forces were integral to the imaginal, mythic world that Indian Buddhists inhabited. Therefore, the incorporation of a figure such as Kurukulla was a natural development, yet it was also inevitable that her roles should be refined and redefined over time to align them more directly with Buddhist beliefs.

Kurukulla's status in the Buddhist pantheon rose over time. 60 Tantric forms of the goddess now prevail in Tibetan Buddhism. She is important for all the Tibetan sects but has greater prominence in the Sakya school as a patron deity. She was initially introduced as a dharani goddess who presides over rites of love magic, subjugation, and bewitchment. These rituals belong to the incantational and ceremonial strand of Mahayana practice.

However, Kurukulla was eventually elevated to the level of a fully enlightened being, a female Buddha. As such, she also figures as a meditational deity in the highest and most esoteric division of Tantric practices, the Highest Yoga Tantra class, whose goal is the attainment of Buddhahood in the present lifetime. In this status, she is a "female Tathagata", a primordial mother, the equal of Samantabhadri and Vajravarahi.

Her sphere of influence expanded from the the original compulsion of love objects to the conquest of conceptual thought, Buddhist teachings, and primordial awareness itself. Surprising, then, is that the goddess never completely shed her original function and continued to preside over unvarnished rites of subjugation that would surely be condemned in a non-Buddhist context. Both dimensions of Kurukulla' s character were instead integrated in her vocation as a female Buddha whose power of enchantment is her special art of liberation. 

Because Kurukulla is a fully enlightened being, there is no limit to her mastery. She is known as Wangduki Lhamo ("Overpowering Goddess") and as Trailokyavasakari ("Subjugator of the Three Realms"), expressing her dominion over all that is below, on, and above the earth. 

Ultimately, Kurukulla's powers can be directed to the highest goal envisioned by the Buddhist tradition, namely, the transformation of consciousness. Thus, Kurukulla may be chosen as a meditation deity (yidam) by an advanced meditator who seeks to master all phenomena, thoughts, and perceptions; his or her own body, speech, and mind; and supreme peace, ultimate reality, and primordial awareness. 

The final goal to be won through the practice of Kurukulla is enlightenment itself. At this most spiritual end of the spectrum, Kurukulla accomplishes the ultimate form of magic, the transformation of conventional awareness into the transcendent bliss and nondual wisdom of a fully enlightened Buddha.


The secret of Kurukulla's power is that she wields the unconquerable, irresistible force of love. Her heart is a reservoir of this emotion in its most refined form. Her drawn arrow, poised in front of her heart, becomes saturated with her beauteous heart essence. To be pierced by her arrow is to be penetrated by her transcendent love and undergo a profound change of heart. Herein lies the power of the goddess to subdue, impassion, and incite to higher love and awareness. 

Those who would invoke her in ritual and meditation must never do so for selfish ends. Kurukulla is motivated by wisdom and compassion; her roseate glow proclaims her bounteous affection; her divine beauty reflects her transcendent purity. She will never grant a vision of herself or perform her magic for those who seek only to benefit themselves or inflict suffering on others. Kurukulla, like every Buddha, acts solely for the welfare, happiness, and liberation of all sentient beings. 

Om Kurukulle Hum Hrih Svaha

thangka framed in traditional Tibetan brocade

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23 May 2013


... the Dawning Moon of the Mind

Thangka No. 6 - Thousand-Armed Avalokiteshvara

to this thangka came from a magnificent ancient Taiwanese painting of Kuan-Yin of a Thousand Eyes and Arms - from which I adopted the central composition elements, improvising my own  dream of the 1000-armed Bodhisattva around them.

Material: Cotton Canvas, framed in original antique Tibetan silk brocade

Colours: Watercolours, and 24-carat Gold

Size: 58.5 x 30 cm

Creation Period
around 450 hrs - sketched in Nepal in 2012, continued in South India and the French Pyrenees, completed in Berlin in Mid-May 2013.

Availability: available.
Please send your email enquiry to ariyanandi[at]gmail[dot]com if you are interested in this original. For new thangka commissioning orders, as well as for thangka prints, posters etc. please see under the About Thangkas and How to Order Them section (sidebar) and visit my online shop Ariya's Thangkas .

detail: 11 heads of the bodhisattva

Bodhicitta is a sudden and lasting compassion for all beings, accompanied by a falling away of the attachment to the illusion of an inherently-existing self. 

