j~nAnavajra (Mongolian: oender-gegen zanabazar), descendent of Chingiz Kha’Khan via Tusheet Khan and Kandjamts Khatun was undoubtedly one of the greatest figures in Central Asia after his illustrious ancestors. j~nAnavajra saw himself as the merger of two lineages of the tradition of the bauddha kaula tradition. The first of these is traced to the brahminical nAstika kaula tantric vAgIshvarakIrti from vikramashIla in the 800s of CE, who composed several stotra-s to tArA and founded the mR^ityu-hAraka tArA prayoga. From him the tradition eventually passed to the kShatriya tantric dIpA~Nkara-shrIj~nAna, who transmitted it to the upachIna-s of Tibet. He composed the famed ekavimshati tArA stotra, one of the sublime stotra-s to the devI. From his Tibetan successors it passed to the Mongol j~nAnavajra, who was aged 14 at the time of his dIkSha. His kula-dUti was dorjiinnal-jirmaa. j~nAnavajra also believed that he received a second transmission of the kaula doctrine innately because he felt he was a reincarnation of the Tibetan Lama tAranAtha, who himself traced his lineage from dIpA~Nkara-shrIj~nAna. tAranAtha had written the famous work on the origin of the tArA tantra-s. Beyond being one of the greatest of the Mongolian tantrics, j~nAnavajra’s role was profound in spreading Sanskrit scholarship in Mongolia, composing several new stotra-s in Sanskrit, contributions to Mongolian music, discursions on tantric texts and the invention of a new Mongolian script, Soyombo, to allow accurate accommodation of Sanskrit phonetics in the Mongolian context. j~nAnavajra also transmitted a peculiar tantric text termed the guhyAgnichakra that is now lost in India in its original. This text preserves material from the now lost ancient kaumAra tantra-s. He often visited the Burkhan Khaldun Mountain, where his ancestor Chingiz Kha’Khan often journeyed to seek the aid of the original Mongol deity Koeke Moengke Tengri.
The real significance of j~nAnavajra was his art – it was one of the last of the great examples of the artistic expression of the mantra-shAstra. This was something lost in part in even in the Hindu world outside of Nepal. j~nAnavajra’s remarkably prefect productions of images of devatA-s following the dhyAna shlokha-s of their sAdhana-s literally help the dhyAna come alive. A key to the practice of the mantra at one level is the dhyAna or dhAraNI producing a persistent image of the devatA for the sAdhaka. A sAdhana mUrti made per the specifications can produce this effect directly to the practicing deshika and can raise the sAdhAna towards perfection by its very presence. It may be considered a direct expression of the mantra and is a tremendous – only a few master artists can produce such sAdhana mUrti-s that can produce the effect of the mantra on their own. j~nAnavajra’s work it the epitome of such productions – being a great tantric himself, he was able to achieve this perfection that is one of its kind. His greatest pieces were of course the 21 forms of tArA as invoked in the ekavimshati tArA stotra (including that identified with karNamoTini), chakrasaMvara conjoined with vajravArAhI and vajradhara.
Of these the image of chakrasaMvara conjoined with vajravArAhI is of great importance to the Astika deshika, because of the closeness of the early laghushamvara tantra, the chakrasaMvara tantra, and the later chakrasaMvarodaya tantra followed by j~nAnavajra’s and his predecessors to the early yoginI tantra-s of the kula path and the shaiva bhairava tantra-s. A study of these tantra-s reveals their derivation from the bhairava tantra-s that were collected in the mantra pITha alluded to by abhinavagupta. It becomes clear that the depiction of chakrasaMvara and vajravArAhI is the cognate svachChandabhairava conjoined with aghoreshvarI from the svachChanda-bhairava tantra. Their maNDala of yoginI-s is drawn from the siddhayogeshvarI-mata. The prayoga-s of vajravArAhI and her depictions closely follow those of the glorious kaula tantra the yoginI-jAla-shaMbara. In this context it is interesting to note that the name of the composer of the primary prayoga paddhati of chakrasaMvara conjoined with vajravArAhI (i.e. vajravArAhI sAdhana) is umApatideva. The perfect sAdhana-mUrti-s of svachChanda-bhairava in the form conjoined with aghoreshvarI have become exceptionally rare or extinct in India – but in j~nAnavajra’s chakrasaMvara we have a template to conceive the iconography of this devatA if form quite close to the original.