Achi Association
  • Temple before restoration in 2000
  • Temple interior before conservation
  • Painting detail of north wall

KANJI –€“ Tsuglag-khang

General view of the Kanji interior.

General view of the Kanji interior;
photo Christian Luczanits.

Description of paintings and sculpture

by Christian Luczanits

The interior walls of the Kanji Temple are all decorated. On the back wall three larger-thanlive sized sculptures sit side by side on a common throne platform while the wall behind them and all the remaining walls are covered with painting.

The Sculptures

Most apparent are certainly the three larger-than-ife sculptures at the back wall depicting the four-armed Ṣaḍakṣaralokeśvara / Chenrezik Yigedrupa (sPyan-ras-gzigs Yi-ge-drug-pa) in the centre flanked by the Medicine Buddha / Menla (sMan-bla) and a Green Tārā / Dölma Changu (Grol-ma ljang-gu). The two male deities sit with their legs fully crossed (vajrāsana) on the lotus cushion, while the goddess sits in a more relaxed fashion with her right leg placed on a footstool that is made up of a small lotus. The lotus cushions are placed on a platform built along the whole wall, the recessed basement of is structured by small pillars. Between these pillars the vehicle of the deity has been painted but only a fragment of this painting has escaped the whitewash covering most of the platform. The front of the platform is decorated with separately moulded and attached lotus blossoms.

Left and right section of the Main Wall with the main image of Avalokiteśvara obscured by the rooms central pillar.
Left and right section of the Main Wall with the main image of Avalokiteśvara obscured by the rooms central pillar.

Left and right section of the Main Wall with the main image of Avalokiteśvara obscured by the rooms central pillar;
photos Christian Luczanits.

The white four-armed form of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara occupying the centre is a personification of the six syllable mantra ōṃ maṇi padme hūṃ (Ṣaḍakṣaralokeśvara). As is common with this deity he has the main arms in the gesture of veneration (añjalimudrā) in front of the body and holds a rosary in the second right and a lotus in the second left hand. The rosary that may once have been made of another material is lost today. The deity wears a cloth around the hip reaching below the knees and extensive jewellery including a five-pointed crown.

The Medicine Buddha is blue, wears a monk’s robes and has no attributes today. Commonly he holds a fruit in the right hand in front of the shank and a bowl in the left one on the lap. He is depicted with a large cranial protuberance (uṣṇīṣa) with a flame shaped top.

The dark green goddess wears the same jewellery as Avalokiteśvara except that her loincloth (dhotī) is considerably shorter and thus does not cover the knee. In both hands, the right one with the palm towards the viewer in front of the knee and the left one in front of the breast, she holds the stalk of the blue lotuses at the side of her shoulders.

The Murals

All painted surface is structured in sections by dark yellow borders that set off the black background. In the corners a strip has been left undecorated with only the background colour painted in.

The top and bottom of the painted surfaces are decorated with common border motifs. At the top there is a row of geese and a valance motif representing a hanging cloth. The valance has three colours, red blue-green and pink from top to bottom, and has streamers at the points where it would be attached to the top. At the streamers the two top colours are reversed. The geese and the valance probably continued all along the walls, although the valance is interrupted by the large main beam, and the geese by all the cross beams that enter the wall at their height.

The bottom was once concluded by a border motif that has now partly been uncovered by the conservation team (> graphic in the Conservation Report).

Composite being of human and bird playing a trumpet, part of Avalokiteśvara’s throne decoration.

Composite being of human and bird playing a trumpet, part of Avalokiteśvara’s throne decoration;
photo Christian Luczanits.

Main or North Wall

On the main wall the painting depicts the throne backs of the main sculptures, the one of the central image being considerably larger than those of the side figures. Each of these backs is placed against a red background forming a halo around the sculptures. On top of the head-nimbuses sits the mythical king of the birds (garuḍa) with the tails of two snake-beings (nāga) in his peak. The sides are formed by lotus pillars on which composite creatures with a human body and bird’s wings, tail and feet (kinnara; occasionally also called garuḍa as a class of beings) stand. The tail of these kinnara is transformed into an artful spiral or volute. A more realistic throne-back is painted behind the Buddha with cloth covering its frame and a back cushion placed against it. Geese stand on the cross-bar of the back , their tails form volutes along the nimbus covering the space between the geese and the snakes devouring garuḍa on the top.

The remaining space between the smaller backs of the side images and the upper valance is covered with the common Kagyüpa lineage starting in the left corner with the Ādibuddha Vajradhara. Seven figures of this lineage – including Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa and Milarepa – are represented above the Medicine Buddha and seven more not individualized teachers continue it above Tārā.

