Murals

The project’s visual materials are drawn from the extensive narrative murals situated in an open-air ambulatory space on the second floor of Phuntshokling Monastery’s central building. The painted narratives cover approximately 277 linear feet, creating some 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.

West wall, Panel 1

West wall, Panel 2

North wall, Panel 7

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 into fifteen discrete panels (numbered 1–15), separated by architectural features such as windows and doors.

Panels 1-15 of the “Boundless Array” mural of the Buddha’s life story.

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.

Panel 1, west wall, with narrative divisions.

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.