Entries for month: March 2010

Kunzang Akor - the most important Bon Sculpture to appear since the Identification of the Sherab Chamma at LACMA

March 23, 2010 ·

Kunzang AkorThis Kunzang Akor is the most important Bon sculpture to appear in years. Back in 2006 a Sherab Chamma sculpture in the collection of LACMA, previously described as an early Himalayan goddess, was identified as a very early standing figure of the most important female deity of the Bon religion. Now, this Kunzang Akor has surfaced from a private collection. It is large, beautifully cast and appears to be from the Khassa Malla workshops of West Nepal. It is possible that it was created for the Bon temples in the Dolpo region of West Nepal. The image is not yet uploaded to the HAR website but will be added soon. See more images of the figure of Kunzang Akor.

Tags: art · iconography · Bon Religious Art

Machig Labdron Outline Page

March 19, 2010 ·

The pages relating to Cho (Chod) have been updated with new images and sections. A new Machig Labdron Outline Page has been added along with updates to the Cho Refuge Field Page and the Religious Tradition Page. The Blue Annals Cho History still requires editing, formatting and the addition of images.

Tags: outlines · art · iconography

Tonpa Shenrab: Iconography Sub-sets Outline

March 14, 2010 ·

Tonpa Shenrab, the founder of the Bon Religion, has two typical depictions commonly found in art. Aside from those two, he has numerous forms that appear as deities with multiple heads, arms, various colours, along with peaceful and wrathful moods - these however are much less common. (See Tonpa Shenrab: Iconography Sub-sets Outline).

Typically, Tonpa Shenrab appears seated in a cross-legged meditation posture with the right hand extended over the right knee - often holding a yungdrung scepter - and the left hand in the lap with the palm facing upward. In this standard appearance there are two basic versions. The first version is (1) Tonpa Shenrab as he is represented when depicted as one of the group of the Four Transcendent Lords, adorned with a crown, silks, jewelry and ornaments. He will either hold a yungdrung scepter or have a yungdrung staff behind the right shoulder. Some consider this form to be the original, or traditional, way of depicting Tonpa Shenrab. The second version (2) is as Tritsug Gyalwa capturing the moment when late in life Tonpa Shenrab renounces the householder life and takes on the ascetiscm of a religious mendicant and becomes a monk - along with two of his sons and two principal students - often depicted to the right and left sides.

Tags: Bon Religious Art · iconography

Sipai Gyalmo Outline Page - The Bon 'Queen of Existence'

March 13, 2010 ·

Sipai Gyalmo is the principal female protector deity in the Bon Religion (see Outline Page). Typically there are two common forms of the deity, Sipai Gyalmo Riding a Black Mule and Sipai Gyalmo Riding a Red Mule. These two forms are identified by their three heads and six hands. The mules are black or red. The hand objects are different between the two forms. Additionally four celestial beings hold up the hooves of the red mule.

In the Bon religion the Queen of Existence (or Queen of the World) is the most wrathful manifestation of the peaceful deity Loving Mother of Wisdom (T. Sherab Chamma). Fierce in appearance, black in color, she has three faces and six arms holding weapons and implements of power and control. While riding the red mule she holds in the three right hands a victory banner, flaming sword and a peg. The left hands hold a trident, svastika wand, and a skullcup filled with blood. Each of these symbolically represents cutting the knots of illusion and rooting out the three poisons of greed, anger and delusion. Riding on the mule, she sits atop a flayed human skin symbolizing impermanence while the brightly burning flames of wisdom fire surround her.

The Queen of Existence is both a meditational deity and a protector. She is one of the most frequently propitiated figures in the Bon religion, and extends her protection to both religious practitioners and common people alike. Though horrific and wrathful in form she embodies the qualities of wisdom and compassion.

Tags: iconography · outlines · Bon Religious Art · art

Satrig Ersang & Sherab Chamma Outline Page

March 13, 2010 ·

Satrig Ersang and Sherab Chamma are two different manifestations of the same Bon female deity (Outline Page). Satrig Ersang ranks with the highest of Bon Deities/Gods being included as one of the Four Transcendent Lords and named first among them. In her preeminent role Satrig Ersang is generally depicted in a standard appearance holding the attributes of a yungdrung and mirror while seated in a secure meditation posture.