This intention to benefit all beings,
Which does not arise in others even for their own sake,
Is an extraordinary jewel of the mind,
And its birth is an unprecedented wonder.
How can I  fathom the depths
Of the goodness of this jewel of the mind,
The panacea that relieves the world of pain
And is the source of all its joy?
 If merely a benevolent intention
Excels venerating the Buddhas,
Then what need to mention striving to make
All beings without exception happy? 

I bow down to the body of him
In whom the sacred precious mind is born.
I seek refuge in that source of joy
Who brings to happiness even those who harm him.

One for whom bodhicitta is the prime motivation for all actions is called a Bodhisattva.

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara is venerated as the ideal of Karuna - his compassion for the world and his willingness to bear the pain of others. 

detail: hands

One prominent Buddhist story tells of Avalokiteshvara vowing never to rest until he had freed all sentient beings from Samsara. Despite strenuous effort, he realizes that still many unhappy beings were yet to be saved. After struggling to comprehend the needs of so many, his head splits into eleven pieces. Amithaba Buddha, his teacher (who represents mercy and wisdom) seeing his plight, gives him eleven heads with which to hear the cries of the suffering. Upon hearing these cries and comprehending them, Avalokiteshvara attempts to reach out to all those who needed aid, but found that his two arms shattered into pieces. Once more, Amitabha Buddha comes to his aid and invests him with a thousand arms with which to aid the suffering multitudes.

Do not think of the bodhisattva 
as a being separate from yourself. 

When we see and hear the suffering of others 
and respond to that suffering, 
we are the heads and arms of the bodhisattva. 

hand-stitched brocade frame

The little space within the heart 
is as great as the vast universe. 

The heavens and earth are there, 
the sun, the moon and the stars. 

Fire and lightning are there, 
and all that is now and all that is not. 
 The Upanishads

Above Avalokiteshvara, wisdom bodhisattva Manjushri (left) and Dharma protector Mahakala (right) are depicted. In the centre, floating on a lotus is Amitabha, Buddha of the lotus family of the 5 Dhyani (wisdom) Buddhas. He is red and represents discriminating awareness-wisdom and its transmuted opposites, passion and grasping. The Padma (lotus) Buddha family is associated with the element of fire. Below Avalokiteshvara, his emanations Green Tara (left) and White Tara (right).

detail: White Tara

The vow of the Bodhisattva is that he or she will not go into Nirvana until every single suffering being has entered Nirvana. One has to understand what this means. Our awakening is not a personal triumph. We do not have to win a spiritual sprint. We are one mind. Awakening is to penetrate more and more deeply into this truth. The world is alive. And as long as there is suffering then this living whole is shattered. Whether it is my suffering or the suffering of another, when seen from the perspective of the Bodhisattva makes no difference, because, seen from this perspective there is no ‘me’ or ‘another.’
 Albert Low 

Come, come whoever you are!

 Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.

It doesn't matter.

Ours is not a caravan

 of despair.


come even if you have

broken your vows

 a thousand times.


 come yet again,

inscribed on Rumi's tomb

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2 January 2013

knotty like an old tree's roots

namaste from a new window in time
thangka painting temporarily suspended
 these hands that so love the poised grace of holding the brush, the still moments of communion with blissful, ethereal buddhas and bodhisattvas, now find themselves daily immersed in  wet soil, prickly bushes, sticky manure, ice-cold springs, warm fluffy furs
helping out on a farm, caring for land and animals, is a time of increased physical energy, of intensive interactions, of again and again trying to get beyond self-righteous yet too rigid notions of right and wrong, to arrive at where everything is just as it is
the place where abandoning my own will for a few precious moments, i can allow myself just to be guided by nature
doing my best, out of a natural inner movement towards caring, to at least not cause or increase the sufferings of others, humans or animals, while often bearing witness to the fact that what already exists cannot be stopped
yet in the dark cave where pain and sorrow burn fiercest, alights - softer than a breeze - a traceless sudden knowing, an embrace of grace and wholeness, coming from a much wider perspective
so while my hands are starting to  look like the knotty roots of an old tree, i choose to believe they are not unlearning the precise, concentrated dance of colour on canvas, but trust that this experience is silently working its way through me to perhaps resurface - in time -  even in a thangka? from where I stand now, I feel thousandfold arms reaching out in compassion ...

march update: slower pace, but happily painting again

6 June 2012

Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form

No. 5 - Avalokiteshvara, painted in the Japanese Thangka style

When the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara
Was coursing in the deep Prajna Paramita,
He perceived that all Five Skandhas are empty.
Thus he overcame all ills and suffering.

