Ashurnasirpal II › Ashvins › Tibetan Sand Mandalas › Origins and History

Articles and Definitions › Contents

  • Ashurnasirpal II › Who was
  • Ashvins › Who was
  • Tibetan Sand Mandalas › Origins

Ancient civilizations › Historical places, and their characters

Ashurnasirpal II  › Who was

Definition and Origins

Author: Joshua J. Mark

Ashurnasirpal II (reigned 884-859 BCE) was the third king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire . His father was Tukulti- Ninurta II (reigned (891-884 BCE) whose military campaigns throughout the region provided his son with a sizeable empire and the resources to equip a formidable army. Ashurnasirpal II is known for his ruthless military conquests and the consolidation of the Assyrian Empire, but he is probably most famous for his grand palace at Kalhu (also known as Caleh and Nimrud in modern-day Iraq), whose wall reliefs depicting his military successes (and many victims) are on display in museums around the world in the modern day. In addition to the palace itself, he is also known for throwing one of the most impressive parties in history to inaugurate his new city of Kalhu: he hosted over 69,000 people during a ten day festival. The menu for this party still survives in the present day. He reigned for 25 years and was succeeded by his son, Shalmaneser III, who reigned from 859-824 BCE.


Ashurnasirpal II's grandfather was Adad-Nirari II (reigned 912-891 BCE), generally considered the first king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, who initiated the revitalization of the government and the military. His diplomatic skills, especially his treaty with Babylon , ensured stability in the empire, while his military conquests enriched the treasury and expanded the empire's borders. His son continued his policies so that, by the time Ashurnasirpal II came to the throne, he had at his disposal a well-equipped fighting force and considerable resources. He put both of these to use almost at once. He was not so much interested in expansion of the empire as in securing it against invasion from without or rebellion from within. He also was required, as an Assyrian king, to combat the forces of chaos and maintain order. The historian Marc Van De Mieroop writes, “The king, as representative of the god Assur , represented order. Wherever he was in control, there was peace, tranquility, and justice, and where he did not rule there was chaos. The king's duty to bring order to the entire world was the justification for military expansion” (260). While Ashurnasirpal may not have considered expansion a priority, he certainly took order in his realm very seriously and would not tolerate insubordination or revolt.
His first campaign was in 883 BCE to the city of Suru to put down a rebellion there. He then marched to the north where he put down other rebellions which had broken out when he took the throne. He was not interested in having to expend more time and resources on future rebellions and so made an example of the rebels in the city of Tela. In his inscriptions he writes:
I built a pillar over against the city gate and I flayed all the chiefs who had revolted and I covered the pillar with their skins. Some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes and others I bound to stakes round the pillar. I cut the limbs off the officers who had rebelled. Many captives I burned with fire and many I took as living captives. From some I cut off their noses, their ears, and their fingers, of many I put out their eyes. I made one pillar of the living and another of heads and I bound their heads to tree trunks round about the city. Their young men and maidens I consumed with fire. The rest of their warriors I consumed with thirst in the desert of the Euphrates.
This treatment of defeated cities would become Ashurnasirpal II's trademark and would include skinning insubordinate officials alive and nailing their flesh to the gates of the city and “dishonoring the maidens and boys” of the conquered cities before setting them on fire. With Tela destroyed, he moved swiftly on to other campaigns. He marched west, fighting his way through other rebel outbreaks and subjugating the cities which opposed him. The historian John Boardman notes that “a major factor behind the increasing resistance was probably the heavy tribute exacted by Ashurnasirpal…one has the impression that a particularly large amount of booty was claimed by this king and that corvee [forced labor] was imposed universally” (259).Ashurnasirpal II led his army on successful campaigns across the Euphrates River and all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, where he washed his weapons as a symbol of his conquests (an act made famous by the inscriptions of Sargon the Great of the earlier Akkadian Empire after he had established his rule). Although some sources claim he then conquered Phoenicia , it seems clear he entered into diplomatic relations with the region, as he did also with the kingdom of Israel . The surviving populaces of the cities and territories he conquered were, as per Assyrian policy, relocated to other regions in the empire in order to distribute skills and talent. Having accomplished what he set out to do on campaign, he turned around and headed back to his capital city of Ashur . If there were any further revolts to be put down on his march back, they are not recorded. It is unlikely that there were more revolts, however, as Ashurnasirpal II had established a reputation for cruelty and ruthlessness which would have been daunting to even the most ardent rebel. The historian Stephen Bertman comments on this, writing :
Ashurnasirpal II set a standard for the future warrior-kings of Assyria . In the words of Georges Roux, he `possessed to the extreme all the qualities and defects of his successors, the ruthless, indefatigable empire-builders: ambition, energy, courage, vanity, cruelty, magnificence' (Roux 1992:288). His annals were the most extensive of any Assyrian ruler up to his time, detailing the multiple military campaigns he led to secure or enlarge his nation's territorial dominion. From one raid alone he filled his kingdom's coffers with 660 pounds of gold an equal measure of silver , and added 460 horses to his stables. The sadistic cruelty he inflicted upon rebel leaders was legendary, skinning them alive and displaying their skin, and cutting off the noses and the ears of their followers or mounting their severed heads on pillars to serve as a warning to others (79-80).

