Entries for month: March 2011

Karma Tansrung: a Worldly Protector of the Karma Kagyu

March 31, 2011 ·

Karma Tansrung: a 'gyalpo' spirit subjugated by Tai Situ Pema Nyingje and made into a worldly protector deity of Palpung Monastery of the Karma Kagyu Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. He is also known as Padma Tansrung. (See Tibetan Spirits).

Karma Tansrung is slightly wrathful, with bulging eyes, biting down on the lower lip, a large bald forehead, attired in the garb of a monk, the head surrounded by a halo of flames. In the right hand he holds a long staff adorned with a flaming blue jewel. The left hand holds upraised a larger flaming blue jewel. In a standing posture he is surrounded by objects of wealth: gold, silver, red coral, bolts of cloth, multi-coloured jewels and two mongoose in front.

At the top left is Katog Tsewang Norbu wearing the garments of a lay teacher and a Nyingma hat. He holds vajra scepter to the heart with the right hand and a kila peg in the left. and. At the top right is Situ Chokyi Jungne wearing the robes of a monastic and the typical red hat of his incarnation lineage. In the right and left hands are a vajra and bell.

Tags: iconography

Thirteenth or Eighteenth Century?

March 30, 2011 ·

Thirteenth or Eighteenth Century? A response to David Weldon’s “On Recent Attributions to Aniko” (, October 21, 2010) by Michael Henss. February 14, 2011.

On recent attributions to Aniko by David Weldon. October 21, 2010

"It is my opinion that Nepalese and Tibetan art of the 13th and 14th century was influenced considerably by Indian Pala style models in a great variety of forms and atelier traditions. However, a closer look at all these “Pala-Newari” and “Pala-Tibetan” or Nepalo-Tibetan artistic traditions will naturally help identifying specific stylistic groups beyond a simple Pala pattern which I feel characterises – in different degrees – the great majority of “Himalayan” art works of that period. " (Read the full article on the Asian Art website. See images of the Aniko Stupa in Beijing on the HAR website).

Tags: art

Kacho Wangpo & the Composition of the Khandro Chitor

March 29, 2011 ·

The subject of this painting visually relates a narrative about the 2nd Shamar Kacho Wangpo who traveled to a group of eight mountains (or peaks), Namlha Gye Kang Gi Rawa, accompanied by two attendant students. At the foot of the mountains Shamar performed a Khandro Chitor offering followed by a 'sang' smoke offering ritual. At the time he spontaneously composed a new liturgy for offering - still used today. Tseringma, a mountain goddess and Buddhist protector with a long history of close relations with the Karma Kagyu Tradition was pleased with the offering and smoke ritual and appeared to the three - lama and students.

Above the head of Shamar Rinpoche, three rays of emanated light, rainbow-like, twisting upward, spread from smaller to larger, bottom to top, indicating the inspiration in the composition of the new liturgical text of the Khandro Chitor. The five rainbow ribbons frame Manjushri, seated, orange in colour, with the two hands at the heart holding the stems of two flowers supporting a sword and book - attributes of scholarship and wisdom.

The basic compositional form of the central figure and some details have been borrowed and used to depict the Tai Situpa in a later lineage painting set. (See a comparison with painting HAR #51885. Note the divot in the hat generally a characteristic unique to the Tai Situpas). Borrowings of this type are quite common in Tibetan art.

Tags: art · iconography

Shakyamuni Buddha Main Page - Updated

March 28, 2011 ·

A Buddha is known for having thirty-two major and eighty minor distinguishing physical characteristics (marks) based on the Indian cultural description of a Universal Monarch (Chakravartin) - the highest and most developed male form. Only a few of these 112 marks are depicted in art such as the ushnisha on the top of the head, the urnakesha between the eyes, three curved horizontal lines on the neck and a Dharma Wheel impression on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

Shakyamuni Buddha is generally depicted as formal in appearance, he gazes forward with partially closed eyes and the blue-black hair on the head is piled in a tuft on top with a single gold ornament adorning the crown. Between the eyebrows is a white dot representing a curled white hair (urna) and adorning the neck are three curved horizontal lines. The earlobes are long and pierced. With the right arm bare the right hand is extended across the knee in the earth touching gesture (mudra). The left performs the gesture (mudra) of meditation - palm upward in the lap. Across the left shoulder is a saffron coloured patchwork robe. A similar lower garment is tied at the waist with a cloth belt. The legs are folded in vajra posture.

Tags: art · iconography

Buddhist Ganapati Main Page & Outline - Updated

March 27, 2011 ·

The primary function of Ganapati in Tantric Buddhism is that of a wealth deity - a practice done for the purposes of obtaining wealth for religious reasons such as building temples, helping the poor or sustaining spiritual practice.

