Taima Mandala (The Pure Land of the Buddha Amida)


Taima Mandala (The Pure Land of the Buddha Amida)

Paintings / Kamakura

Kamakura period, 14th century

Color on silk



Mandalas are visual depictions of the Buddhist pantheon. A particularly famous woven mandala, called the Taima Mandala, has been passed down for centuries at Taima-dera Temple in Nara Prefecture. Allegedly created in the 8th century, the Taima Mandala is designated as a National Treasure. The mandala depicts the Pure Land, the paradise of the buddha Amida, as described in a sacred Buddhist text called a sutra, and also portrays an episode from the same sutra. The school of Pure Land Buddhism flourished from the 12th to early 14th century, and many miniature depictions of the Taima Mandala were created during this time. This painting is one of those miniatures, named after the original Taima Mandala still owned by Taima-dera Temple.

In the center of the mandala is the Pure Land. The buddha Amida sits in its center, preaching. He is flanked by two attendant bodhisattvas: Kannon and Seishi. They are surrounded by a crowd of people who have gathered to hear Amida’s teachings. The Pure Land is richly depicted using a gold paint made from a mixture of powdered gold and animal glue.

The episode from the sutra is portrayed along the edges of the painting like the panels of a comic strip. It is the tale of a woman beset by tragedy who longs for the Pure Land and prays to see it with her own eyes. The buddha Shaka, the founder of Buddhism, then teaches her how to do so. The story begins in the bottom left corner and runs up the edge of the painting. It then continues down from the top right corner, and the conclusion runs along the bottom of the painting from left to right.

Trying to imagine what the Pure Land is like and what the details of the story are adds to the enjoyment of viewing this work.

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