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The Invisible World

Deities and Demons

Hanging (thangka) Zoomify

Systems of religious belief around the world have widely varying ways to represent the principles of good and evil. In Vajrayana, the branch of Buddhism prevalent in Tibet, stories of the path to enlightenment are populated with incarnations of deities battling demons, which symbolize the human emotions that must be conquered to achieve enlightenment.

About the Object

Object name: Hanging (thangka)
Place made: Tibet
Date made: 1870-1890
Dimensions: 120 x 69 cm
Materials & Techniques: Silk, woven in brocade weave and embroidered with silk floss and metal thread; leather
Credit line: Gift of Fred Braida
ID: T87.0733

A thangka, or banner such as this one, is made to hang in a Tibetan monastery or family altar, or to be carried by monks in processions. Stories depicted on thangka teach important Buddhist tenets and act both as centerpieces for rituals and as meditation tools.

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Animation

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Slide Show

Symbolic Meanings in the Thangka

A Tibetan thangka follows a prescribed form in which every object has symbolic meaning. In the central section of this hanging, the deity Nyama Ozer sits in a customary position wearing a tiger skin to symbolize his ability to control his wild impulses. The demon he crushes symbolizes the “inner states” that prevent one from achieving enlightenment, while the deer skin he sits on represents tranquility to enhance meditation. Nyama Ozer holds his left hand in a mystic gesture called a mudra; his fingers issue rays of the sun to remove the darkness of ignorance. His sceptre, with severed heads and a skull on it, is a ritual staff called a khatvanga.

Khatvanga

Symbolic meanings in the thangka

Image title: Khatvanga
Credit: Drawing by Amber Yared

Mudra

Symbolic meanings in the thangka

Image title: Mudra
Credit: Drawing by Amber Yared

Mudra

Symbolic meanings in the thangka

Image title: Mudra
Credit: Drawing by Amber Yared

Mudra Sofa Chair

Symbolic meanings in the thangka

Image title: Mudra Sofa Chair
Credit: Image Courtesy of Asela Jayarathne

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Audio Clip

Tibetan Music

Listen to the song “Mountain Echo” by Tibetan musician Amchok Gompo Dhondup

Credit: Audio Courtesy of Amchok Gompo Dhondup

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Artifact Narrative

The Vajra

The border of a thangka is made of silk brocade, patterned with double vajra, or thunderbolts. The Vajra has several meanings but its most obscure significance is as the emblem of Vajrayana, or Diamond World, which allegedly cuts through our delusions. This important Tibetan Buddhist symbol also appears as a resist-dyed pattern in the monk’s robe shown here. The vajra, brought to Tibet by the great guru Padmasambhava, is also a magic wand wielded by powerful deities. In the double vajra, one thunderbolt crosses another with the wheel of fire in the centre.

Robe

Robe

Place made: Tibet
Date made: 1900-1930
Dimensions: 149 x 182 cm
Materials & Techniques: Wool, woven, tie-dyed and sewn
Credits: TMC purchase
ID: T87.0128

Collection Connections

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Hanging

Hanging

ID*: T2006.37.13

Food cover (rumal)

Food cover (rumal)

ID*: T94.0816

Wall hanging

Wall hanging

ID*: T84.0072