West wall, Panel 1
West wall, Panel 2
North wall, Panel 7
Site Plan of the “Boundless Array” Murals.

The project’s visual materials are drawn from the extensive narrative mural paintings on the second floor of Puntshokling Monastery’s central building. These visual narratives cover approximately 84.5 linear meters (277 feet), creating some 135 square meters (1450 square feet) of painted surface. The murals depict the entirety of Buddha’s life story as imagined by Tāranātha in his literary work The Sun of Faith.

Architectural Setting

The murals are situated in an open-air ambulatory space on the central building's second floor, a courtyard formed by a series of exterior walls. The space is accessed by one of several doors, in the south-west corner (leading to exterior stairs) and the middle of the north wall (leading to the first floor of the assembly hall). The mural walls are protected by a partial roof, whose overhang extends out approximately three meters into the center of the courtyard.

The roof was renovated in 2010, at which time a wooden screen was added at its edge, thus protecting the murals from water and other elemental damage while letting in natural light. Although access to the space can be controlled via the two doors, the ambulatory courtyard currently forms part of the monastery's public areas and is used to enter the various second-floor chapels.

The murals appear to have been executed in the early 1620s, shortly after Tāranātha finished writing The Sun of Faith. Tāranātha refers to the mural set as “The Boundless Design” (bkos pa mtha’ yas). The mural space is divided into fifteen discrete panels (numbered 1–15), separated by architectural features such as windows and doors

Mural Contents

The narrative vignettes are complex and detailed arrangements, and include a great number of human, divine, and demonic figures, all portrayed with great liveliness and attention. We find lush depictions of flora including varieties of trees, flowering vegetation, and grasses. Scenes unfold in and around architectural structures ranging from ornate royal palaces to simple ascetic’s huts carefully wrought from tree branches and thatch.

The mural narratives closely follow the account in Tāranātha’s Sun of Faith, with the story beginning in the upper southwestern corner of the west wall (Panel 1) with the Buddha’s existence in Heaven as Śvetaketu and his designation of Maitreya as his regent. It then continues in a clockwise direction around the four walls of the courtyard, concluding on the southern wall of the southwest corner with the Buddha’s death, the distribution of his relics, and the early monastic councils.

Explore murals and text

Panel 1, west wall, with narrative divisions.