Entries for month: September 2009

Kurukulla: Explanation of Form

September 30, 2009 ·

Kurukulla is a goddess of power in Tantric Buddhism. She has many different forms, colours and deity affiliations. Her appearance with one face and four hands, red in colour, dancing on a prone male form, is the most common form found in painting, murals and sculpture. In this form her hand attributes can vary slightly but the colour, posture, and number of arms will remain the same.

Kurukulla: Explanation of Form

Tags: iconography · Kurukulla

Arapachana Manjushri: Explanation of Form

September 29, 2009 ·

Manjushri in the form of Arapachana is one of the most common and recognizable images in Tantric Buddhism. Other than appearing with the hands in the Dharma teaching gesture this is the form that is most often depicted in paintings, murals and sculpture. The explanation of form is a brief introduction to how Manjushri appears in this particular appearance, what he holds in his hands, along with any other significant characteristics.

Arapachana Manjushri: Explanation of Form

Tags: iconography · Manjushri

Mahakala Resource Page

September 28, 2009 ·

The Mahakala Resource Page is a work in progress. There are just quite simply a lot more types of Mahakala than there are of Shri Devi. Like Shri Devi, Mahakala is a class of deities. Always wrathful, always protectors and sometimes meditational deities of the Anuttarayoga classification. The Mahakala types are aligned much more closely with specific Tantras and major deities such as Hevajra, Chakrasamvara, Guhyasamaja and in the case of Shadbhuja Mahakala with Hayagriva and Avalokiteshvara. It is not a matter of just uploading all the Mahakala information. It is a matter of how to frame it, contextualize it, and present the information in a way that makes sense and includes Mahakala in the greater realm of Himalayan and Tibetan art, literature, religion and culture. We will let you know how it works out.

Tags: iconography · Mahakala

An Explanation of Iconographic Forms

September 27, 2009 ·

An Explanation of Iconographic Forms is a new feature on the website. The purpose is to explain more clearly the iconographic features of the main figures and types of deities, along with the complex multi-headed and multi-armed deities. The intention is to make it easier to read and understand an iconographic form. To that end we hope to provide the necessary tools.

Currently there are five forms explained:
Simhanada Lokeshvara (Lion's Roar Lord of the World)
Ushnishavijaya (The Victorious Crown Ornament)
Nilamabara Vajrapani (Blue Cloak Vajra Holder)
Shakyamuni Buddha (Enlightened One, Sage of the Shakya Clan)
Je Tsongkapa - Founder of the Gelug Tradition

Tags: iconography

Shri Devi with Three Faces! Sipai Gyalmo?

September 27, 2009 ·

Shri Devi with Three Faces! Sipai Gyalmo? An inquiry has been made about an iconographic form of Shri Devi (Palden Lhamo) with three faces. Unfortunately, I don't know of a three faced, six armed, Shri Devi in Tibetan Buddhism. It doesn't mean that there isn't a Shri Devi having this appearance, it just means that this form hasn't been broadly identified in art or in Buddhist textual description, so far. However, the Bon Religion has a wrathful female deity exactly fitting this description - Sipai Gyalmo, Queen of the World.

Shri Devi is a Sanskrit name used by Indian religious traditions and Buddhist Tantric traditions. To my knowledge the Bon Religion does not typically use the Sanskrit name Shri Devi or the corresponding Tibetan name Palden Lhamo.

See the Shri Devi Resource Page
See the Sipai Gyalmo Comparison Page

Well, aside from pouring through endless sets of Nyingma initiation cards (tsakli) looking for a three faced Shri Devi, I can only think of one instance where I've seen a Shri Devi-like figure with three faces on a Buddhist painting. Look to the middle left side of this Buddhist Sidpaho Protection Chart (above). Fortunately I thought it was strange enough when I first chanced upon it to think to take a detail photo of the unusual, at the time, un-Buddhist-like Shri Devi (detail of Shri Devi figure above). You will note that the body, number of faces and colours along with arms and hand attributes are identical to the Bon deity Sipai Gyalmo Dre'u Nag (Riding a Black Mule). I had no explanation for this.

