Category Archives: Bodhisattva

Manjusri in art : painted depictions

     Manjusri is a bodhisattva; a yidam in Tibetan Buddhism and associated with prajna. Manjusri  means gentle glory, he is considered a youth Manjusrikumarabhuta. He is an important Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism. He figures in the Prajnaparamita sutra  and symbolises prajna. He is accorded Vimala,his pure land as per the Lotus sutra  located in the East. He is a meditational deity and is a fully enlightened Buddha in Vajrayana Buddhism. He figures in Manjusrimula-kalpa and Manjusrinamasamgiti. His consort is Sarasvati in some traditions.

    Manjusri is male and wields  a flaming sword in his right hand which is symbolic of cutting down ignorance. In his left hand he holds the Prajnaparamita sutra supported by a lotus symbolising attainment of ultimate realisation from the blossoming of wisdom. In Japanese and Chinese art, his sword is replaced by a ruyi  scepter. In China he is called Wenshu and is associated with the mountain Wutai. In Tibet he manifests in many Tantric forms; Yamantaka is popular in Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. He is called Monju in Japan. In Indonesia he was revered by the Sailendra dynasty,patrons of Mahayana Buddhism, during the 8th century.

   The non-tantric forms of Manjusri have one head and two arms.The usual form is white or yellow, seated in dhyanasana, meditative posture with left hand holding a pustaka or book,right hand holds khadga or sword,maybe seated on a lion;sometimes in dhyanasana vitarka mudra, holding stem of lotus with pustaka on the flower,right hand having the khadga. 

   The dharmachakramanjusri  is depicted in dhyanasana , in dharmachakramudra,  with stems of lotuses supporting khadga and pustaka. Another form  Manughosa is white,seated in dhyanasana,vitarka and varada mudras, holding lotus stems with pustaka and khadga at shoulder level. The other forms include maharajalilamanjusri Dharmasankhasamadhimanjusri.  The tantric forms have one head and more than two arms or more than one head and two or more arms. Manjuvajra is also a tantric form having three heads ,six arms. Yamanataka  rhas nine heads,34 arms,16 legs and is fierce from to conquer Yama, the God of death.

File:Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita Manjusri Bodhisattva.jpeg

Painting of Manjusri, Prajnaparamita Sutra manuscript, Ranjana script, Nalanda, Bihar,  700-1100 CE.

By Asia Society created the file. Artwork created by an anonymous ancient source. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Manjusri,Yulin Caves,7th -14th century, Gansu, China.

By Anonymous artist-craftsmen of the Tang-Yuan Dynasties (Yulin Caves, Gansu Province, China) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Manjusri debates Vimalakirti,  Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra,  Mogao Caves,Tang Dynasty,Dunhuang,7th-8th century, China.

By File created by user “pandahermit.” Artwork created by anonymous ancient source. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Hachiji-Monju/Ashtasikha Manjusri with eight attendants,13th century, Japan.

By English: Unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Manjusri with another bodhisattva and donors,painting,13th century,Tibet,Walters Museum.

By Anonymous (Tibet) – Walters Art Museum: Home page  Info about artwork, Public Domain,

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Mandala of the forms of Manjusri,14th century,Tibet.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

File:Mural of Manjusri at Namdroling.jpg

Manjusri and Sarasvati,mural, Padmasambhava Buddhist Vihara, Namdroling Monastery,20th century,Karnataka,India

By Christoper J. Fynn (Own work (photograph)- artist of mural anonymous) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

File:Manjusri Painted.jpg

Manjusri,painting by Cecilia at Buddhafield Festival, 2006

By John Wigham (originally posted to Flickr as Manjusri) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

References :

  • Thomas, P/Epics, myths and legends of India, Bombay : D. B. Taraporevala and Sons.
  • Fisher,Robert E./Buddhist art and architecture,London : Thames and Hudson,1993.
  • Gordon,Antoinette K/The iconography of Tibetan Lamaism,New Delhi : Mumshiram Manoharlal Publishers,1998.

Posted by :

Soma Ghosh

© author

Bodhisattvas in art : painted images

    Bodhisattva is a Sanskrit term for anyone who has generated bodhichitta, motivated by great compassionwhich is an intense wish to attain buddha-hood for the benefit of all. Bodhisattva is a being who has not attained enlightenment, and may refrain from nirvana in the hopes of aiding others to reach it. The term is applied to hypothetical beings with a high degree of enlightenment and power. Bodhisattvas are an important subject in Buddhist art.

In Indian Buddhism, the term bodhisattva referred to the Buddha in his former lives. The Jataka tales, which are the stories of the Buddha’s lives, depict the various trials of the bodhisattva to develop self-sacrifice and imbibe high moral values. In fact Mahayana Buddhism is based on the path of a bodhisattva.  It is believed that this term is synonymous with Bodhisattvayana. The list of Bodhisattvas include AkasagarbhaAvalokitesvara, Ksitigarbha,Mahasthamaprapta,Maitreya,Manjusri,Nio,Padmasambhava,Samantabhadra,Sangharama,Sitatapatra,Skanda,Tara,Vajrapani and Vasundhara. Suryaprabha and Supushpachandra are other bodhisattvas.

