Thinking Outside the Nesting Boxes: The Ninth-Century Chinese Mandalas and Reliquaries from the Underground


Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships


History of Art and Architecture


I study ninth-century Chinese mandalas with a focus on the nesting reliquaries enshrining the Buddha's fingerbones discovered in the Famen-monastery crypt, west of Xi'an, patronized by the Tang emperors and last sealed in 874. The reliquaries contain the paradigmic Womb and Diamond Mandalas, the earliest surviving examples in China. The study bridges the gap in the mandala pedigree originated in India, conceptualized by Indian Tantric masters in China in the eighth century, and preserved largely in Japan following Kukai's return in 807. Little is known of the Tang mandalas of the metropolitan China of the ninth century, which was the crucial period in the formation and transmisson of mandalas. This contextual study pushes mandala scholarship beyond general exposition.