Newari Mandala of The Sun God Surya with Multiple Gods (Brocadeless Thangka)

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Every ancient civilization from its earliest days has exalted the Sun, the source of life-affirming light and energy as an all-powerful divine entity. In Hindu and Buddhist tradition, the ruler of the nine planets or Navagraha is known as Surya, the mentions of whose mighty rays go back to the Nava Graha Stotram of sage Veda Vyasa, who connects the radiant Surya Deva with a red “Japakusum” or Hibiscus flower. Following the development of Hinduism, the Sun god began to be worshipped in the Panchayatana (Pancha- five, Ayatana-alters)  form- with Surya in the center, surrounded by other deities and heavenly bodies. 

(Masterpiece from The Collection of Rajendra Raj Bajracharya)

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Item Code: PAA828
Dimensions 31.50 inch Height X 21.30 inch Width
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In such evocations, Surya is seen as the destroyer of sins and the bestower of divine energies. This expansive glory of Surya is not restricted to Hinduism only. Just as his rays travel far and wide, the Sun god and his Panchayatana form of worship reached the culturally rich and artistically gifted land of the Newars who were skilled in the art of making Mandalas and had a system established around the worship of planetary bodies to gain merits. From the amalgamation of Hindu-Buddhist traditions in the Newari Thangkas, treasures like this Surya Mandala Thangka were actualized. 

The idea behind making a Mandala is to bring order to time and space, which is constantly and discernibly affected by the movement of the Navagrahas in their orbits, hence the motive for drawing a Graha or Planetary Mandala is to ensure that the movement of these celestial bodies brings positive impact on the life of the person who commissions the Mandala Thangka. In a Newari Graha Mandala Thangka, the central space is taken by one of the two main planetary gods- the Sun and the Moon (Chandra), with the Surya Mandala being a rarity in comparison to the Chandra Mandala. In this Surya Mandala Thangka, the central space of the eight petal lotus (a symbol of life and human consciousness in Hinduism and Buddhism) is taken by a resplendent Surya with a red-hued body, worshipped in the Newari tradition as a form of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara who oversees the mortal realm from his heavenly abode.  Adorned with kingly fineries of striking yellow and golden shades, the two-armed Surya gracefully holds two fully blossomed lotuses. According to cultural beliefs, the lotus is closely associated with the Sun god, whose daily arrival results in the blossoming of these fragrant flowers and instills action in the human mind.  Surya is also considered a form of Padmapani, the lotus-bearing aspect of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, as mentioned in the Karandavyuha Sutra, according to which Surya is one of the many Hindu gods who emerged from the body of Lokeshvara. 

Riding the golden chariot of the Sun god in this Newari Surya Mandala Thangka is Aruna who gracefully holds the reigns tied to the seven horses of Sun, the embodiment of the seven days. Draped in attire that matches the colorful dhoti (lower body garment) of Surya are his wives, Usha and Pratyusha, goddesses of dusk and dawn, carrying bows to shoot arrows fashioned out of the rays of Sun to drive away the darkness. Inside the primary circle of the Surya Mandala, behind the consorts of Surya, his attendants holding flying whisks can be seen. The circle that follows contains the eight planetary gods, each situated inside a single, aureole-like petal of the lotus, seated on their respective mounts. In the third section of this Newari Surya Mandala are the 28 Nakshatras or constellations that form an important part of the retinue of the solar deity. The area outside the lotus-shaped Mandala bordered by a thin yellow outline contains the four Hindu divinities that complete the Panchayatana- Pancha (five), ayatana (altar)- Sri Vishnu in the northeast, Devi in the southeast, Shiva in the southwest, and Ganesha or Vinayaka in the northwest corner. Around these deities, Buddhist auspicious symbols or the Ashtamangala and other motifs fill the interiors of the square.

On the top of the Surya Mandala Newari Thangka, three parallel rows of various Hindu and Buddhist deities and revered beings are drawn with detailed attention to their features. Two vertical rows on the left and right sides respectively, and two horizontal rows below the Mandala, of powerful deities, imbue the Thangka with an extraordinary spiritual feel. In the lowermost section, a ceremony in the honor of the Sun god is depicted, with a Vajracharya (an acharya or master in Tibetan Buddhism who oversees Tantric rituals) priest conducting a Yajna or fire sacrifice on the left, the donor involved in some ritual in the center while his kin members, seated on the right observe the scene.

The detailing of this Newari Surya Mandala is spellbinding, with a remarkable number of divinities gracing the canvas, each one of them presented according to the prevalent artistic and religious tradition. The profusion of a pleasing red color in the Thangka and its thick border has infused it with the hibiscus-hued glow of Surya himself, gazing at whose splendid form, subtly moves the inner realm of our consciousness. With the five deities (Surya, Ganesha, Vishnu, Shiva, and Devi) who represent the five building elements or Pancha Skandha (form, sensation, conception, desire, and conscience) behind the Universe dignifying the Thangka, this Newari Surya Mandala is the truest visualization of the macrocosm in a microcosm.  

How are Thangkas made?

A Thangka is a traditional Tibetan Buddhist painting that usually depicts a Buddhist Deity (Buddha or Bodhisattva), a scene, or a mandala. These paintings are considered important paraphernalia in Buddhist rituals. They are used to teach the life of the Buddha, various lamas, and Bodhisattvas to the monastic students, and are also useful in visualizing the deity while meditating. One of the most important subjects of thangkas is the Bhavacakra (the wheel of life) which depicts the Art of Enlightenment. It is believed that Thangka paintings were developed over the centuries from the murals, of which only a few can be seen in the Ajanta caves in India and the Mogao caves in Gansu Province, Tibet.

Thangkas are painted on cotton or silk applique and are usually small in size. The artist of these paintings is highly trained and has a proper understanding of Buddhist philosophy, knowledge, and background to create a realistic and bona fide painting.
The process of making a thangka begins with stitching a loosely woven cotton fabric onto a wooden frame. Traditionally, the canvas was prepared by coating it with gesso, chalk, and base pigment. Image
After this, the outline of the form of the deity is sketched with a pencil or charcoal onto the canvas using iconographic grids. The drawing process is followed in accordance with strict guidelines laid out in Buddhist scriptures. The systematic grid helps the artist to make a geometrical and professional painting. When the drawing of the figures is finalized and adjusted, it is then outlined with black ink. Image
Earlier, a special paint of different colors was made by mixing powdered forms of organic (vegetable) and mineral pigments in a water-soluble adhesive. Nowadays, artists use acrylic paints instead. The colors are now applied to the sketch using the wet and dry brush techniques. One of the characteristic features of a thangka is the use of vibrant colors such as red, blue, black, green, yellow, etc. Image
In the final step, pure gold is coated over some parts of the thangka to increase its beauty. Due to this beautification, thangkas are much more expensive and also stand out from other ordinary paintings. Image
Thangka paintings are generally kept unrolled when not on display on the wall. They also come with a frame, a silken cover in front, and a textile backing to protect the painting from getting damaged. Because Thangkas are delicate in nature, they are recommended to be kept in places with no excess moisture and where there is not much exposure to sunlight. This makes them last a long time without their colors fading away. Painting a thangka is an elaborate and complex process and requires excellent skills. A skilled artist can take up to 6 months to complete a detailed thangka painting. In earlier times, thangka painters were lamas that spent many years on Buddhist studies before they painted.
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