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Visualizing the Non-Buddhist Other: A Historical Analysis of the Shambhala Myth in Mongolia at the Turn of the Twentieth Century


The huge Shambhala thangka preserved at the National Gallery in Prague, Czech Republic, is allegedly of Tibetan origin and dates to the nineteenth century. The conventional depiction of the realm of Shambhala in this thangka shows some surprisingly unconventional details in the scenes that illustrate the battle between the infidels and the Buddhist warriors led by Raudracakrin, the last ruler (kalki) of Shambhala. These details hint at a possible Mongolian origin. This article examines the visual aspects of the Shambhala myth as depicted in the Prague thangka, paying special attention to the representation of the final battle and the so-called enemies of the dharma. By engaging with textual, visual, and performative sources that inform the Prague thangka, the author argues that the production of knowledge in the visual language of the thangka is tied to the emerging conditions of globality, incorporating local life-worlds in the context of religious encounters, trade relations, and political negotiations. Keywords: Mongolia, Tibet, Shambhala, Prague thangka, Kālacakratantra, millennialism, Muslims, Islam, Westerners, alterity

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