Three Families

The central passage between the Assembly Hall and the Cella (Dritsangkhang དྲི་གཙང་ཁང་) is both higher and wider, opening up into a space between the two main images of the temple facing each other, namely the meditating Vairocana in the Cella and the four-fold Vairocana behind the altar in the Assembly Hall (◊ Cella). The Cella was built higher than the rest of the building to allow for a window to illuminate its main image.

Inside the Cella, the central meditating Buddha is flanked by two standing Bodhisattvas with their backs towards the side walls. Because of the red body-colour and the gesture of meditation (dhyānamudrā), the Buddha is today interpreted as Amitābha. 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. In addition, four deities—two of them flying and the other two torsos only—offer flowers to the main image (◊ Main Wall). The side walls are dominated by the standing images of the Bodhisattvas Avalokiteśvara (◊ Left Wall) and Vajrasattva (◊ Right Wall), the Bodhisattvas that head the lotus and vajra families in three-family configurations. Two additional Bodhisattvas of unclear identity are placed opposite each other in the central passage (◊ Passage).

From both the stylistic comparisons as well as the evidence within the Main Temple itself—the construction of the passage, the moulds from the mandala group used with Cella sculptures, and the iconography of the main image—it can be assumed that the Cella sculptures were created during 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.

Cella Paintings

Each main sculpture is flanked by two standing goddesses, the identity of which is still an enigma. Their identification has not been made easier by a number of cleaning efforts and restorations distorting them today. As far as one can tell, the goddesses may well have been chosen in association with the respective family, but more work needs to be done to ascertain their identity. The goddesses are accompanied by a donor depiction in the same style in the bottom right corner of the right wall. These paintings share a similar linear painting style the exact temporal placement of which is difficult to ascertain. These paintings are collected in a separate gallery (◊ Goddesses).

The areas above the sculptures are filled with the thousand Buddha theme, some of them identified by caption. On each side wall, four Buddhas are singled out and represented much larger than the others. Again, the style differs from that used on the outer wall of the Cella and their age cannot be ascertained precisely.

The paintings on the ceiling of the Cella are of the same type as those in the Ambulatory, their motives adjusted to the available space (◊ Cella Ceiling). Again lotus blossoms alternate with flying deities holding diverse offerings. These, too, are contemporaneous with the foundation.