Sherab Chamma can be thought of as an activity manifestation of Satrig Ersang where she takes on the roles of meditational deity, a deity of healing such as Yeshe Walmo, and in her most horrific of appearances - Sipai Gyalmo - the principal protector of the Bon Religion.

Tags: iconography · outlines · Bon Religious Art · art

The Earliest Sakya Refuge Field Painting

March 12, 2010 ·

This image is of the earliest known Sakya Refuge Field painting - Field of Accumulation - to appear in any museum or private collection (or known mural in situ). It is dated by style to the 20th century. The depiction follows the traditional Sakya textual descriptions for placing the lineage of teachers on a flat plane surrounding the central Vajradhara or Guru figure - in this case it is Sakya Pandita. This Sakya configuration differs from others such as Jamgon Kongtrul's description of placing the lineage teachers one above the other in a vertical line. This however doesn't mean that the various traditions only have one way of doing things. What has become clear is that how things are presented in the liturgical texts describing visualizations is not necessarily how the artists depict those very specific descriptions.

Very recently, paintings depicting Sakya Refuge Fields have been created (see HAR #61218, #89994) but in the style described by Jamgon Kongtrul using the Karma Kagyu 'five branch' tree model and a vertical hierarchy (see example). In 1979/80 a very detailed drawing of a Sakya Refuge Field was created that followed very closely the compsoition and style of the Gelug Tradition based on the writings of the 1st Panchen Lama. Is this possibly an instance where art and the popularity of a particular Refuge Field composition & style is dictating the iconography even where there is no traditional textual basis?

Because of this relatively new tradition of creating Refuge Field paintings a fascinating window has opened that allows an insight into the relationship between art & iconography, religious texts, the actual living practices, practitioners themselves and how they create and use visual forms.

Sakya Refuge Field Page - updated

Refuge Field Main Page - updated

Tags: art · iconography

The Earliest Karma Kagyu Refuge Field Painting

March 09, 2010 ·

This image is of the earliest known Karma Kagyu Refuge Field painting - Field of Accumulation - to appear in any museum or private collection (or known mural in situ). It can be dated to the life of the 15th Karmapa Kakyab Dorje (1870/71-1921/22). His typical iconographic attributes are a vajra and bell held in the hands along with two flowers supporting a sword and book. In this painting the 15th Karmapa is depicted in the lower part of the composition. Above his left shoulder is a long-life vase on a flower blossom with the sword and book on a flower at the right shoulder. The vase or rather a long-life vase is often used to indicate that a teacher is still alive when a painting or sculpture is commissioned. It is an auspicious long-life gesture by the donor and artist. At the right and left sides of the seated Karmapa are Situpa and Jamyang Dorje. The Situ must be the 11th Situpa, Pema Wangchug Gyalpo (1886-1952). The other figure of Jamyang Dorje is not quite as identifiable but is likely to be Jamyang Rinpoche the 11th Shamarpa and son of the 15th Karmapa, Kakyab Dorje.

The painting is extremely detailed and each figure is accompanied by a written name inscription beneath. The specific Karma Kagyu teachers depicted are of the Mahamudra lineage beginning with Vajradhara, the primordial Buddha, and the Indian mahasiddha Saraha. The over-all appearance of the composition along with the names of the teachers follows closely the text Ngedon Dronme of Jamgon Kongtrul (1813-1899) based on the Ngedon Gyatso of the 9th Karmapa, Wangchug Dorje, (1555-1603). Kongtrul is also depicted in the composition slightly to the upper left of Kakyab Dorje (the viewer's right).

This type of painted composition, based on the visual examples in the HAR database, appears to be a very late phenomenon in Tibetan and Himalayan art quite possibly only becoming popular in the 18th century. The earliest examples appear to be the Gelug paintings of the late 18th century based on the liturgical text of the 'Lama Chopa' written by the 1st Panchen Lama, Lobzang Chokyi Gyaltsen (1570-1662) in the 17th century.

Nyimgma Refuge Field paintings first appear in the 19th century as a visual representation of the Field of Accumulation for the Longchen Nyingtig uncommon preliminary practices as taught by Jigme Lingpa and later explained in detail by Patrul Rinpoche in the famous text, The Words of My Perfect Teacher. These Longchen Nyingtig refuge depictions are the only Nyingma paintings identified so far.

