The Thangkas of The Tibetan Medicine
Created between 1687 and 1703, these thangka paintings were commissioned by the fifth Dalai Lama’s regent, Desi Sangye Gyatso, who stepped in as interim ruler of Tibet after the Dalai Lama died in 1682.
The paintings constitute the charts of The Blue Beryl, a text written by Gyatso as commentary of the Four Tantras, the fundamental text of Tibetan medicine.
The main reason that moved Gyatso to create this illustrations was to avoid confusion when interpreting old texts.
Gyatso placed great value on the accuracy of the illustrations depicting such things as the use of omens and dreams for making diagnoses, hundreds of medicinal herbs and medical instruments, and fabulous diagrams of human anatomy.
As stated by the International Academy for Traditional Tibetan Medicine (IATTM) “one of the unique features of Traditional Tibetan Medicine is that it contains a comprehensive philosophy, cosmology, and system of subtle anatomy with associated spiritual practices”.
Today these Thangkas constitute a fundamental piece of educational art that interweave Tibetan Buddhist traditions with centuries-old medical knowledge.
The first painting occupies a privileged place among the others which, in a certain sense, derive from it. It represents the celestial city of the Buddha Bhaisajyaguru, Master of Remedies “Surdasana”. The city is surrounded by four “mountains”. Further more it is square with the palace at its center. The palace, like the whole locality, is an emanation of Buddha Bhaisajyaguru. Its plan evokes a Mandala, with its square enclosure and its four gates oriented in the cardinal directions.
The thangkas not only depict the Buddhist background of Tibetan medicine but also the diagnostic schemes of pulse and urine analysis, picturesque representations of dietary and behavioral advice for treating illnesses, as well as anatomical knowledge,charts for moxabustion, and the elaborate “materia medica” of Tibetan pharmacology.
In fact Twenty-one Thangkas of the original series are devoted to more large human figures illustrating anatomical structures.
The first fifteen compositions have a top register. The registers contain the four main sequential topics relating to the origin myths and state narrative on the Tibetan History of Medicine of the late 17th century.
There are four main sequential topics contained in the registers:
- Medicine Buddha and early Indian Gods and Rishis.
- The Lineage of the Four Medical Tantras.
- The Yutog Nyingtig Lineage.
- The Deities and Protectors of the Yutog Nyingtig.
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