I did go back and look at the painting several times to see if it was in fact Buddhist, and to think about whether or not the Bon had a similar practice of painting sidpaho charts, as if that would help! Possibly it belonged to the Bon Sarma Tradition? Bon Sarma is a branch of Bon that intentionally seeks to blend the practices of the two religions of Bon and Buddhism. However, I can only conclude that the painting is Buddhist.

Looking at the Sidpaho painting and the Shri Devi-like subject more closely, it did seem unusual to have the small buddha-like figure depicted as if hovering above the head. This is a practice sometimes found occurring on Bon paintings especially with the subject of Tagla Membar where a peaceful Tonpa Shenrab is placed hovering directly above the wrathful head of the central figure. It can however be found, although rarely, in Buddhist paintings. See an example of a Drigung Kagyu deity painting of Guru Dragpur, a Nyingma Terma Tradition, where the Buddhas of the Tree Times are placed above three stupas above the three heads of the central deity. What is common with Buddhist iconography is to find the Five Symbolic Buddhas such as Amitabha above the head of Avalokiteshvara, or Akshobhya above the head of Manjushri, or Amoghasiddhi above the head of Green Tara. A figure depicted like the historical Buddha Shakyamuni is not usual, especially when they appear to be floating and detached from the main figure below.

It is possible that the artist commissioned to create the painting belonged to the Bon Religion and inserted a protector deity that he/she was familiar with - just an idea.

So, now it comes down to what do we know?
1. It is possible that there is a Buddhist form, or specifically a Nyingma form, of Shri Devi with three faces and six arms (as pictured above).
2. There does not appear to be any Sarma (Sakya, Kagyu, Jonang, Gelug, etc.) three faced forms of Shri Devi. This statement is entirely based on looking at iconographic images and reading the general iconographic texts and histories of those traditions. However, this could change if new information comes to light.
3. The most important female protector of the Bon Religion has three faces and six arms, riding a mule, in a similar appearance to the Buddhist deity Shri Devi. Of the two principal forms of Sipai Gyalmo, (1) Riding the Black Mule and (2) Riding the Red Mule, the form riding atop the black mule can have slightly different hand attributes depending on the Bon tradition. The primary difference is the third right hand which can hold either a spear or a banner. In the Buddhist painting exhibited above the Shri Devi-like figure holds a banner in the third right hand.

Conclusion: Until more examples of a three faced, six armed Shri Devi like deity are found, along with Buddhist textual descriptions, we must, for the time being, consider that all such forms are most probably the Bon protector deity Sipai Gyalmo.

Jeff Watt
Director & Chief Curator

(The Sipai Gyalmo Comparison Page has also been added to the bottom of the Shri Devi Resource Page for comparison purposes).

Tags: Shri Devi

E-letter for September 26th, 2009

September 26, 2009 ·

Dear Subscribers,

Since the last Newsletter of May-July 2009 there have been some significant improvements made to the Advanced Search feature.

See the New Advanced Search.

Two extensive subject Resource Pages have been added. These pages are intended to group together related information under one heading. This is part of the ongoing HAR struggle to contextualize the art and subject content and to keep it easily retrievable in an ever growing art and iconography database. We hope to add more Resource Pages to help with navigation for other large categories and topics on the site.

Mandala Resource Page | Introduction to Mandalas

Shri Devi Resource Page | Introduction to Shri Devi

Two ongoing projects that only effect the site user when landing on certain pages are the continued use of Greyscaling and the addition of Visual Images of Painting Sets.

The Tibetan yogi and saint Milarepa has been a topic of some interest of late. See three new pages discussing the Milarepa Life-story painting sets, and a Milarepa composition possibly painted by the famous terton of the 19th century - Choggyur Lingpa.

