The central passage between the Assembly Hall and the Cella is both higher and wider, opening up into a space between the two main images of the temple: the meditating Tathagata in the Cella and the four-fold Vairocana behind the altar in the Assembly Hall. The small Cella was built higher than the rest of the building to allow for a window to illuminate the main image and its entourage.

Cella Sculptures

Inside the Cella, the central Tathagata is flanked by two standing Bodhisattva with their backs towards the side walls. Because of the red body-colour and the meditation gesture (dhyanamudra), he is today interpreted as Buddha Amitabha. However, as the lion throne indicates, the image originally represented an ancient form of Buddha Vairocana in which he holds a wheel in the gesture of meditation.

He is flanked by the Bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara/Padmapani and Vajrasattva/Vajrapani, the Bodhisattvas that head the lotus and vajra families in three-family configurations. In addition, four deities—two of them flying and the other two torsos only—offer flowers to the main image. Two additional Bodhisattvas of unclear identity are placed opposite each other in the central passage (◊ Tabo Cella Sculpture Gallery).

Within the Cella the sculptures are flanked by painted offering goddesses, with repeated Buddha images represented above them.

From both the stylistic comparisons as well as the evidence within the Main Temple itself—the question of the construction in the passage, the moulds from the mandala group used in the Cella sculptures, and the iconography of the main image—it can be assumed that the Cella group as still preserved today belongs to the time of the foundation of the temple in the late 10th century.

  • Luczanits, Christian. 2004. Buddhist Sculpture in Clay: Early Western Himalayan Art, late 10th to early 13th centuries. Chicago: Serindia.