Left Side Wall or West Wall

The two side walls are dominated by two mandalas each covering half the respective walls. On the left side wall the space between them and underneath the main beam is covered by repeated depictions of Akṣobhya in rows of two, two rows between the beam and its support and at least nine more rows underneath. A considerable portion of the lower section is lost due to damage caused by humidity in the wall, mostly only the white grounding layer is preserved.

The two mandalas on the left side wall, the mandala dedicated to Vajrasattva on the left and the Amitāyus mandala on the right.
The two mandalas on the left side wall, the mandala dedicated to Vajrasattva on the left and the Amitāyus mandala on the right.

The two mandalas on the left side wall, the mandala dedicated to Vajrasattva on the left and the Amitāyus mandala on the right;
photos Christian Luczanits.

To the left (west side south section) is a mandala dedicated to Vajrasattva who is depicted in the centre of a four petalled lotus-circle surrounded by four squares. On the petals the main Bodhisattva of the respective Buddha families are shownin the colours and attributes of the families. The eastern Bodhisattva, Vajrasattva, is shown white. In the following square the Jinas of the directions are each flanked by two Buddhas in monastic dress commonly also performing the gesture of the Jina (clockwise from the east: earth-touching, teaching, giving, giving, meditating, meditating, fearlessness, fearlessness). In the corners sit four goddesses of offering, a group that is complemented by the four goddesses in the corners of the second square. In this square 32 Bodhisattvas are depicted, eight on each side. The central four of these are the 16 vajra-Bodhisattvas in their regular succession while the outer four vary, often but not consistently in an iconography that is adjusted to the direction they are housing in. The third square is occupied by 12 Pratyekabuddhas and 16 Hearers (śrāvaka) dressed in monk’s robes. The Pratyekabuddhas sit in the corners and flank the gate and are recognizable by their cranial protuberance (uṣṇīṣa). They perform different gestures with the right hand and hold the begging-bowl in the left. The hearers are seated between them and hold a rattle-stick (kakkhara) and a begging-bowl. The gates are occupied by the fierce gate-keepers Vajrāṅkuśa and the others. Outside the palace the ring of the mandala is occupied by the guardians of the directions, including gods for zenith and nadir, and the Four Great Kings.

Outside the mandala four deities are flanked by two Buddhas of Akṣobhya’s iconography each. In the bottom left corner is a standing four-armed Bodhisattva at which no attributes are recognizable, possibly representing Maitreya. In the upper left corner is a four-armed, orange Mañjuśrī in the regular iconography (sword and book on lotus, arrow and bow). In the upper right corner is a goddess holding a sword and a book and in the lower right is a four-armed form of the goddess Prajñāpāramitā.

The right mandala (west wall north section) is dedicated to the Buddha of long live, Amitāyus. This mandala only consists of the central four petalled lotus in a circle and the palace. Amitāyus is surrounded by the four Jinas of the directions in their respective colour but all meditating, the eastern one apparently again white. In the corners around the central circle are the four inner offering goddesses flanked by the Eight Auspicious Symbols. The gates are again occupied by Vajrāṅkuśa and the others.

Blue goddess with sword and book.

Blue goddess with sword and book;
photo Christian Luczanits.

The almost vanished depiction of the goddess Prajñāpāramitā.

The almost vanished depiction of the goddess Prajñāpāramitā;
photo Christian Luczanits.

Padmasabhava or Guru Rinpoche.

Padmasabhava or Guru Rinpoche;
photo Christian Luczanits.

Unidentified teacher, possibly Drigungpa.

Unidentified teacher, possibly Drigungpa;
photo Christian Luczanits.

Outside the mandala are: a standing eight-armed green Tārā, performing the teaching gesture with the main pair of hands and holding a lotus and a three-pointed stick (tridaṇḍa) in the upper hands. In the top left corner is Padmasaṃbhava or Guru Rinpoche and in the upper right corner an unidentifiable teacher, possibly representing Drigungpa. In the lower left corner is a two-armed white Avalokiteśvara performing the gesture of giving and holding a lotus. Each of them is again flanked by two Akṣobhyas.

To the right of the Amitāyus mandala in the corner are 11 rows of two Akṣobhyas.

Below the Amitāyus mandala a part of an extensive donor assembly is preserved. The longer upper row of figures is fairly well preserved while the second row is in a poor state of preservation.

Section of the donor depiction on the west wall underneath the Amitāyus mandala, male figures in the upper row and females in the lower row.

Section of the donor depiction on the west wall underneath the Amitāyus mandala, male figures in the upper row and females in the lower row;
photo Christian Luczanits.

Right or East Wall

The composition on the right side wall (east wall) mirrors that of the left with two mandalas taking most of the space and repeated Akṣobhyas in rows of two (2+8) between them.

