Zanabazar, The Eternal Light

Scholars highly revere the gift, subtle skill, and genius of Undur Gegeen Zanabazar. Also known as the High Saint, Zanabazar takes his lineage directly from Chinggis Khaan’s Altan Urag or “Golden Clan”. His work within the Oriental Renaissance has been compared to Michelangelo Buonarroti or Leonardo da Vinci.

Undur Gegeen was not only a public figure and scholar but a talented architect and gifted sculptor. He was a remarkable poet, painter and philosopher. His diverse talents, philanthropic views and powerful creativity undoubtedly rank him high amongst the icons of the Western Renaissance. Indeed, his masterpieces – the Five Dhayani Buddhas, Vajradhara, Maitreya, Manzushri, Sita Tara, Siyama Tara and others are still widely admired.

It is believed Zanabazar created the Green Tara through subtle gifts and skills using just a single mold. The Green Tara inspired The Legend of Siyama Tara Who Broke the Word. The statue is said to resemble the appearance of the woman he loved, who was poisoned and left the world too soon. The statue has beautiful almond eyes, a straight nose, full cheeks like those of an infant and sensitive lips completely void of lust or greed. The flexible body presents youthful vigor and gracious movements. Her entire expression, which emanates power, is very different to Taras in the Indian and Tibetan pantheon. In other words, this is an image of a Mongolian woman smiling from the depth of the time.

The Sita Tara – a manifestation of an ordinary woman, is seated on a lotus throne in a full lotus posture with her right hand resting on the right knee and turned outwards in a giving mudra. The lotus grows in the mud of sin but stays pure and innocent. Her face, body, hands and fingers manifest a young but blossoming development symbolically expressed by the lotus flower that is just about to bloom above her left shoulder. This goddess is the common image of Mongolian girls – pure, innocent and shy, touched only by the wind.

Zanabazar’s self-portrait is of particular interest. He depicted himself in the context of Mongol livelihood, with a knife in his hand cutting a cooked sheep’s back. It certainly expresses his solid view on nomads’ strong sense of freedom and respect for traditions. It is said that he created the “teg”-based self-portrait and instructed his disciples to recreate his image only as depicted there.

At the age of 5, Zanabazar was proclaimed leader of Khalkh Mongolia’s Gelugpa Buddhism, and enthroned on the first Bogdo Jebtsundamba’s crown seat. He created the Mongol lamaistic costume, the tone of chanting, innovations in Buddhist architecture and the Buddhist masked Tsam dance. These were all adapted to the nomadic way of life and Mongol mentality, thus developing Buddhism with a Mongolian imprint. Zanabazar’s development of the Soyombo script now appears on the national flag and coat of arms. His distinguishing contributions to other sectors are numerous and cannot all be mentioned here.

The secret to the liveliness of Zanabazar’s artwork was compliance with the “teg” principle, as well as in his ability to have changed the paradigm of empty and expressionless sculpting. At the same time, it is not a secret that many modern artists fail to give liveliness to their artwork. The Buddhist artists and sculptors throughout the Buddhist world unanimously agree that no artist so far has been able to reach the mastery of the High Saint’s level.

History has noted him as having been born to “become the light in the dark realm of the Khalkha land… helping the wicked creatures of five destructive prophecies to overcome evil, being blessed to bring harmony to the people.” Indeed, he has been the intellectual light of Mongolians, and was noted by N.K.Rerih as being a prominent nomad who, through his artwork, presented to the world contemplation on the “very roots of artistic sense of the Mongols,” the nomads’ aesthetic views on art, their worldview and mentality.


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