O Sariputra, Form does not differ from Emptiness
And Emptiness does not differ from Form.
Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form.
The same is true for Feelings,
Perceptions, Volitions and Consciousness.

Sariputra, the characteristics of the
Emptiness of all Dharmas are
Non-Arising, Non-Ceasing, Non-Defiled,
Non-Pure, Non-Increasing, Non-Decreasing.

Therefore, in Emptiness there are no Forms,
No Feelings, Perceptions, Volitions or Consciousness,
No Eye, Ear, Nose, Tongue, Body or Mind;
No Form, Sound, Smell, Taste, Touch or Mind Object;
No Realm of the Eye,
Until we come to no realm of Consciousness.
No Ignorance and also no ending of Ignorance,
Until we come to no Old Age and Death.
Also, there is no Truth of Suffering,
Of the Cause of Suffering,
Of the Cessation of Suffering, 
Nor of the Path.

There is no Wisdom, and there is no Attainment whatsoever,
Because there is nothing to be attained.
The Bodhisattva relying on Prajna Paramita 
Has no obstruction in his mind.

Because there is no obstruction, he has no hearing,
And he passes beyond confused imagination
And reaches Ultimate Nirvana.

The Buddhas of the Three Worlds,
By relying on Prajna Paramita
Have attained Supreme Enlightenment.

Therefore, the Prajna Paramita is the Great Mantra,
The Mantra of Illumination, the Supreme Mantra,
Which can truly protect one from all suffering without fail.

Therefore he uttered the Mantra of Prajna Paramita:
Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha
Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in the Prajnaparamita Sutra

In the Mahayana canon, the Heart Sutra is ascribed entirely to the bodhisattva Kuan Yin/Kwannon. This is unique, as most Mahayana Sutras are usually ascribed to Shakyamuni Buddha and the teachings, deeds or vows of the bodhisattvas are described by Shakyamuni Buddha. In the Heart Sutra however, it is Guanyin / Avalokiteshvara who describes to the Arahat Sariputra the nature of reality and the essence of the Buddhist teachings. The famous Buddhist saying "Form is emptiness, emptiness is form" quoted above, comes from this sutra.

Material: Cotton Canvas, framed in original antique Tibetan silk brocade

Colours: Watercolours, and 24-carat Gold

Size: 38 x 68 cm

Creation Period
around 390 hrs between March 21 and May 31, 2012 in Bhaktapur/Nepal

Availability: sold
For thangka commissioning orders, prints, posters etc. please see under the About Thangkas and How to Order Them section (sidebar) and visit my online shop http://www.zazzle.com/ariyanandi* (for a great assortment of printed products and gift ideas)

On meaning and symbolism of Kuanyin/Avalokiteshvara/Chenrezig:

Avalokiteshvara is a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. He is one of the more widely revered bodhisattvas in mainstream Mahayana Buddhism. He is also known as Chenrezig (Tibetan), Kuan-Yin / Guanyin (Chinese), Lokeshvara (Sanskrit) and Kannon (Japanese).

A total of 33 different manifestations of Avalokiteshvara are described in Buddhist literature, including female manifestations, all to suit the minds of various beings.

In Sanskrit, Avalokiteshvara is also referred to as Padmapāni ("Holder of the Lotus") or Lokeśvara ("Lord of the World").

In Tibetan, Avalokiteshvara is known as Jainraisig/Chenrezig and is said to be incarnated in the Dalai Lama, the Karmapa and other high lamas.

Avalokiteshvara with the ending a-svara ("sound, noise"), which means "sound perceiver", literally "he who looks down upon sound" i.e., the cries of sentient beings who need his help, was originally depicted as a male bodhisattva, and therefore wears chest-revealing clothing and may even sport a moustache. In other traditions, he may be depicted more often in female form (Guanyin) or even androgynous. 

