Himalayan Art Resources

Buddhist Protector: Nechung Chogyong Page

Nechung Chogyong | Pehar Main Page

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Nechung Chogyang, Dorje Dragden Description (below)
- Nechung Monastery
- Divination Page
- Oracle Crown
- Red Wrathful Deities (Male)
- Worldly Deities
- Nechung Chogyong as a Secondary Figure: #551, #77129, #94406
- Masterworks
- Confusions: Begtse Chen
- Others...

Nechung Chogyang, is a title, the 'Religious Protector of Nechung (small place)' Monastery. His proper name is Dorje Dragden. In English he is commonly referred to as the Nechung Oracle. Dorje Dragden is the chief minister in the retinue of Pehar Gyalpo a worldly deity (god, spirit) appointed as a protector of Buddhism. According to legend Pehar, originally from the north western region of Bata Hor, was subjugated by Padmasambhava in the 8th century. The official Nechung Monastery is located just below the large Drepung Monastery on the west side of Lhasa, Tibet, China. Nechung Chogyong is the principal oracle for the Ganden Podrang government and the Dalai Lamas since the time of the Great 5th Dalai Lama, Ngagwang Lobzang Gyatso (1617-1682).

According to Tibetan religious history Pehar Gyalpo was originally appointed as the defender and protector of Samye Monastery and re-appointed in the 17th century by the 5th Dalai Lama to the Nechung Monastery in Lhasa area. Pehar is a non-Tibetan spirit who is believed to have been subjugated by Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava and bound by an oath to protect all the Buddhist temples and monasteries of Tibet. Other stories relate how Pehar was a local protector in the northern regions of Bata-Hor, conquered by Tri Songtsen Gampo, and brought back to Tibet hidden in the horde of plundered wealth. This group of five Pehar figures, originally belonging to the Nyingma 'Revealed Treasure' Tradition, was later incorporated into the Gelugpa School at the time of the 5th Dalai Lama, and can be found in other Tibetan Buddhist schools depending on the preferences of individual monasteries. Some traditions claim that, like the Direction King Vaishravana, Pehar Gyalpo Ku Nga has attained the 10th level Bodhisattva ground - a Mahayana level of attainment - immediately preceding the full enlightenment of a Buddha.

Nechung Chogyong and Begste Chen can be easily confused because of the shared appearance of a single face, two hands, red in colour and appearing like a warrior. The main differences between the two are the distinctive characteristics of Begtse with a sword held aloft in the right hand and a heart upraised in the left hand while cradling a bow and arrow. In a standing posture the right foot presses down on a prone horse positioned on it's back. Both deities are sometimes depicted with a makara (water monster) decoration on the front of the armor but this is only the choice of the artist and not an iconographic requirement textually referenced. The makara and the kirtimukha are often confused or conflated in Himalayan art. Nechung Chogyong typically has a mirror ornament on the front of the armor situated over the heart. The mirror can also be marked with the Tibetan letter 'HRIH'. The mirror is related to divination. When Begtse Chen wears a mirror it is most often the artists choice.

Identifying religious deities is based on general characteristics followed by specific attributes. The specific attributes for Nechung Chogyong are: male, wrathful, red, one face, two arms, standing, warrior attire with a helmet & flags, holding a spear in the right hand, a lasso in the left hand, standing on a prone figure. The helmet or hat can be a special feature of Nechung Chogyong. As used by the living Nechung Oracle the helmet is a very heavy circular gold ring adorned with human skull decorations, also gold, with attached finials and feathers. This helmet has been copied and commonly used by other oracles of the Tibetan and Himalayan regions regardless of the divinity being invoked. The shape and form of the helmet is clearly Tibetan and Central Asian in origin and appears not to be related to any iconographic descriptions found in Indian or early Tibetan translated literature. The mirror symbol can be found in Indian Buddhist literature but not as a large ornament worn on the chest.

Excerpt from Oracles and Demons of Tibet by Rene De Nebesky-Wojkowitz, page 125: "The chos skyong rdo rje grags ldan, of a red colour, radiant and of a terrible, horrifying appearance. He has one face and two hands. With his right hand he lifts a red banner, with his left he brandishes a snare, catching with it the 'life-breath' of enemies and obstacle-creating demons. His mouth is open and his tongue moves with the speed of lightning. He bares his strong teeth and wrinkles strongly his forehead. His eyebrows and the hair of his face are aflame. He wears a cuirass and a helmet made of rhino-leather. On his right side he carries a quiver of tiger-skin, and on his left side a bow-case made from the skin of a leopard. He is adorned with jewels, ornaments made of human bone, and wears high boots; he dwells in a vehemently blazing fire-cloud, standing with the right foot bent and the left one stretched out." (sku lnga'i gsol mchod. dge 'dun rgya mthso, 1475-1542).

Nechung Chogyong is a deity that has appeared relatively late in the retinue of Pehar Gyalpo. Although textually the name and mythology of Pehar is mentioned early in Tibetan literature the cult and worship of Pehar along with his minister Nechung Chogyong was popularized in the 17th century by the 5th Dalai Lama and the Desi Sanggye Gyatso. All of the art examples, both painting and sculpture, of Pehar Gyalpo appear to be created post 17th century and the same appears true for the Nechung Chogyong although a little later to the 18/19th and 20th centuries.

Jeff Watt [updated 1-2019]

Bibliography:

Oracles and Demons of Tibet by Rene De Nebesky-Wojkowitz. The Hague (1956). ISBN 81-7303-039-1. (See contents list).