As for the Kagyu Tradition the Drigung appear to be the earliest to adopt this visual model with a number of examples followed by the Drugpa Kagyu with one example on the HAR website. The Karma Kagyu and Sakya Traditions are the last to adopt the visual form with one example each represented on HAR. The earliest Karma Kagyu Refuge Field is dated to between 1900 and 1922 based on inscriptions and the figure of the 15th Karmapa, Kakyab Dorje. The earliest Sakya artifact is a block print image of a White Tara Field of Accumulation from the Dege Parkang (Printing House) in East Tibet, likely a creation of the 20th century.

Tags: art · iconography

HAR Home Page - Updated

March 08, 2010 ·

The Himalayan Art Resources website 'Home Page' has been update with some minor changes and clearer navigation. The left-hand menu located on all HAR secondary pages has been added to the Home Page. The three large image buttons have been dedicated to the mediums of Painting, Sculpture and Textile. The most recent four News Updates from the News Page are now listed automatically on the HAR Home Page. If you have suggestions or ideas for improvements - please let us know.

Tags: updates

Guhyagarbha Tantra Art Page

March 08, 2010 ·

In the Nyingma Tradition the Guhyagarbha Tantra (8th to 10th century) is considered the most important of all Tantras. It describes two basic mandala configurations - one of forty-two peaceful deities and another of fifty-eight wrathful deities. There is a clear organization and a structured hierarchy in the Tantra and the two mandalas. There is also a clear relationship between the deities of the Guhyagarbha Tantra and the various Tibetan traditions of the Bardo Todal (Tibetan Book of the Dead).


Tags: iconography · Nyingma · art

Art & Iconography of the Tibetan 'Bardo' - Between Death & Rebirth - the Tibetan Book of the Dead....along with some loose ends

March 07, 2010 ·

The Forty-two Peaceful and Fifty-eight Wrathful Deities of the Guhyagarbha Mandala are the basis for the iconography and the creation of paintings depicting the subject of the 'Bardo' - Tibetan Book of the Dead. In the Nyingma Tradition the Guhyagarbha Tantra (8th to 10th century) is considered the most important of all Tantras. The 'Terton' Karma Lingpa, in the 14th century, is credited with the discovery of the 'treasure text' known as the Liberation Through Hearing in the Bardo (aka Tibetan Book of the Dead), a text intended to be read to the deceased and to influence positively the subsequent rebirth. (There is evidence to suggest that the famous 'Treasure Finder' of the Bon Religion - Shenchen Luga - had discovered similar texts in the 11th century).

When looking at Nyingma paintings of the peaceful and wrathful deities grouped in clusters of forty-two and fifty-eight it is very difficult to know what the intended specific subject is meant to be. It raises the questions - are all peaceful & wrathful deity paintings intended to be representations of the Guhyagarbha Mandalas based on the Guhyagarbha Tantra - the original source of the iconography? Are some of the paintings intended to depict the system of Karma Lingpa and the Bardo Todal - well known in the West? If so, and if the deities are the same, then how can one tell the difference? To complicate the matter further, do some of the peaceful and wrathful paintings also represent the half dozen or more of the other versions of the Bardo Todal manuscripts, and described peaceful and wrathful deities, based on the later revelations of Nyingma teachers such as Choggyur Lingpa in the 19th century?

To come to some temporary solution to this identification problem on the HAR site, any painting depicting the 'Peaceful & Wrathful Deities' that appears in concentric circles, also representing the entire group of deities, have been placed under the subject heading of 'Bardo.' All other paintings of peaceful and wrathful deities are included under the broad classification of Guhyagarbha Tantra (Peaceful & Wrathful Deities) and the more specific subjects of Samantabhadra, Heruka and Chemchog - the central subjects of those paintings and central subjects of the Guhyagarbha Mandalas.

Objects in the HAR database that are without doubt related to the Karma Lingpa system of Bardo:
- Manuscript 1 (complete)
- Manuscript 2 (complete)
- Manuscript 3 (complete)
- Initiation Cards (Karling Shitro)
- Initiation Cards (Karling Shitro)
- Initiation Cards (Karling Shitro Misc.)

Tags: iconography