The Lotus Sūtra describes him as a bodhisattva who can assume any form required to relieve suffering, and also has the power to grant children (possibly relating to the fact that in this Sutra, unlike in others, both men and women are believed to have the ability to achieve enlightenment). He is therefore seen as a savior, both spiritually and physically. The sutras state that through his saving grace even those who have no chance of being enlightened can be enlightened, and those deep in negative karma can still find salvation through his compassion.

Similarly, in Pure Land Buddhism, Guanyin is described as the "Barque of Salvation". Along with Amitabha Buddha she temporarily liberates beings out of the Wheel of Samsara by placing them in the heart of a lotus and then sending them home to the Western Pure Land of Sukhāvatī, where they will have the chance to accrue the necessary merit so as to be a Buddha in one lifetime.

In Tibetan Buddhism, Tara came into existence from a single tear shed by Chenrezig. When the tear fell to the ground it created a lake, and a lotus opening in the lake revealed Tara. In another version of this story, Tara emerges from the heart of Chenrezig. In either version, it is Chenrezig's outpouring of compassion which manifests Tara as a being.

Mahāyāna Buddhism relates Avalokiteshvara to the six-syllable mantra: OM MANI PADME HUM. Due to his association with this mantra, in Tibetan Buddhism Avalokiteshvara is also called Shadakshari, which means "Lord of the Six Syllables." Recitation of this mantra along with prayer beads, is the most popular religious practice in Tibetan Buddhism.

detail: 11 heads

framed in antique Tibetan silk brocade

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27 April 2012

India in my Heart

(music: 'Madhur Suron', found on Ustad Alla Rakha's The Multifaceted Genius)

A flood of unforgettable memories and feelings for a love that runs deep within me, makes me want to share this small tribute with you here today ... and if I had to say it in one sentence, it would be this:

If Gaia, our precious Mother Earth, had a heart, it would be India

Be always watchful of Her infinite changing faces ... at times flowing mellow, easy-going and chilled, yet even more often  the fierce hot sun of Shiva-Kali in action - India is bursting, full to the brim with the 10,000 joys and sorrows of humanity. She will rip you apart and turn you inside out. 

Here I see genuineness wherever I look. The old and the poor especially move me to tears - we have so much to learn from those who never had or have lost everything of this world. They freely share the little they have, offering me, a stranger, their daily little joys with a completely open smile. Kindness, humour, and genuine interest in others transpire their lives and go hand in hand with silently endured hardship ... With what graceful lightness they tread this earth, with what patience and respect they labour the soil that nourishes them, their simplicity of ancient times always present in mind and deed. 

India needs no make-up, nothing is concealed, it all lies open in plain view for all who care to look. Man, woman, heaven, earth, beauty, ugliness, fear, hope, friendship, corruption, death, decay, everything and every soul a pure reflection of our times as they really are, whether I like to see the naked truth, or not. 

Yet if I keep looking without turning away in fear, I start to understand and accept that all this is part of a great magic, all part of nature; and I do what I feel is right and hold all beauty and horror as equally sacred in my heart, as part of the whole truth I am searching to understand. And when this happens, I find myself moving in perfect harmony in the moment, with a free spirit and suddenly beyond contradictions and opposites, beyond separation and judgement.

Mother India welcomes all who come to her, and I, having made my long way from far away strange Western lands, feel like going down on my knees in gratitude for finally having arrived home... home within, closer to myself.  And I take this with me on my life's unfolding journey, wherever it may take me. 


25 January 2012

Beginnings ...

Where did I learn to paint Thangkas?

Bhaktapur Durbar Square

For many wonderful years now, I have been spending my time with my small family mainly between a quiet seaside village in Southern India during the winter months, and the ancient city of Bhaktapur, Nepal during summers/rainy seasons. 

Mangal Lama at work

It was here then that in May 2010, more or less consciously in search of a "meditation technique" that I could more naturally incorporate into a mindful daily life than just rigid sittings ... my path crossed that of the wonderful Tibetan master painter, Mr Mangal Lama, at his "Historical Thangku Art School" in Bhaktapur, Nepal.

A temple in Bhaktapur

In June 2010, we started off with an intensive full-time "Basic Thangka Painting Course" that would take several months to complete, and during which I learned - from the scratch - to understand and apply the intricacies and complex architecture-style rules governing the anatomy of a selection of Tibetan buddhas, bodhisattvas and other deities, about the mysterious symbolism of Tibetan religion, about composition and landscape elements of thangkas, later moving on to creating my first canvas and being confronted with brush, colours and the preparation and use of real gold leaf paint. (find out more about Sketches and Mudras further down in this blog).

