Himalayan Art Resources

Item: King - Gesar

རྒྱལ་པོ། 国王
(item no. 46001)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1900 - 1959
Lineages Nyingma and Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Private
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Person

Appearance: Warrior

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Gesar Norbu Dradul: A Single Painting Depicting the Forms of Gesar According to the Writings of Mipham Gyatso. (See Gesar Main Page). (See the publication: ge sar rgyal po'i gsol mchod skor. Publisher: si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 1996. The specific text within this publication that describes all of the figures in the painting is called the gsol mchod phrin las myur ‘grub ces bya ba bzhugs so, pages 95-110).

The example of a single painting with many forms of Gesar is very important for the study of Gesar iconography because it follows exactly the textual descriptions as written by Mipam Jamyang Namgyal Gyatso (1846-1912). The forms of Gesar depicted in this composition are some of the best known and most popular in the 20th century religious practice and in the artistic representations - painting and sculpture.

The single painting is of a standard medium size and is over flowing with figures of all sizes. The central and largest figure is that of Gesar Norbu Dradul in Dralha (dgra lha) warrior appearance, the eyes are wide and the eyebrows raised, a moustache and goatee accent the face in the fashion of a Tibetan king, wearing body armor with elaborate decorations, a mirror and auspicious symbols. On the crown of the head is a battle helmet, gold in colour, decorated with jewels, a half vajra and adorned with flags and streamers. In the upraised right hand is a horse whip (riding crop) made of bamboo, adorned with coloured ribbons. The left hand holds to the side the reins of the horse, a lasso with the ends flying to the side and an upright flaming spear adorned with a white and orange flag unfurled. Tied to the belt are a sword, battle axe, bow and quiver of arrows. He sits astride a light brown horse with a blue mane and tail, elaborately decorated and adorned, riding at full gallop. In front of Gesar is a table with numerous precious offerings and ritual objects. Surrounding the central figure is an elaborate canopy of flowers and clouds of various colours, along with four animals, a garuda, tiger, dragon and snow lion. Accompanying Gesar on the right and left side are five mounted warriors each similar in appearance to the central form of Gesar. On the viewer's left are the three Great Generals known as the Tra Lag Jang Sum (khra glag spyang gsum). On the right side are two further Great Generals. One of the original generals from this group (of two) died during a famous battle story in the epic literature and was replaced by another general. The names of all five generals including the one who died are: Damma Jangtra ('dam ma byang khra), Pala Sengtag Adom (dpa' la seng stag a sdom), Gade'i Chogyang Bernag (dga' bde'i chos skyong ber nag), Tagrong Zigpen (stag rong gzig 'phen), Onbu Anu Paseng ('on bu a nu dpa' seng) and Rongtsa Marleb (rong tsha dmar leb). (From the Appendix List naming each of the Thirty Generals these five figures discussed above [plus one] are numbered as: 5, 6, 7, 10, 18 and 20).

The second most important figure in the composition of the single painting is Gesar Dorje Tsegyal (ge sar rdo rje rtse rgyal) located below the large central Gesar Norbu Dradul. Dorje Tsegyal is in the appearance of a Tibetan King with pronounced eyebrows, moustache and goatee. He wears a white hat adorned with ribbons, a half vajra and peacock feathers. The right hand holds to the heart a wish-fulfilling jewel and the left hand held to the side holds a bow and arrow. Wearing layered clothing of multiple colours, a long sleeved coat and boots, he sits with the right leg extended and the left drawn up atop an elaborate throne seat against the backdrop of an elaborate palace.

To the viewer's left is the standing figure of the youthful male Dorje Legpa (rdo rje legs pa) also in the appearance of Tibetan King. It is possible that this figure of a youth is the peaceful form of the wrathful protector deity of the Nyingma Tradition - Dorje Legpa. He holds the right hand up in an open gesture and the left held at the waist grasps a single die with six black dots exposed. On the right side stands Dorje Yudronma (rdo rje g.yu sgron ma), a female Tibetan mountain goddess, beautiful in appearance, wearing similar clothing to the previous two figures. In her upraised right hand she holds an arrow and in the left a skull cup filled with nectar. In front and slightly below Dorje Tsegyal is the standing figure of Migmar Chenpo (mig dmar chen po), a wrathful male figure dressed as a warrior, holding the right hand upraised and the left placed at the side; surrounded by orange and red flames. To the right and left are four beautiful female figures known as the Four Great Secret Mothers (sang ba'i yum chen bzhi).

