Ushnishavijaya Enthroned in the Womb of a Stupa
Tangka, gouache on cotton
Image: 28 7/8 × 23 1/8 in. (73.3 × 58.7 cm)
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 2012
Not on view
This is one of the earliest extant images of the rarely represented Buddhist goddess Ushnishavijaya, who embodies a magical spell (dharani) recited by practitioners to evoke liberation through the accumulation of merit. The power of multiplication in Buddhist merit making is suggested by the many small stupas (chaityas), which symbolically allow for the donation of one hundred thousand stupas. Multiarmed, multiheaded Ushnishavijaya, white in color (like an autumn moon), is seated in the central stupa, flanked by red and green bodhisattvas. She is surrounded by the guardians of the eight directions and four periphery stupas, each housing a representation of Tara. In the top register are the five tathagata flanked by two bodhisattvas, with the sun and moon gods at either end. Below a row of the Pancharasksha deities, with Achala and Vajrapani at either end, the lowest register shows scenes of consecration, which would usually take place during the performance of a rite known as Lakshachaitya. The priest and monks are depicted to one side, with the donor, here named as Jasaraja, and his family to the other; at center is an image of the protector Mahakala. Ushnishavijaya is worshiped for long life and freedom from the chain of rebirth. As a manifestation of the Buddha’s head protuberance, or ushnisha, she is also associated with wisdom.