Event — IIAS/Leiden University Masterclass

Mandalas Intertwined. Reading the Tabo Main Temple

This Masterclass for students is taught by Dr Christian Luczanits, the David L. Snellgrove Senior Lecturer in Tibetan and Buddhist Art at the Department of History of Art and Archaeology, SOAS, University of London.

It is followed on 5 November by a public lecture in the Rijksmuseum by the same speaker, titled 'The Vajradhātu Mandala – Variations on a Theme of Early Esoteric Buddhism'.

The masterclass

The Tabo Main Temple is the earliest Tibetan Buddhist monument which is largely preserved to this day. A good part of its decoration was updated only 46 years after its foundation, most probably in the years before 1042. It was then that the clay sculptures of the Vajradhātu mandala have been added to the Assembly Hall and most of the murals in the Assembly Hall, Cella and Ambulatory have been painted. Only the Entry Hall remained unchanged from the foundation period, as the Hindu and pan-Indian deities represented in this space still fitted the iconographic programme of the renovation. That the sculptures and paintings of the renovation period are indeed a programme has already been shown in many ways, but only recently hitherto unidentified subjects could be fully interpreted and understood within the context of the temple as a whole.

This masterclass will present the iconographic programme, of the Tabo Main Temple in full and in the complex relationship of its different parts. Earlier identified subjects are complemented by the Dharmadhātu mandala assembly as the ‘secret’ main theme of the temple’s decoration, which is intertwined with the Vajradhātu mandala and also explains the characteristics of the Entry Hall and the Ambulatory. Thereby the class will emphasise how the different themes across the monument are to be read and how the spatial configuration communicates hierarchies of importance. The interrelation for the different themes, in turn, provides clues on the distinct interpretations of the depicted themes.

This reading of Tabo Main Temple not only offers a unique glance on the Tibetan adoption and adaptations of Buddhism in the mid-eleventh century that is not reflected in such detail in the extant historical and religious texts, but also demonstrates the huge conceptual gap between Tabo and Borobudur.

The Speaker

Dr Christian Luczanits is the David L. Snellgrove Senior Lecturer in Tibetan and Buddhist Art at the Department of History of Art and Archaeology, SOAS, University of London.


This masterclass is intended for students from the Leiden Institute of Area Studies and other students with a special interest in the topic. 

Please register for this masterclass using the web form on the right-hand side of this page. To prepare for the masterclass, we will send you a digital syllabus, including some background readings.


The Vajradhātu Mandala. Variations on a theme of Early Esoteric Buddhism
Public lecture by Dr Christian Luczanits
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, 5 November 2021, 15:30-17:00

Goddess Dharmameghābhūmi (Dharma Cloud Stage)

Main Temple, Tabo, Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, India; c. 1040; Mineral colours on clay; H. c. 25 cm (photo Jaroslav Poncar 1984).