Four Milarepa Paintings | Terton Choggyur Lingpa

Four Milarepa Paintings & One Sculpture | Milarepa in Life Story & Lineage Painting Sets

A Mitra Gyatsa Page has been added along with numerous sub-pages: outline page, contents list, lineages, etc.

The Vajravali Outline Page has been updated with new sub-pages: contents, lineages, etc.

New Outline Pages:
Female Teachers
Yogi Appearance in Himalayan Art
Amoghapasha Lokeshvara
Yama Dharmaraja Mandala
Yama Dharmaraja Mandala Schematic
Hevajra Mandala Elements
Chakrasamvara Mandala Elements
Yaks & Mandalas
Five Myths About Mandalas
Simhanda Lokeshvara
Magzor Gyalmo
Ekajati (updated with an introduction)
Shri Devi: Forms of the Deity
Shri Devi: Traditions
Shri Devi: Forms Comparison

Aside from these enhancements and additions many new thematic image set pages were created in order to populate and give depth to the outline pages listed above. Cataloguing is always ongoing and continues for the Jacques Marchais Collection, Santa Barbara Museum and the Prague National Gallery. These institutions are at the top of the list with numerous other museum and private collections waiting patiently in the queue.

Thank you for your continued interest.

Jeff Watt
Director & Chief Curator
Himalayan Art Resources

Tags: newsletter

Advanced Search: New & Greatly Improved

September 26, 2009 ·

The old Advanced Search was rather static with a query result only serving up a linear text list of either paintings or sculpture. Those days are now over.

The new Advanced Search is programmed to serve up thumbnail images as the default with the old List View as a secondary option. When searching on a specific subject the default is set to display both paintings and sculpture. For even more advanced search queries on topics such as medium or type then both broad categories of paintings and sculpture can be selected individually. The unique options for paintings (for us meaning two-dimensional) such as red background, textiles, etc., can be chosen under the painting category and the same for sculpture when searching on medium, repousse, etc. The HAR Team believes that this is a major enhancement to the site. Please try it out.

See the New Advanced Search.

And with the Keyword Search don't forget that since December of last year the HAR site has been using Google Custom Search. This has also been a huge improvement over the previous search engine technology.

Tags: Search

Shri Devi: Palden Lhamo: Glorious Goddess

September 25, 2009 ·

From the Shri Devi Resource Page---

Shri Devi is the most important classification of female protector deity in Tantric Tibetan Buddhism. Out of the nearly two dozen textual forms of the goddess there are three principal forms that appear regularly in painting and sculpture. The first and second forms are almost identical. Only the hand attributes distinguish them one from the other. Known as Shri Devi Dudsolma, she has one face and four arms. There is a [1] Sakya version of Dudsolma and a [2] Kagyu version of Dudsolma. The Sakya version holds a sword, skullcup, spear and trident. The Kagyu version holds a sword, skullcup, peg 'kila' and trident. The [3] third form of Shri Devi, most popular in the Gelug Tradition, is known as Magzor Gyalmo and has one face like the previous forms but only two hands. She holds a vajra tipped staff and a skullcup.

Some Tibetan teachers say that there are twenty-one forms of Palden Lhamo (Shri Devi), often including the Bon religious protector Sipai Gyalmo as one of the forms. This is likely a late conflation occurring in the last one hundred years or so, an attempt to organize all of the different forms, along with the major and minor traditions, into a single structured system.

Not all forms of Shri Devi have the same entity or personality. The principal form of the protector, Dudsolma or Dudmo Remati, appearing with one face and four arms, riding a donkey, is a wrathful manifestation of Shri Lakshmi (Pal Lhamo). Principal here means earliest and having the most lineages from India, teachings and commentaries associated with her practice. Magzor Gyalmo with two arms, riding a mule, is a manifestation of Sarasvati. In the Bon Religion Sipai Gyalmo is the wrathful form of Satrig Ersang, one of the four principal deities/gods of the Bon Religion. This shows that the different forms of Shri Devi arise from various narratives, ritual and practice traditions.