Head of Ashurnasirpal II

Having secured his empire, Ashurnasirpal II turned his attention to his capital at Ashur, which he renovated (as he also did with Nineveh and many other cities during his reign). Ashur was among the most prosperous of the Assyrian cities and had been the capital of the Assyrian Empire since the reign of Adad Nirari I (1307-1275 BCE). Once he had added his own adornments and improvements to the great city, Ashurnasirpal II now felt it was time for a change in its status. The residents of Ashur were proud of their city and of their prestige as citizens of the capital. It has been proposed by a number of scholars that Ashurnasirpal II wanted a completely new city, with a new population, that he could call his own in order to elevate his name above his predecessors and rule over a populace devoted to him, rather than to their city. This is only one theory, however, as it is not clear what exactly motivated him to move the capital from Ashur. No matter the reason, he chose the city of Kalhu and initiated his building project there.


Kalhu had been an important trading center since the 1st millennium BCE. It was located directly on a prosperous route between Ashur and Nineveh. The city had been built on the location of an earlier business community under the reign of Shalmaneser I (1274-1245 BCE) but had become dilapidated over the centuries. Ashurnasirpal II ordered the debris removed from the crumbling towers and walls and decreed a completely new city should be built, which would include a royal residence greater than that of any previous king. Ashurnasirpal II's inscriptions regarding Kalhu read, “The former city of Caleh, which Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, a prince who preceded me, had built, that city had fallen into decay and lay in ruins, it was turned into a mound and ruin heap. That city I built anew. I laid out orchards round about it, fruit and wine I offered unto Assur, my lord, I dug down to the water level. I built the wall thereof; from its foundation unto its top I built and completed it.”
The new city of Kalhu covered 360 hectares (890 acres) with a surrounding wall of 4.6 miles (7.5 kilometers). When it was completed, Ashurnasirpal II re-located an entirely new population (16,000 people) within the city's walls and took up residence in his new palace. According to the historian Karen Radner:
Kalhu's most impressive building at the time of Ashurnasirpal was certainly his new royal palace. At 200 metres long (656 feet) and 130 metres wide (426 feet), it dominated its surroundings and its position on the citadel mound led to its modern name, the Northwest Palace. It was organised around three courtyards, accommodating the state apartments, the administrative wing and the private quarters which also housed the royal women. Here, several underground tombs were uncovered in 1989, including the last resting place of Ashurnasirpal's queen Mullissu-mukannišat-Ninua, the daughter of the king's cupbearer, one of the foremost officials at court. Her rich burial goods give a vivid impression of the luxury in which the king and his entourage lived (1).