Bodhisattva Akasagarbha is related to space, Avalokitesvara is the bodhisattva of compassion and the most universally acknowledged bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism.  Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha is  revered in East Asian Buddhism and  depicted as a Buddhist monk. His name may be translated as Earth Womb. He is the guardian of children and patron deity of deceased children and aborted fetuses in Japanese culture. Mahasthamaprapta represents the power of wisdom.Maitreya is regarded as the future Buddha. Maitreya is a bodhisattva who will appear on earth in the future, achieve complete enlightenment, and preach pure dharma or religious righteousness. Gautama Buddha before being born on earth was a Bodhisattva having attained this position by taking a vow for enlightenment, and then went through various births and was in Tushita heaven as the reigning Bodhisattva.

Manjusri is a bodhisattva associated with prajna or transcendent wisdom. Nio are two muscular guardians of the Buddha standing today at the entrance of many Buddhist temples in East Asia. Padmasambhava or Lotus-Born, also known as Guru Rinpoche. Samantabhadra is associated with action and he has made ten great vows .Sanghrama are revered in Chinese Buddhism and Taoism, a group of devas who guard viharas. Sitapatra or the white parasol is a protector against supernatural danger. Skanda is regarded as a devoted guardian of viharas and the Buddhist teachings. Tara is a female bodhisattva, or set of bodhisattvas, in Tibetan Buddhism. She represents success in work. Vajrapani is protector of Gautama Buddha and rose to symbolize the Buddha’s power.Vasudhara means stream of gems in Sanskritand she is the bodhisattva of wealth, prosperity, and abundance, similar to Goddess Lakshmi in Hinduism.

   The Bodhisattva path is an arduous, difficult monastic but glorious path one can take, as described in Buddhist texts. The bodhisattva has to take vows to work for the enlightenment of all beings by practising six imperfections.A bodhisattva is one liberates beings from samsara, cycle of death, rebirth and suffering. A bodhisattva’s mind is known as the bodhichitta or awakened mind .

Hinayana Buddhism recognizes only Maitreya.The painted images of Boddhisatvas have been made in countries wherever Mahayana Buddhism has  flourished.

Mural depiction of worshipping bodhisattvas, Wei Dynasty,6th century, China.

By unknown ancient Buddhist artist(s) – Cave 285. Wei Dynasty (535-556 A.D.), Public Domain,

Cave mural of Avalokitesvara, worshipping bodhisattvas,Tang Dynasty,618-907 A.D.

By unknown ancient Buddhist artist(s) – Cave 57. Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), Public Domain,

File:Amitabha with Eight Great Bodhisattvas (Tokugawa Art Museum) 2.jpg

Amitabha with  bodhisattvas,10th-14th century, Tokugawa Art Museum, Japan.

By Goryeo-Dynasty artist [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Painting of Akasagarbha, 13th century, Kamakura period,Japan.

By unknown artist – zAHGDjCz55_mHg at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain,

Avalokitesvara painting,palm-leaf manuscript ,12th century, India.

By Asia Society created the file. Artwork created by an anonymous ancient source. –, Public Domain,

Ksitigarbha painting,  late 14th century,Goryeo, Korea.

By Unidentified artist –, Public Domain,


Mahasthamaprapta,painting,13th century,China.

By China, Tangut State of Hsi Hsia, Khara-Khoto, 13th century –, Public Domain,

Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita Maitreya Detail.jpeg

Maitreya ,illustration,manuscript,early 12th century, India.

By Metropolitan Museum of Art created the file. Artwork created by an anonymous ancient source. –, Public Domain,

Manjusri,illustration, palm leaf manuscript,Nalanda,700-1100, Bihar.

By Asia Society created the file. Artwork created by an anonymous ancient source. –, Public Domain,

Padmasambhava,wall painting,14th century,Bhutan.

By Baldiri – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Brooklyn Museum - Bodhisattva Samantabhadra.jpg

Samantabhadra,painting,late 18th-early 19th century.

By Unknown – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1993.192.2_transp4510.jpg, Public Domain,

Skanda as portrayed by Zhao Mengfu,Yuan Dynasty,13th-14th century, China.

By Prajnyaapaaramitaa_Hridaya_by_Zhao_Meng_Fu.JPG: Zhao Meng Fuderivative work: Tengu800 (talk) – Prajnyaapaaramitaa_Hridaya_by_Zhao_Meng_Fu.JPG, Public Domain,

White Tara, Tibet, 1644-1911 AD - Sichuan Provincial Museum - Chengdu, China - DSC04498.jpg

White Tara,painting,1644-1911,Tibet, Sichuan Provincial Museum,China.

By Daderot – Own work, Public Domain,

Vajrapani, painting on one side of the Buddha, Cave 1,Ajanta,7th century,Maharashtra.

By Indischer Maler des 7. Jahrhunderts – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,

Vasudhara Mandala, by Jasaraja Jirili, Nepal, dated 1365. Sotheby's.jpg

Vasudhara mandala,14th century,Nepal.

By Jasaraja Jirili – Sotheby’s, Public Domain,







References :

  • Thomas, P/Epics, myths and legends of India, Bombay : D. B. Taraporevala and Sons.


Posted by :

Soma Ghosh


© author