Music University Bhaktapur

It was an immensely rewarding time during which I learned a lot - not only about painting, but also about myself, and I will remain deeply grateful to have had the opportunity of studying with Mangalji ... As a matter of fact, I returned to him for a second practice period in 2011 - when I painted my 4th thangka (Rhada Krishna) under his expert guidance.

These days, I find myself becoming - little by little - more confident in painting by myself, and enjoying not only its meditative aspect, but also learning to solve arising challenges independently, and slowly understanding more about the many secrets of this sacred old art.

How is it Done?

A few words on the technique of  Thangka painting. Normally, it involves the following steps:

  1. Preparing the canvas which is usually made of a fine cotton or silk, fastened and stretched to a wooden frame with cord that can later be readjusted to ensure tautness.
  2. Mixing the gesso.  Gesso is a traditional mix of an animal glue binder (in Nepal buffalo-skin glue), chalk, and white pigment. Its absorbency makes it work with all painting media. It is also used as a base on three-dimensional surfaces for the application of paint or gold leaf (see step 6).  Mixing and applying it is an art form in itself since it is usually applied in 10 or more extremely thin layers.Then the canvas is left to dry and afterwards it is repeatedly polished with a smooth oval shaped stone in order to remove any uneven or raised surfaces.
  3. Drawing the sketch with a fine pencil onto the canvas.
  4. At this point the application of colour starts from the furthest landscape elements (sky and clouds) to the closest (mountains and water). Traditionally natural mineral colours ground into fine powders and mixed with some gesso were used, but today many contemporary artists choose a mixture of opaque watercolours / guache and acrylics instead. Painting the sky is often the most time consuming part of the whole painting. Basically, one is applying thousands of tiny dots, layer upon layer for weeks to create the desired gradation or shading.
  5. After all landscape elements have been completed, the deities are painted. Generally all flat colors are applied first, then outlines, then shading.
  6. Real gold is then applied to jewelry, luminous rays of light, brocade patterns, etc. Gold paint is made by heating and dissolving gold leaf compressed powder in water and glue. When the gold has been applied to the canvas, it is burnished to create a 3 dimensional appearance. Gold is considered very highly in terms of offerings, its brilliance and purity making it an indispensable addition to a thangka.
  7. Finally, the eyes of all figures are completed. This awakens them and imbues the painting with a life force.
  8. The finished painted is mounted into a brocade frame.
  9. Last, there is a blessing and consecration ritual, sometimes performed by a lama. The backside of a Tibetan Thangka is generally enscribed with the Vajra Guru mantra: om ah hum (or hung), known as 'the mantra of all the Buddhas'. In essence the meaning of 'Om Ah Hum' can be expressed, as in the words of Sogyal Rinpoche in the 'Tibetan Book of Living & Dying' as "...the transformative blessings of the body, speech and mind of all the buddhas“. The tradition in painting a Tibetan thangka is to complete it by enscribing this mantra on the backside of the canvas, whereby Om is placed across the deities' third eye, Ah across the throat chakra and Hum across the heart chakra, thereby symbolically opening or awakening to life the represented deity.
  10. A Thangka is normally left unsigned, the reason behind this being that the painter of a Thangka feels he/she is only a humble instrument in the representation of the deity. Loosely keeping to this tradition, I have merely singed my paintings on their backside.

About Sketches:

Buddha Head Sketch
The depiction of various deities on Thangkas is regulated by precise rules of composition. Some of these rules of composition are expressed visually through proportioning diagrams and sample sketches of deities.

White Tara Sketch
The sketches demonstrate, for example, various compositional schemes of thangkas: the posture of deities, the gestures that deities make with their hands (mudras), the symbolic objects that their hands clasp, the rendering of the deities' garments and accessories, and landscape elements that echo the deities' spiritual qualities.

Buddha Sakyamuni Sketch
 These rules of composition are timeless, as they were passed down from master to pupil through successive generations.

The original sketches/pencil drawings were coloured with Photoshop.