King Ashurnasirpal II

In 879 BCE, when the palace was completed and fully decorated with the reliefs lining the walls of its corridors, Ashurnasirpal II invited the surrounding population and dignitaries from other lands to celebrate. The festival lasted ten days, and his Banquet Stele records that 69,574 people attended. The menu from this celebration included, but was not limited to, 1,000 oxen, 1,000 domestic cattle and sheep, 14,000 imported and fattened sheep, 1,000 lambs, 500 game birds, 500 gazelles, 10,000 fish, 10,000 eggs, 10,000 loaves of bread, 10,000 measures of beer , and 10,000 containers of wine (Bauer, 337).When the celebration was done, he sent his guests home “in peace and joy” after allowing the dignitaries to view the reliefs in his new palace. His famous Standard Inscription told again and again of his triumphs in conquest and vividly depicted the horrible fate of those who rose against him. The inscription also let the dignitaries from his own realm, and others, know precisely who they were dealing with. He claimed the titles “great king, king of the world, the valiant hero who goes forth with the help of Assur; he who has no rival in all four quarters of the world, the exalted shepherd, the powerful torrent that none can withstand, he who has overcome all mankind, whose hand has conquered all lands and taken all the mountain ranges” (Bauer, 337). His empire stretched across the territory which today comprises western Iran, Iraq, Syria , Jordan, and part of Turkey .Through his diplomatic relationships with Babylonia and the Levant , he also had access to the resources of southern Mesopotamia and the sea ports of Phoenicia. In the understanding of the people of the Near East at that time, he really was “king of the world”.


After a reign of 25 years, during which he completed a number of significant building projects throughout the empire, succeeded in 14 military campaigns, and established depots of food and water reserves for the people, Ashurnasirpal II died.He was succeeded by his son Shalmaneser III who reigned from 859 to 824 BCE. Shalmaneser III continued and improved upon his father's policies and expanded the empire through the kinds of military campaigns the Assyrian kings had now become famous for. He was enabled in this by the strength of the empire his father had provided. The historian Wolfram von Soden writes:
The reign of Ashurnasirpal II, marked by brutal but systematic military advances, represented the high point of the first great period of Assyrian expansion. During this king's tenure, he resettled great portions of those ethnic groups still intent on remaining autonomous, in an intensifying application of the policy the Assyrian kings had employed against rebellious subjects since the thirteenth century (56).
Shalmaneser III inherited a stronger and more capable empire than his father even had and built upon his predecessor's successes. While Ashurnasirpal II's policies may have been brutal, they were also effective in maintaining control of the population. Through his ruthless campaigns, the resettlement of populations, and his careful administration, Ashurnasirpal II consolidated the political entity that would become the greatest empire in the ancient Near East and established his name among the most memorable Assyrian kings.

Ashvins  › Who was

Definition and Origins

Author: Mark Cartwright

The Ashvins (aka Asvins, Asvinau, or Asvini Kumaras) are two twin brothers of Hindumythology , sons of the sun god Surya. They may also be referred to as the 'Horsemen' and are forever young, handsome, and athletic. They are considered the physicians of the gods. As twins, they represent a cosmic duality of ideas such as light and dark, healing and destruction. In many ways they are similar to the Dioskouroi ( Castor and Pollux ) of Greek and Roman mythology and may well have been based on historical figures, perhaps two rulers famous for their skills in battle and good deeds.


The Ashvins appear in Vedic literature (1500 – 1000 BCE) as the twin sons of Surya the sun god or of the sky. Their mother is Samjna (Conscience), the daughter of Visvakarma. Unfortunately, Samjna became so tired of Surya's brilliant light that she one day gave him a handmaid, Chaya (Shade), and left him to live a life of reflection in the forests, transformed into a mare.Surya was not to be so easily deprived though and disguised as a stallion mated with Samjna. The resulting offspring were Revanta (chief of the Guhyakas) and the two twins. The twins are also considered the parents of Nakula and Sahadeva, the Pandu princes.


The two brothers are forever youthful, handsome, brilliant, golden, fast, and athletic. Compassionate, they help those in need from old women to soldiers left behind by a retreating army. They also represent duality, can change their form at will, and possess the power to cure. Indeed, this latter ability meant that they are the subject of many Hindu hymns as they are considered the official doctors of svarga , one of the intermediary heavens and realm of Indra . In this guise, they are known individually as Dasra and Nasatya or collectively as Dasras, Nasatyas, Gadagadau, or Svarvaidyau.
The Ashvins' name derives from the Sanskrit asva or 'horse' and they are closely associated with that animal, sometimes even considered to have the bodies of men and the head of a horse, but as with many other Hindu deities, they have several alternative names too. These include Abdhijau ('ocean born'), Badaveyau (after their father in some texts, Badava, underground fire), and Puskarasrajau ('wreathed in lotuses'). The Ashvins are very rarely depicted in ancient Hindu art, but they do appear as figure sculptures on the 12th-century CE gopurams (monumental gates) at Chidambaram .


