Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Teacher (Lama) - Kunga Tashi, Sakya Gongma

བླ་མ། 喇嘛
(item no. 7821)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1600 - 1699
Lineages Sakya and Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Private
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Person

Interpretation / Description

Tegchen Chogyal Kunga Tashi Gyaltsen Pal Zangpo (1349-1425) of the Lhakang Lhabrang descending from Dagni Chenpo Zangpo Pal (1262-1324) and the Khon family lineage.

The composition belongs to a painting set of unknown number. It appears to be of the Khyenri tradition of painting style and dated to approximately the 17th century, central Tibet. (See a similar painting set likely belonging to the same artist or atelier).

Kunga Tashi is adorned in the orange and red garments of a fully ordained monastic with the hands crossed, displaying the vajra embracing gesture, holding a vajra scepter and bell to the heart. Atop the head he wears a red ceremonial hat ringed with orange and gold trimmed petals, emblazoned on the forefront with a double vajra (vishvavajra) in gold and crowned with a jewel. The hat is similar in appearance to both the black hats gifted to the 5th Karmapa Deshin Shegpa and Jamchen Choje Shakya Yeshe. All three hats were bestowed by the Yongle emperor at the time of the individual visits along with official titles and other gifts of silver, textiles and artworks.

The father and mother of Kunga Tashi were Tawen Chokyi Gyaltsen and Machig Gyalmo Tso. His father had two other concurrent wives and three additional children giving Kunga Tashi three half brothers, Dharma Dvaja (1351-1396), Dorje Rinchen Gyaltsen (1353-1405), and Lobpon Chenpo Sonam Tashi (1352-1407). It is not clearly recorded if there were any sisters as well from the other marriages.

Kunga Tashi was never appointed as a Sakya Throne-holder which allowed him to study, travel and teach. At that time there were four palaces of Khon descendants with more than enough capable heirs to rule the region of Sakya in Tsang province, Tibet. Some of the most interesting Khon teachers were the brothers, sisters (jetsunma) and children (dungse) of the throne holders. Kunga Tashi is a great example along with the very famous Jamgon Ameshab (1597-1659) of great masters that avoided holding the throne of Sakya and all that that entailed.

In 1413 he visited the Yongle Emperor (1360-1424) in Nanjing, China, before the capital was moved to Beijing in 1421. From the emperor he received many gifts, titles and a ceremonial hat typical of the honours the Chinese emperor paid to important Tibetan religious teachers.

Tegchen Chogyal Kunga Tashi of the Lhakang Lhabrang should not be confused with the many other Khon descendants named Kunga Tashi and especially the 29th Sakya Trizin, Kunga Tashi (1656-1711) of the Ducho Lhabrang.

The current Sakya Throne-holders of the time were his uncle, Tawen Lodro Gyaltsen Pal Zangpo (1332-1364), the 15th Sakya Tridzin, followed by Lama Chenpo Tawen Kunga Rinchen (1339-1399) and Lobpon Chenpo Gushri Lodro Gyalsten (1366-1420). There is always some confusion with the numbering of the Sakya Tridzins as several different systems were used with the inclusion of some throne holders and exclusion of others depending on whether they were Khon family lineage descendants or caretaker throne holders such as Bari Lotsawa, Rinchen Gyaltsen, Sharpa Jamyang Chenpo, and others.

Jeff Watt 9-2016 [updated 3-2021]


The Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism. Dhongthog Rinpoche. Translated by Sam van Schaik. Wisdom Publications, 2016.

A Waterdrop from the Glorious Sea. Sherab Gyaltsen Amipa. 1976.

The Sa-skya Throne Holder Lineage. Jeffrey Davis Schoening. University of Washington, 1983.

Sa skya'i gdung rabs ngo mtshar bang mdzod. Ngag dbang kun dga' bsod nams. 1986. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang.

Phags bod du rgyal bstan spyi dang bye brag dpal ldan sa skya pa'i bstan pa rin po che'i lo rgyus ngo mtshar nor bu'i bang dzod. Geshe Thukjhey Wangchuk (born 1928). Unpublished manuscript, Boulder Colorado, 1980.

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