About Mudras:

Nine Mudras
 (the original pencil drawings were coloured with Photoshop)

Buddhas and bodhisattvas often are depicted in Buddhist art with stylized hand gestures called mudras. The word "mudra" is Sanskrit for "seal" or "sign," and each mudra has a specific meaning. Buddhists sometimes use these symbolic gestures during rituals and meditation.

Explanation of above Mudras (by columns, starting top left)

Bhumisparsa Mudra (Gesture of Calling the Earth to Witness)
The right hand, hanging over the knee, palm inward, points to the earth. The left hand is on his lap, palm upwards, in Avakasha Mudra (Gesture of leisure). Bhumisparsa mudra portrays the Buddha taking the earth as witness to his right to the bodhi throne, witnessing the fact that Shakyamuni has fulfilled the complete discipline and duty of a Bodhisattva. Shakyamuni’s instantaneous transformation from a Bodhisattva to the Buddha recalls the superiority of the knowledge of the Buddha, which is pure bodhi perception and the means that enables the Enlightened One to triumph over the demons.
The Dhyani Buddha Akshobhya shows the same Mudra.

Vajrahumkara Mudra (The Embracing Gesture)
also called "The Om Sound Gesture". The wrists are crossed at the breast. The hands hold the Vajra (=thunderbolt, male) and Ghanta (= bell, female). The right hand crosses over the left at the wrist, palms facing inwards towards the chest and usually over the heart, symbolizing the union of method and wisdom. This is the gesture of Adi Buddha Vajradara, Samvara and Trailokyavijaya.

Manjushri Mudra
Manjushri is depicted as a male bodhisattva wielding a flaming sword in his right hand, representing the realization of transcendent wisdom which cuts down ignorance and duality. The scripture supported by the lotus held in his left hand is a Prajñāpāramitā sūtra, representing his attainment of ultimate realization from the blossoming of wisdom.

Varada Mudra (Gesture of Granting Wishes)
This is the mudra of Dhyani Buddha Ratnasamhava, Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, Taras and (sometimes) standing Buddha Shakyamuni.
The charity of the Buddha is indicated by this mudra, as it is the gesture of dispensing favors. In this symbolism the right hand is directed downward. The palm should be completely exposed to the spectator, open and empty; the fingers may be slightly bent as if to support a round object. When the personage who makes this gesture is standing, he holds is arm slightly extended to the front. In seated statues, the hand remains at about breast level, a little to the side, the palm up; very often the other hand holds a corner of the kesa.
As noted above, this mudra symbolizes offering, giving, welcome, charity, compassion and sincerity. It is the mudra of the accomplishment of the wish to devote oneself to human salvation. The open hand, the extended fingers, symbolize the flowering of the Buddha’s Gift of Truth.

Vajrasattva Mudra
Vajrasattva (Tib. Dorje Sempa), the ‘indestructible being or hero’, is a bodhisattva in the Mahayana, Mantrayana and Vajrayana buddhist traditions.
Vajrasattva's name translates to Diamond Mind or Thunderbolt Mind. He is beautiful and peaceful with a sweetly smiling face and two eyes, and he sits in vajra-posture upon a white moon disc and a multicoloured lotus. With his right hand he embraces his consort, who is known either as Vajratopa (Tib. Dorje Nyenma), or Vajragarvi, the lady of ‘vajra-pride’. Vajrasattva  holds a golden five-pointed vajra (dorje) in front of his heart, and with his left hand resting upon his thigh he holds an upturned silver bell (ghanta) at the level of his hip.
In Tantric Buddhism (Vajrayana) the vajra and bell are used in many rites by a lama. The dorje is a male symbol that represents many things for the tantrika. The vajra is representative of compassion whereas its companion tool, the bell which is a female symbol, denotes wisdom. Some deities are shown holding each the vajra and bell in separate hands, symbolizing the union of the forces of wisdom and compassion, respectively.

Abhaya Mudra (Gesture of Fearlessness and Granting Protection)
This mudra is generally made with the right hand raised to should height, the arm crooked, the palm of the hand facing outward, the fingers upright and joined. The left hand hangs down at the side of the body.
This mudra would seem to sustain the theory that symbolic gestures originally sprang from natural movements. Certainly the outstretched hand is an almost universal iconographic symbol. Since antiquity it was a gesture asserting power. Here it is the gesture of the Buddha Shakyamuni immediately after attaining enlightenment. It is also the traditional Indian gesture of appeasement made by the Buddha when a drunken elephant, which had been goaded on by the malevolent Devadatta, attacked him. The Buddha’s gesture immediately stopped the animal in its tracks and subdued it. Accordingly, it indicates not only the appeasement of the senses, but also the absence of fear; and it confers such absence of fear on others, which is a liberating factor.