The Ashvins' medical skills famously helped the sage Cyavana who, when he reached a very old age, they returned to a state of youth. This apparently selfless act was in fact motivated by a promise from Cyavana's wife Sukanya that should they restore good health to her husband then she would reveal to the Ashvins the one thing which they lacked to become complete gods.The twins obliged and told Cyavana to bathe in a pond, and on immersing himself in its waters, he emerged as a sprightly youth. Good on her promise, Sukanya then told the Ashvins that they were not complete because they did not drink the elixir soma , like the other gods.


The twins then set about acquiring some soma and eventually succeeded in persuading Dadhyanc, son of the Atharvan priest, to teach them the sacrificial ceremony which involved the sacred drink. There had been the problem that Indra did not want the Ashvins to drink soma as they were, he felt, contaminated by their spending too much time with humans. The great god threatened terrible revenge if the twins were to find out about the ceremony and get their hands on soma. The Ashvins got around this by giving Dadhyanc a new head so that when Indra did find out he had taught them of soma, he lopped off Dadhyanc's new head but then, having carefully stored it, the Ashvin's were able to give back to Dadhyanc his original head.


The Ashvins have another important duty, which is to ride with their father in his golden chariot across the sky each day as he brings warmth and sunlight to the earth. Sometimes they have their own golden chariot which has three wheels and is pulled by either horses or birds, on other occasions they ride only their horses. Specifically, they precede their father and so have become the personification of the morning twilight. As they strike their horses with their whips, they dispel the morning dew.

Tibetan Sand Mandalas  › Origins

Ancient Civilizations

Author: Charley Linden Thorp

The sacred art of sand painting comes from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition (Tib: dul-tson-kyil-khor – mandala of coloured powders; 'mandala' means circle in Sanskrit ). Tibetan Buddhism (7th century CE) is based on Indian Buddhism (5th century CE), and its main goals are to reach individual enlightenment, the liberation of all beings, and the development of unconditional compassion and insight wisdom.
Mandalas, which are cosmic maps charting the succession of initiations from the historical Buddha 2600 years ago to present day, are a crucial aspect of most Buddhist traditions. They are used to guide practitioners to enlightenment and are usually painted or woven on scrolls and huge wall -hangings and placed in the gompas (meditational halls) of temples. Occasionally, they are constructed in three dimensions such as the magnificent Kalachakra Mandala at the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.

Kalachakra Mandala

As new teachers, or acharyas, are initiated, lineage mandalas are updated so that all those who have succeeded to the teachings are indicated there. Each mandala represents the entire universe with Mount Meru, a sacred mountain with five peaks manifesting physically, metaphysically, and spiritually in Buddhist, Hindu , and Jain cosmologies, in the centre. There are three realms inside the mandala: Arupyadhatu – the formless realm, Rupudhatu – the realm of form, and Kamadhatu – the desire realm.
In the Tibetan tradition, however, they are usually created from coloured sand laid on to a geometrical blueprint and constitute a ritual in their own right. In addition, they are a sacred object of meditation in the memories of viewers. Similarly, the deities adopted by each lineage reside inside the mandala, the principal deity in the centre. The sand mandala is a two-dimensional representation of three dimensions and could be said to resemble an intricate palace where the deities reside.
Each sand mandala is ritualistically dismantled once it has been completed and all accompanying ceremonies and viewings come to a close. This process and its result symbolise the Buddhist doctrinal belief in the transitory nature of material life, in other words, impermanence. Buddhists aspire to be liberated from all attachments to objects and beings on the material plane or in the visible world. According to this tradition, the world we can perceive with our eyes is but a dream and reality is to be found inside and only accessed by means of meditation.


The first references to mandalas made of sand in Tibet come from The Blue Annals , an ancient history of Tibetan Buddhism written by Go Lotsawa Zhonnu Pel c. 14th century CE called The Treasure of Lives: A Biographical encyclopaedia of Tibet, Inner Asia and the Himalaya Region. He started to write this seminal work by dictating it to his monks at the age of 84. The mandala was originally metaphysical or spiritual rather than tangible. It was a way of accessing or unlocking the power of the universe during meditation, and there are references to Buddhist teachers transforming themselves into mantras and then dispersing into the universe.


