Manjuvajra Mandala

Period: Pala period

Date: 11th century

Culture: Bangladesh or India (Bengal)

Medium: Black stone

Dimensions: H. 46 in. (116.8 cm); W. 24 in. (61 cm); D. 7 1/2 in. (19.1 cm)

Classification: Sculpture

Credit Line: Bequest of Cora Timken Burnett, 1956

Accession Number: 57.51.6


The central icon of this sculpture is Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, in his manifestation as the Tantric Manjuvajra. This image is a two-dimensional representation of Manjuvajra as the central figure in the famous Hymns of the Names of Manjushri, although this image has six arms rather than the usual eight. Manjuvajra is shown at the center of a mandala within a stupa, most likely a reference to the great stupa of Amaravati in South India, despite the Bengali architectural form.

His mandala is believed to be the primordial source of all mandalas, located at the foundation of the great stupa. He holds a vajra scepter and bell in his two front hands, and would have held a bow and arrow in his second pair, and the sword and flower with a missing text of the Transcendent Wisdom Scripture in the last pair. His three faces represent the three passions transmuted into the three wisdoms, the three visions of the subtle mind, or the three channels of the yogic nervous system. The five smaller Manjuvajra images in the stupas above his head are the Manjuvajra forms of the primary Buddhas of the other Buddha-clans, located in the four directions and the zenith in a three-dimensional mandala.

The crisp, elegant carving of this sculpture exemplifies the art of the Pala kingdom in northeast India. The Buddhas, their stupas, and the floral ornamentation are precisely carved and finished. All of the Buddhas have broad shoulders and chests, articulated waists, and long powerful legs. Their faces are full and almost square, with long, thin features. The Pala-period style traveled from India to Nepal and Tibet, where it became one of the major sculptural and painting traditions.