Event — IIAS/Rijksmuseum Annual Lecture

The Vajradhātu Mandala. Variations on a theme of early esoteric Buddhism

We invite you to join us for this free public lecture at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam by Dr Christian Luczanits. 

The Vajradhātu mandala lies at the root of esoteric Buddhism throughout Asia, yet different variations exist through space and time. In this lecture, Dr Christian Luczanits will explain these differences and how this is important in understanding how mandala images develop. In this, he will pay special attention to the early monuments of Alchi Monastery, Ladakh, India.

The Lecture

Among all esoteric Buddhist subjects, the Vajradhātu mandala* occupies a pivotal place. It not only introduced the decisive series of the five esoteric Buddhas but also spread throughout the Buddhist world. From the eighth to the twelfth centuries, it effectively represented esoteric Buddhism.

As is typical for early esoteric Buddhist topics, neither the concept of the five Buddhas nor the mandala itself are static entities. Various ideas of five Buddhas occupying a cosmic space are conflated. Local interpretations result in different iconographic solutions, and newer esoteric Buddhist trends impact the understanding of the mandala itself.

In this lecture, Dr Christian Luczanits will introduce the Vajradhātu mandala and its variations across time and space. He will demonstrate the wide relevance of this topic, its importance for understanding how mandala depictions develop and how newer esoteric Buddhist ideas impact its appearance in Tibetan Buddhism. The speaker will also present expressions of this mandala from across the ancient Buddhist world and explain the existing variations represented in the early monuments of Alchi Monastery. This monastery in Ladakh, India, boasts murals dating back to the late 12th and early 13th centuries.

* The Vajradhātu Mandala is a shorthand for the main mandala of the Compendium of Principles of all Tathāgatas Tantra (Sarvatathāgatatattvasaṃgrahatantra). 

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.


14:45 – 15:30 registration, coffee/tea

15:30 – 15:40 Welcome by Anna Slaczka, curator of South-Asian art at the Rijksmuseum

15:40 – 16:30 Lecture by Dr. Christian Luczanits, SOAS

16.30 – 17:00 Questions and answers, guided by Anna Slaczka


You are warmly invited to join this lecture by Dr Christian Luczanits public lecture in the Rijksmuseum on Friday 5 November 2021. Admission is free, but registration is required. Please use the web form on the right-hand side of this page.


Dr Christian Luczanits will teach a masterclass for students on 4 November 2021, titled, Mandalas Intertwined. Reading the Tabo Main Temple,

Vajradhātu mandala

Vajradhātu mandala

Central Tibet, early 12th century; Pigments on cloth, 125 x 125 cm Private collection (Image courtesy of Rossi & Rossi).