The sand mandala is an intricate focus of meditation which monks study in depth, sometimes for as long as three years. It is designed to guide those who aspire to enlightenment by purifying and healing their minds, transforming them from an ordinary mind into an enlightened mind. When completed and dispersed, mixed with water and given back to the Earth, the blessings and beauty of the mandala can be shared with all beings. In this way, it is truly a metaphor for human life in that each human being grows from a dependent child into a complex system of structures, memories, experiences, and relationships. But at death, this disintegrates and is returned to the earth. In other words, nothing and no one ever truly dies but just changes, growing at the same pace as the universe.

Tibetan Sand Mandala

The mandala is deeply rooted in the mind of its creator or creators and is often made at the request of a particular teacher or guru. The deities which reside inside its palace serve as role models or Bodhisattvas for practitioners.


Originally, granules of crushed coloured rock and precious gems were used to create mandalas, but today white rock dyed with coloured inks is preferred. The grains form a dense kind of sand which is needed to limit interference from sneezing or sudden breezes. The colours used are white (crushed gypsum), yellow ochre, red sandstone, blue made from a mixture of gypsum and charcoal, red and black making brown, red and white making pink, etc. Also, corn meal, flower pollen, and powdered roots and bark are used depending on their availability.

Sand Mandala

The monks wear masks to preserve their work from their breath. Small tubes and funnels called chak-pur are gently tapped with metal rods to create vibrations which lay down the sand into the blueprint in a controlled way. It is said that a skilled mandala maker can enable the sand to flow like liquid. Also, large pairs of compasses are used to draw circles accurately, but there is no engraving of any kind as the sand is laid on a flat surface.


First, the site where the mandala is to be made is consecrated with sacred chants, incense burning and Tibetan music played on Buddhist instruments. The leader of the team of as many as 20 monks will use white chalk or pencils to mark out the detailed drawing or blueprint of the lineages from memory, leaving an area around it which represents the charnel grounds or sacred area where traditionally corpses are left to decompose naturally. Sand mandalas can be as big as 4 m². It is important to note that Tibetan is a form of Esoteric Buddhism in that teachings are handed down from master to pupil and preserved orally. They are rarely written down, meaning that the working memories of most Tibetan monks are excellent.
One monk is assigned to each of the four gateways aligned with the compass points, and he and his team will work specifically on that quadrant until completion. Assistants or novices fill in the forms while the senior monks attend to the detail. Adding the coloured sand always starts from the centre where the principal teacher or guru resides.

Monks Working on a Sand Mandala

When the mandala is complete, it is once more consecrated with an elaborate ceremony, and the final stage is the sweeping away of the grains in towards the middle which reverses the original process. Deities are removed scrupulously in a particular order, and the sand is collected in a jar, wrapped in silk and taken to a body of water to be released. According to the scriptures, this constitutes a healing, transmitting positive energies back into the environment and sharing the blessings from the beautiful ephemeral form with the universe.


The Kalachakra Mandala mentioned above, a three-dimensional ornate golden palace, embraces 722 different deities in a complex two-dimensional representation. According to scholars, it is now more or less certain that the ornate structures of Borabodour in eastern Java and Angkor Wat in Cambodia are three-dimensional mandalas. Their carvings and devotional intensity are a living meditation for those who visit to pay homage. However, due to the Esoteric nature of Mahayana Buddhism , this can never be entirely confirmed. Both of these structures are mystical and not intended to be analysed or labelled by the intellectual mind.


It is thought that there are only 30 people in the world today who are qualified to teach the techniques and secrets of Tibetan sand painting. Losang Samten, an American Tibetan scholar and sand painting artist is one of them. The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and the Tibetan nation, instructed his monks to make a sand mandala following the Sept 11 events at the New York Trade Centre as a protection from future disasters and also to heal the environment and the human life so devastated by it.
Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
Content is available under License Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported. CC-BY-NC-SA License

See other Related Content for Ancient History ››

Recommended Contents