Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Five Foremost Deities - Mo Lha

ཡི་དམ་གཙོ་བོ་རྣམ་ལྔ། 五个最重要的神祇
(item no. 1098)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1700 - 1799
Lineages Gelug and Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Peaceful

Gender: Female

Interpretation / Description

Five Personal Gods of the Individual (Tibetan: go wai lha nga). The image presents the Five Gods at the center and four corners of the composition. (See detail images of all of the figures).

At the top center is the wrathful Krodha Vajrapani, blue in colour, with one face and two hands, surrounded by the flames of pristine awareness. At the center, the largest figure in the composition, is Mo Lha, holding an arrow and a mirror, riding a deer. At the top right is Yul Lha, white in colour, holding a sword and a bow, riding a white horse. At the top left is Srog Lha, wearing armour, holding a spear and reins, riding a black horse. At the bottom right is Dra Lha, white, holding a spear and a lasso, riding a white horse. At the bottom left is Po Lha, white, holding a bowl of jewels upraised and reins, riding a white horse.

Between each of the Five Gods are numerous retinue figures. Some are male, some female, some warriors, magicians, monks and animals.

In the Bon religion this group of figures are the Five Gods of the Head (Tibetan: go wai lha nga) and born with each and every human being. They are located on the four sides of the head and above. It is believed that the Five Gods are born with and accompany each individual human on their life journey. They function as personal gods governing health, wealth, luck and good fortune for each person. This belief system is indigenous to Tibet, Mongolia and Central Asia and the Five Gods are tolerated in Buddhism and some small ritual offering texts can be found. The Bon religion presents a richer understanding of the Five Gods along with marriage ceremonies incorporating the Five as necessary elements.

In Tibetan Buddhism the arrangement of the gods is different:
Mo Lha - Female God, located at the left armpit of an individual.
Srog Lha - Life God, located in the heart of an individual.
Po Lha - Male God, located at the right armpit.
Yul Lha - Regional God, located at the crown of the head of an individual.
Dra Lha - Enemy God, located at the right shoulder.

According to the 5th Dalai Lama it was Traba Ngonshe (1012-1090) and Guru Chowang (1212-1270) who first introduced the Five Personal Gods into a Buddhist context. In modern times it was the 5th Dalai Lama (1617-1682) that wrote a ritual text and further popularized the practice. The 4th Panchen Lama, Lobzang Tenpai Nyima (1782-1853), also wrote a liturgical text for the Five Personal Gods. The first known Sakya text was written by Dagchen Kunga Lodro (1729-1783) who clearly states that his writings are based on the text of the 5th Dalai Lama. He also mentions very clearly in the first few lines that the group of protection gods belong both to the Bon and Buddhist religions.

Jeff Watt 9-2012

Bibliography:

1. 5th Dalai Lama text: lha lnga'i gsol mchod bsod nams dpal bskyed, Volume 14, Pages 476-481 (gsung 'bum). tA la'i bla ma 05 ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho birth 1617 death 1682.

2. Dagchen Kunga Lodro text: 'go ba'i lha lnga gsol mchod 'jig rten bde 'byung gsung 'bum/kun dga' blo gros, Volume 5, Pages 1155-1162. (1729-1783).

3. Lobzang Chokyi nyima text: 'go ba'i lha lnga'i gsol mchod phan bde'i 'dod 'jo gsung 'bum/blo bzang chos kyi nyi ma. (zhol par ma) Volume 5, Pages 797-806. thu'u bkwan 03 blo bzang chos kyi nyi ma/ sku 'bum khri 35 blo bzang chos kyi nyi ma birth 1737, death 1802.

4. 4th Panchen Lama text: 'go ba'i lha lnga'i gsol mchod kyi rim pa bya tshul ('go lha) gsung 'bum/_bstan pa'i nyi ma. Volume 9, Pages 817-832. Panchen 04 bstan pa'i nyi ma or Panchen 07 bstan pa'i nyi ma (bkra shis lhun po) Birth 1782, death 1853.

5. Sogpo Lozang Tamdrin text: 'go ba'i lha lnga la brten pa'i gter bum sgrub pa'i cho ga sde bzhi'i dpal bskyed/gsung 'bum/_blo bzang rta mgrin. Volume 12, Pages 527-544. sog po blo bzang rta mgrin birth 1867 death 1937.

(See the article Myths and Rituals, Samten G. Karmay, pages 160-163. Bon The Magic Word, the Indigenous Religon of Tibet. Samten G. Karmay and Jeff Watt, editors. Rubin Museum of Art, 2007).

Front of Painting
English Translation of Inscription: [Each figure is inscribed with a name]

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Collection of Shelley & Donald Rubin
Collection of Shelley & Donald Rubin
Tibetan Deity: Five Personal Gods Main Page
Tibetan Deity: Five Personal Gods Masterworks