Image 1: The Prague Thangka of Shambhala

Shambhala and the Prague Thangka: The Myth’s Visual Representation

Image 1: The Prague Thangka of Shambhala

The complicated composition of the Prague thangka can be divided into twenty-two parts that depict the main storylines of the Shambhala myth as well as the historical and mythical context of the Kālacakratantra. The scenes can be classified typologically into five groups:

I. Historical figures (Tsongkhapa with his two disciples [image 2] and Atisha [image 5])

II. Deities of the Buddhist pantheon (Kālacakra [image 3], Hevajra [image 4], and Yama [not pictured in this photo essay])

III. Twenty-five Shambhala kings (Kulikas [images 6 and 7])

IV. Raudracakrin

Raudracakrin is pictured five times in the thangka: once in a quiet form on a throne in Kalápa [image 8] and four times in a wrathful form—for example, on a war chariot with a sword in his right hand [image 12] and on a horse with a lance in his left hand [image 14]. But, are these really five different depictions of one and the same figure, or depictions of various figures (Raudracakrin and his subordinate commanders)? See, for example, the text of the Kālacakratantra, which reveals that:

(I.161) The Hindu gods Shiva, Skanda, Ganesha, and Vishnu will assist Kalkin, as will the mountain horses, elephant masters, kings in gold chariots, and armed warriors.

(I.162) There will be ninety million dappled mountain horses swift as the wind, four hundred thousand elephants drunk with wine, five hundred thousand chariots, six great armies, and ninety-six crowned kings. Kalkin, with Shiva and Vishnu, will annihilate the barbarians with this army (Newman 1996, 288–289).

Therefore, it could be possible that Raudracakrin is depicted only twice in the thangka: once in a quiet form on the throne in Kalápa (image 8) and once as the central figure of the painting, the victorious Shambhala king defeating the enemy (image 14). The other wrathful figures (images 12 and 18) would then be “kings in gold chariots.” This interpretation may be supported by the fact that the central figure Raudracakrin (image 14) bears six Shambhala pennants on his shoulder armor whereas the other three figures have only five.

V. Battle scenes (images 9–11, 13, 15, 16–17, 20)

Source: Bělka (2014). All images in this photo essay are used courtesy of the National Gallery Prague.

References

Bělka, Luboš. 2014. “Šambhala a konec světa” [Shambhala and the end of the world]. In Konec světa [The end of the world], edited by Luboš Bělka, 64–94. Brno: Masarykova univerzita.

Newman, John. 1996. “Eschatology in the Wheel of Time Tantra.” In Buddhism in Practice, edited by Donald S. Lopez, Jr., 288–289. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.