The early references and teachings on Shri Devi Dudsolma, or using her full name Dudsol Dokam Wangchugma (Kamadhatv-ishvari) with four arms, are found in detail in two Tantras, the Fifty Chapter Mahakala Tantra and the Twenty-five Chapter Mahakala Tantra. In these texts Shri Devi is closely related to Mahakala, The Great Black One.

The form of Shri Devi known as Magzor Gyalmo, with two arms and riding a mule, has a different history derived from different source literature. In the main text narrating the history of Magzorma, the Dakinyagnijihajvala Tantra, she is described as the servant, or younger sister, of Shri Devi Dudsolma (with four arms and riding a donkey). See the Magzor Gyalmo Introduction and the source literature the Dakinyagnijihajvala Tantra, Dege Kanjur, volume 98, pp.223-253. It is found in the Nyingma Tantra section, vol.3.

Dorje Rabtenma, the special protector of Shalu Monastery in Tsang Province, Tibet, is also a form of Shri Devi: "...Goddess Dorje Rabtenma, Great One, with a body maroon in colour, one face, two hands and three eyes; the body covered by a human skin. Held in the right hand is a blazing sword, a mongoose grasped in the left, riding atop a three-legged mule." (Shalu Liturgical verse by Shakya Gelong Rinchen Namgyal).

The image of Shri Devi Dudsolma pictured above is taken from a photograph of a paper poster acquired in 1973. The poster is believed to have been made in India in the late 1960s or early 70s. There is no information on the poster at all, front or back, no writing and no numbers. If anybody has seen another image like this or knows where this original painting resides then please send an e-mail to us at Thank you.

Please see the extensive Shri Devi Resource Page

Tags: Shri Devi

Milarepa in Life Story & Lineage Paintings

September 23, 2009 ·

The first composition in the set of the Stockholm Milarepa Life Story paintings depicts him in a relaxed manner similar to what we have seen in the Choggyur Lingpa painting and somewhat in the Choying Dorje sculpture. There are three known sets in this 19th century style and composition, maybe more. The Rumtek Monastery set of the Karma Kagyu Lineage Masters (Kagyu Sertreng) depicts a relaxed Milarepa similar to what we have been looking at in these other paintings. The Rumtek set, a gift of the previous Sanggye Nyenpa Rinpoche, is based on a much earlier version likely to predate Choggyur Lingpa and even Situ Panchen in the 18th century. Looking at these paintings it is interesting to see that the artists have no trouble switching the direction of the seated posture and portraying either the right hand across the knee or the left. Choggyur Lingpa would have been aware of these iconographic depictions of the Kagyu Masters. However, his painting still seems to be the model that the other three are based on with reference to the September 15th posting.

We have posted a new Milarepa comparison page looking at Life Story Paintings and Lineage Paintings:

Milarepa Life Story Painting Set Comparison

Four Milarepa Paintings & One Sculpture (Tuesday, September 22nd)

Four Milarepa Paintings (Tuesday, September 15th)

As to the comment about possible conflation between the relaxed form of Milarepa and the form of Avalokiteshvara known as Resting in the Nature of Mind (Tibetan: spyan ras gzigs sems nyid ngal gso), I have added a new page with examples of this form for comparison.

Tags: iconography · art

Four Milarepa Paintings & One Sculpture

September 22, 2009 ·

After posting the comparison of the Four Milarepa Paintings last week we heard from a scholar of such subjects and he suggested that there might be a relationship between the four paintings and a well known sculpture carved from rhinoceros horn and said to have been created by Choying Dorje, the 10th Karmapa. The sculpture image is from the publication Karmapa: The Black Hat Lama of Tibet by Nik Douglass.

We have posted a new comparison page also noting the principal characteristics of the paintings and of the sculpture:

Four Milarepa Paintings & One Sculpture

Four Milarepa Paintings (Tuesday September 15th)

Tags: iconography · art