Seeking Shambhala: The Mythical Kings of Shambhala
In 1906, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts acquired a set of 17th-century Tibetan paintings depicting the mythical Shambhala kings. The exhibition featured newly-conserved thangka paintings of the Rigden (or Kalki) Kings of Shambhala. The Museum has generously agreed to let Shambhala display these important thangkas online, and we are delighted to present them here.
Deep within central Asia – according to ancient Tibetan Buddhist texts – hidden by mist and a ring of snow-covered peaks lies a fabulous kingdom called Shambhala. It’s a mystical, visionary place ruled by a lineage of thirty-two kings. Their charge: to uphold the Kalachakra Tantra, a sacred teaching passed from the Buddha to Shambhala’s first king. Emphasizing transformation and enlightenment, it also tells of a world descended into chaos and war and of one king who will emerge from Shambhala to restore order and prosperity.
Only the worthy can find Shambhala and enter. This exhibition examines that search through artworkds that invoke the spirit of the journey and the place itself. In thiis gallery, early objects join recent works by Tibetan Gonkar Gyatso and Japan’s Tadanori Yokoo to explore Shambhala across time and place. At the heart of the exhibition are twenty-two paintings of Shambhala’s kings, part of an incomplete set from the 17th century acquired by the MFA in 11906. They are shown here newly-conserved and restored for the first time to their traditional formats as thangkas or hanging scrolls.
Long associated in Western culture with Shangri-la, the utopia where peace reigns, wealth abounds and there is no illness. Shambhala has fascinated, inspired, even obsessed individuals for centuries. Contemporary society is no exception. The journey to understand Shambhala – and to arrive there – continues today.
Twenty-two of the thirty-two Rigden Kings are displayed, including the first, Dawa Sangpo or “Suchandra,” who received the Kalachakra teachings from the Buddha.