The left mandala (east wall, north section) is dedicated to the teaching Buddha Śākyamuni dressed in monastic robes and bejewelled seated within an eight-petalled lotus. In the surrounding circle of eight deities are the four Jinas, the one in the east again white, performing the regular gestures (mudrā). Between them are Bodhisattvas holding the following attributes: disk, sword, banner, umbrella. Four offering goddesses are seated in the corners between this circle and the surrounding square of deities where four more offering goddesses are placed into the corners. In the square the 16 Bodhisattvas are depicted, each of them carrying a distinctive attribute. In the gates are again Vajrāṅkuśa and the others.

In the corners around the mandala are an unusual three-headed and two-armed form of Avalokiteśvara holding a disk and a flask(?). The middle head is fierce and blue while the upper one is that of Buddha Amitābha. The red two-armed standing Bodhisattva in the upper left corner holds a rosary (mālā) in the right hand in front of the breast while the left pendant arm has no attribute, but likely was meant to hold a flask. This is a form of the Bodhisattva Maitreya. A Bodhisattva of exactly the same iconography also occupies the upper right corner. In the bottom right corner is a standing eleven-headed, 22-armed form of Avalokiteśvara. The upper ones of these deities have four Akṣobhyas around them, the lower ones only two.

Right and left section of the right side wall with the mandalas of Amitāyus and Śākyamuni.
Right and left section of the right side wall with the mandalas of Amitāyus and Śākyamuni.

Right and left section of the right side wall with the mandalas of Amitāyus and Śākyamuni;
photos Christian Luczanits.

Underneath the mandala is a long inscription panel that begins in front of the platform for the sculptures and ends to the left of the eleven-headed Avalokiteśvara. On the other side of this Bodhisattva begins a depiction of the Life of the Buddha with the Bodhisattva teaching in Tuṣita-heaven. The Life of the Buddha continues along this wall and the whole entry wall. It may have also covered the bottom of the left wall.

The badly damaged second mandala (east wall, south section) on this wall is the Mandala of the Elimination of [Rebirth in the] Lower Destinies (Durgatipariśodhanamaṇḍala) with a four-faced meditating Vairocana in the centre. His faces are coloured according the direction. Around him are the four Jinas of the direction and their partners. In the next circle are the 16 vajra-Bodhisattvas. Inside the vajra-circle are the first four offering goddesses, again complemented by those in the following square. The central circle is surrounded by two squares, the inner one with the 16 Bodhisattvas of the fortunate aeon and the outer one with the 12 Pratyekabuddhas and the 16 Hearers.

Outside the mandala circle, but iconographically part of it are the possible states of rebirth with the hells in the lower left, the hungry ghosts in the upper left, the animals in the upper right and the demi-gods (asura) fighting the gods (deva) in the lower right corner. A Bodhisattva sits in the hell and a female in local dress in the realm of the hungry ghosts.

The two mandalas on the entry wall to the sides of the door.
The two mandalas on the entry wall to the sides of the door.

The two mandalas on the entry wall to the sides of the door;
photos Christian Luczanits.

Entry Wall

The entry wall, too, features two mandalas to the sides of the door. In general the wall is in fairly poor condition with large section damaged by water intrusions. What has been painted above the door, presumably a seated Mahākāla and attendant deities, is nearly completely lost with only the row of riders to his right partly and small strips of the main figure currently visible. A cleaning test area uncovered the raven-headed manifestation of the same protector, the cleaning of this and other sections of the entry wall may therefore reveal elements currently unrecognizable.

At the current stage the left mandala (south wall, east section) is practically unrecognizable. Only the secondary deities that occur in a large number of mandalas are preserved. Given the location of the mandala, it can be assumed that the central deity is a fierce one, but it is not preserved. This lost central figure is again placed in the centre of a four petalled lotus circle. On the petals are seated Bodhisattvas(?). In the corners around this circle and of the following square are again the eight goddesses of offering, and in front of the gates are the four usual gate-keepers.

Around the mandala, to its left and below it are again repeated representations of Akṣobhya. The central Buddha(?) between the two rows at the bottom is lost, and a strip underneath the Buddhas possibly shows dancing goddesses. Underneath are scenes from the Life of the Buddha.

Center and north gate of the better preserved Vajrapāṇi mandala.

Center and north gate of the better preserved
Vajrapāṇi mandala;
photo Christian Luczanits.

The mandala to the right of the door (south wall, west section) is considerably better preserved and dedicated possibly to Vajrapāṇi. He is blue, stands with the right leg bent and holds a bell in the left hand (the right is not preserved well enough. In the circle surrounding him are twelve more fierce deities, approximately half of them preserved. In the corners are the four inner offering goddesses and the four gate-keepers occupy the doors.

This mandala is surrounded by repeated representations of Buddha Amitābha. At the bottom are two rows of the same Buddha with a large central one. The lotus with the central sitting Buddha is flanked by six goddesses each of them playing an instrument and/or dancing. The scenes from the Life of the Buddha are extremely fragmentary in this section.