Early Forms of the Mandala

The earliest mandalas related to Tibetan Buddhism can be traced back to the seventh to ninth centuries, a very formative period for the tradition. Some of these early works bear little resemblance to the familiar mandala form. In earlier representations, such as the one shown here, four deities would often be symmetrically arranged to the left, right, top, and bottom of a central deity. In the mind of the initiated observer these paintings represent a three-dimensional space with accompanying deities positioned at four cardinal points surrounding a central figure.

Five-deity Mandala of Amoghapasha
Mogao Caves, Dunhuang, Gansu Province, China;
8th–9th century
Ink and pigments on silk
Musée des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet, Paris