Most forms of Ganapati belong to the Kriya classification of Buddhist Tantra. In the 11th century Jowo Atisha popularized at least two forms of Ganapati in Tibet and the Indian Pandita Gayadhara introduced numerous others which came down through the Sakya Tradition. In the following centuries the Nyingma Tradition gave rise to numerous forms through the process of Revealed Treasure.

Tags: iconography

Mountain Gods & Local Deities - Updated

March 24, 2011 ·

Mountain Gods and Goddesses of Tibet and the Himalayan regions are spirits indigenous to a specific geographic region and considered worthy, for various reasons, of worship by the local populace. All of the gods and local deities represented here are generally considered Worldly Deities as oppsoed to Wisdom Deities - deities that are enlightened in a Buddhist or Bon sense of the word enlightenment. The gods can be either Bon, Buddhist or regional - as well as equally worshiped by all. The more famous of these various gods have been incorporated into religious traditions, often losing their local flavour as they move outside of their regions and are generically worshiped throughout Tibet and the Himalayas. Also note that some followers of the protector deity Dorje Shugden maintain that he is a Wisdom Protector and fully enlightened. Also, the Gelug Monastery of Dragyab in Kham, Eastern Tibet, holds that Dorje Setrab is also an enlightened Wisdom Protector.

Tags: iconography

Gongkar Chode Monastery, Tibet

March 23, 2011 ·

The Gongkar Chode Monastery is believed to have been established in 1464. The principal founder of the Dzongpa Tradition was Dorje Chang Kunga Namgyal (born 1432). The main monastery of the Dzongpa is Gongkar Chode just south-west of Lhasa on the south side of the Tsangpo River. This monastery is especially famous for the artist Kyentse Wangchug and the development of the Kyenri style of painting. The Hevajra Chapel and the Old Gonkang, both on the 2nd floor, have wonderful murals and stand as the best early examples of the Kyenri style of drawing, composition and use of colour.

Tags: art · Murals

Tibetan Worldly Spirits, Sprites & Ogres

March 19, 2011 ·

The 22 images depicted in this gallery are a compendium of the various Tibetan worldly spirits that occupy and haunt Tibetan history and folk life stories - some are imported from Indian cultural beliefs and narratives. Often the spirits are the projected demons and obstacles overcome during religious and village rituals of the Bon, Buddhist and Himalayan Tribal religious and spiritual groups. Sometimes the spirits are understood to be mental afflictions or disease and at other times they are real physically appearing monsters that can cause great harm to adults, children, livestock and property.

Romanized names and contextual information will be added over the next week or so.

Tags: art · iconography

Begtse Chen Coral Masks - Updated

March 15, 2011 ·

The protector deity Begtse Chen, (English: the Great Coat of Mail. Sanskrit name: Prana Atma), was popularized within the Sarma (new) Schools of Tibetan Buddhism by Marpa Lotsawa (1012-1096) and Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158), the respective founders of the Marpa Kagyu and Sakya Traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. The protector was later adopted and incorporated into the Gelug School of Tsongkapa and subsequently became popular in Mongolia - predominantly following the Gelug tradition since the 17th century. Begtse Chen is the main protector associated with the Hayagriva cycle of Tantric Deity meditation practice.

For over one hundred years numerous scholars in the West  have published the history of Begtse erroneously as beginning with the 3rd Dalai Lama and the subjugation of a Mongolian war god - referring to the protector deity Begtse. A common source given for the Western source of the story, based on Mongolian oral history, is Albert Grunwedel (1856-1935). In Tibetan Buddhism Begtse is believed to have originated in India. The practice entered Tibet with Nyen Lotsawa in the 11th century. (See the Common Confusions About Protectors Glossary).

It is commonly said by some sources in Mongolia that there were three Begtse Chen coral masks made at approximately the turn of the century a little over a hundred years ago. Currently there are at least three masks in museums in Mongolia, another mask is in the collection of the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City. Aside from these there are numerous masks available on the Asian art market either real or copies. It is not easy to distinguish between the original Mongolian masks and the modern copies.

Begtse Mask:
1. Zanabazar Museum, Ulan Bator, Mongolia
2. Chojin Lama Temple, Ulan Bator, Mongolia
3. Danza Rabjaa Museum Sainshand, Mongolia
4. Rubin Museum of Art, New York, USA
5. Others....

Tags: art · Mongolia

121 Bon Chorten

March 10, 2011 ·

Bon Chorten (Tibetan: mchod rten) are reliquary mounds comparable to the Buddhist stupa. Bon chorten can be immediately distinguished from the Buddhist stupa by a set of Horned Eagle (kyung) horns that are placed on the top of the spire. In the Bon Religion there are 121 chorten designs intended for use on the earth. There are a further 121 for the sky and another 121 for the underworld. These images depict the 121 for use on the earth.

Tags: Bon Religious Art · iconography