Directly below Migmar Chenpo, at the bottom center of the composition, is another wrathful figure with the name Magyal Dorje Dragtsal (rma rgyal rdo rje drag rtsal) similar in appearance to Migmar Chenpo. He holds upraised in the right hand a spear and the left hand is held to the side. There are four additional figures in the larger composition that are closely related to the principal form of Dorje Tsegyal just described. These four related forms are located to the right and left of the central figure of Gesar Norbu Dradul riding a horse. Each has a special function, or activity, which according to Buddhist Tantra are known as the Four Activities and relate to [1] peaceful activities and in this case specifically referring to divination techniques, [2] increasing activities which relate to the increase of wealth, [3] powerful activities and [4] wrathful activities. The detailed description for each of these figures and their function is found in the ritual literature of Mipham Gyatso.

At the top center of the composition is Padmasambhava in his typical appearance with a lotus hat and elaborate layered robes. He holds a vajra in the right hand and a white skullcup in the left with a katvanga staff cradled against the left shoulder. The right leg is pendant and the left leg drawn up in the posture of royal ease. To the proper right of Padmasambhava is the Indian abbot Shantirakshita and seated on the left side is the Tibetan King Trisong Detsen.

Again at the top, to the viewer's left is the deity Manjushri holding a sword and Prajnaparamita text. Next to him is a wrathful Heruka deity, a meditational deity of the Nyingma Tradition, with three faces and six hands, embracing a female consort. This Heruka figure is currently unidentified and not recognized as one of the Guhyagarbha Tantra wrathful deity figures or one of the Eight Heruka deities - belonging to the two early systems of Nyingma meditational deities. It is likely to be a Heruka meditational deity from a Revealed Treasure tradition (gter ma) - the third of the three Nyingma categorization systems for meditational deities. On the viewer's right side is the form of wrathful Vajrapani along with the four-armed Chaturbhuja Avalokiteshvara, peaceful in appearance. According to the system of Religious Gesar, Ling Gesar is an emanation of the Three Great Bodhisattva Lords - Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani. Gesar is also considered an emanation of Padmasambhava. Slightly below the row of figures at the top of the composition are two Tibetan monastic figures. The teacher on the viewer's left is in the iconographic appearance of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892) and the teacher on the right is in the appearance of Patrul Chokyi Wangpo (1808-1887). Mipham Gyatso was a student of both Khyentse and Patrul. Although there are no inscriptions identifying the figures, or any other inscriptions anywhere on the painting, it is most probable that these identifications are accurate.

At the bottom right and left of the composition are four additional figures. From these four, three are dralha warrior figures riding horses. The fourth figure on the left side is the female figure of the protector deity Shri Devi Magzor Gyalmo, wrathful, holding a staff and surrounded by flames. The four are located one above the other at the bottom right and left sides of the painted composition. Magzor Gyalmo can sometimes be found as a special protector of the Khyentse Labrang of Dzongsar Monastery. A number of the Gesar ritual texts composed by Mipham Gyatso, according to the colophons, were completed during a time when he stayed at Dzongsar Monastery - the home of his principal teacher Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. [Read the article in Chinese language].

Jeff Watt, 7-2012

(Due to length, the section above was edited out of the publication From the Treasury of Tibetan Pictorial Art: Painted Scrolls of the Life of Gesar. Editor-in-Chief, Zhang Changhong. Forward by Leonard van der Kuijp. Article by Jeff Watt. Sichuan Museum, 2012. ISBN: 978-7-101-08513-6).

Numbered List of Figures:
1. Gesar Norbu Dradul
2. Dorje Tsegyal
2a. Dorje Legpa
2b. Dorje Yudronma
2c. Migmar Chenpo & Four Great Secret Mothers
3. Dorje Tsegyal (Peaceful)
4. Dorje Tsegyal (Increasing)
5. Dorje Tsegyal (Powerful)
6. Dorje Tsegyal (Wrathful)

A1. Manjushri
A2. Heruka (meditational deity)
A3. Shantarakshita
A4. Padmasambhava
A5. King Trisong Detsen
A6. Krodha Vajrapani
A7. Chaturbhuja Avalokiteshvara
A8. Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (?)
A9. Patrul Jigme Wangpo (?)

B1. Warrior
B2. Warrior
B3. Warrior
B4. Warrior
B5. Warrior
B6. Shri Devi Magzor Gyalmo
B7. Warrior
B8. Warrior
B9. Warrior
B10. Protector Deity

Front of Painting
English Translation of Inscription: [No inscriptions]

Secondary Images
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King: Gesar Norbu Dradul
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