Buddhapatra Mudra (Mudra of the Buddha's Alms Bowl)/Dhyana Mudra (Meditation Mudra)
This is one of the mudras distinctively identified with Shakyamuni Buddha. Here the two hands are placed horizontally in opposition to hold an actual or figurative begging bowl at the level of the breast, one hand above and the other underneath. In some variations, the bowl is replaced by a wish-granting jewel or by a treasure box.
The Dhyana Mudra is the characteristic gesture of Buddha Shakyamuni, Dhyani Buddha Amitaba and the Medicine Buddhas.
This is the mudra of meditation, of concentration on the Good Law, of the attainment of spiritual perfection, of bodhi, or awakening. In this mudra, the back of the right hand rests on the palm of the other in such a way the tips of the thumbs lightly touch one another. The hands rest in the lap. The right hand, resting on top, symbolizes the state of enlightenment; the other hand, resting below, the world of appearance. This gesture expresses overcoming the world of appearance through enlightenment, as well as the enlightened state of mind for which samsara and nirvana are one. The position of the hands in this mudra derives, in accordance with the tradition, from the attitude, which the historical Buddha assumed, when he devoted himself to final meditation under the bodhi tree. This is the attitude he was found in when the demon armies of Mara attacked him. He was to alter it only when he called the earth to witness, at the moment of his triumph over the demons.

Namaskara or Anjali Mudra (Gesture of Praying / The Diamond Handclasp)
The Anjali Mudra is the mudra of offering and devotion. It is formed by joining the hands, which are held vertically at the level of the breast, palm against palm, fingers against fingers, interlocked at the tips, the right thumb covering the left.
The gesture formed by the union of the two hands, recalls the co-existence of the two inseparable worlds, which are really one: the Diamond World, or vajradhatu and the Matrix World, or gharbhadhatu. These two worlds are the expression of two aspects of one cosmic life and represent the reciprocal action of the spiritual and the materials, the static and the dynamic.
As this mudra is a gesture of adoration, giving homage to a superior state, it is never represented on a statue of the Buddha. It is a gesture, which belongs rather to Bodhisattvas and to lesser personages who give homage either to the Buddha or to the dharma. It is frequently seen on multiple-armed Avalokiteshvara (Kannon or Kwan-Yin).
Universally used by people in India and South-East Asia for salutation, it evokes an offering of good feelings, of one’s person, etc. and also indicates veneration if it is made at the level of the face.

Dharmachakra Mudra (Gesture of Turning the Wheel of the Law)
The mudra is especially characterized by a variety of forms, even in India. Generally speaking, the right hand is held at the level of the breast, palm facing outward, while the index finger and the thumb, join at the tips to form the mystic circle, touch the joined index and thumb of the left hand, whose palm is turned inward. It symbolizes one of the most important moments in the life of the Buddha, the occasion when he preached to his former companions the first sermon after his Enlightenment, in the Deer Park in Sarnath.
Making explicit reference to the wheel as it does, this mudra is particularly steeped in the rich and ancient symbolism of the wheel in Buddhist metaphysics. Apart from the Buddha Gautama, only Maitreya (the Buddha of the future) can, as a dispenser of the Law, form this mudra.

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10 November 2011


No. 4 : Radha-Krishna

''Earth, 114 million years ago, one morning just after sunrise: The first flower ever to appear on the planet opens up to receive the rays of the sun. Prior to this momentous event that heralds an evolutionary transformation in the life of plants, the planet had already been covered in vegetation for millions of years. The first flower probably did not survive for long, and flowers must have remained rare and isolated phenomena, since conditions were most likely not yet favorable for a widespread flowering to occur. One day, however, a critical threshold was reached, and suddenly there would have been an explosion of color and scent all over the planet – if a perceiving consciousness had been there to witness it.

Much later, those delicate and fragrant beings we call flowers would come to play an essential part in the evolution of consciousness of another species. Humans would increasingly be drawn to and fascinated by them. As the consciousness of human beings developed, flowers were more likely the first thing they came to value that had no utilitarian purpose for them, that is to say, was not linked in some way to survival. They provided inspiration to countless artists, poets, and mystics. Jesus tells us to contemplate the flowers and learn from them how to live. The Buddha is said to have given a „silent sermon“ once during which he held up a flower and gazed at it. After a while, one of those present, a monk called Mahakasyapa, began to smile. He is said to have been the only one who had understood the sermon. […]

Seeing beauy in a flower could awaken humans, however briefly, to the beauty that is an essential part of their own innermost being, their true nature. The first recognition of beauty was one of the most significant events in the evolution of human consciousness. The feelings of joy and love are intrinsically connected to that recognition. Without our fully realizing it, flowers would become for us an expression in form of that which is most high, most sacred, and ultimately formless within ourselves. Flowers, more fleeting, more ethereal, and more delicate than the plants out of which they emerged, would become like messengers from another realm, like a bridge between the world of physical forms and the formless.''
from A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

Material: Cotton Canvas, framed in traditional Tibetan brocade

Colours: Watercolours, and 24-carat Gold

Size: 42 x 59 cm

Creation Period: 
roughly 480 hrs between July and September 2011 in Bhaktapur/Nepal

Availability: sold
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 Below, some information on meaning and symbolism of Radha and Krishna - from wikipedia -:


literally "dark, black, dark-blue" is a central figure of Hinduism and is easily recognized by his representations. Though his skin colour may be depicted as black or dark in some representations, in other images he is usually shown with blue skin. He is often shown wearing a yellow silk dhoti and peacock feather crown, as a little boy, or as a young man in a characteristic relaxed pose, playing the bansuri (bamboo) flute. In this form, he usually stands with one leg bent in front of the other and raises the flute to his lips, known as Tribhangi Mudra, and is either accompanied by cows, emphasizing his position as the divine herdsman, Govinda, or by the gopis ( milkmaids).

Krishna appears in many forms. When he is together with Radha, he is regarded as supreme lord under the name of Radha-Krishna.

Thus, Radha-Krishna are the male and female aspects of God. Known as the Divine Couple, together they are the full manifestation of God.

Radha-Krishna and the Rasa Lila

The stories of his play with the gopis of Vrindavan, especially Radha (daughter of Vrishbhanu, one of the original residents of Vrindavan) became known as the rasa lila – the Dance of Divine Love.

The topic of the spiritual love affair between the divine Krishna and his devotee Radha, became a theme celebrated throughout India since the twelfth century. The rasa lila took place one night when the gopis of Vrindavan, upon hearing the sound of Krishna's flute, sneaked away from their households and families to the forest to dance with Krishna throughout the night, which Krishna supernaturally stretched to the length of one Night of Brahma, a Hindu unit of time lasting approximately 4.32 billion years.

In the Krishna Bhakti traditions, the rasa-lila is considered to be one of the highest and most esoteric of Krishna's pastimes. In these traditions, romantic love between human beings in the material world is seen as merely a diminished, illusionary reflection of the soul’s original, ecstatic spiritual love for Krishna, God, in the spiritual world.

It is also believed that Radha is not just one cowherd maiden, but is the origin of all the gopis, or divine personalities that participated in the rasa dance. Radha, who is Krishna's supreme beloved, is acknowledged as the Supreme Goddess, for it is said that she controls Krishna with Her love. It is believed that Krishna enchants the world, but Radha "enchants even Him. Therefore She is the supreme goddess of all. Radha Krishna".

Still, this is a complex relationship, for the devotee is the ‘same as and yet different from’ the Lord, and so even in the joy of union there is the pain of separation. Indeed, the highest form of devotion, according to Yamunacarya, comes not in union but after the union, in the ‘fear of new separation’...

Radha-Krishna - detail hands/flute

Radha-Krishna - detail flowers

Radha-Krishna - framed in traditional brocade


radhaamkrsnasvaroopaam vai, krishnam raadhaasvarupinam; kalaatmaanam nikunjastham gururoopam sadaa bhaje

I ceaselessly praise Radha who is none other than Krishna, and Sri Krishna who is none other than Radha

nothing left to do but give it away...



(Sanskrit meaning of Manjari = flowers)

This bouquet of Krishna flowers is dedicated to you, dear friend !
in the midst of frosty november, 
flowers are blooming everywhere

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