Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Bardo (Peaceful & Wrathful) Main Page

Guhyagarbha Tantra Main Page

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
- Study Topics:
--- General Meaning
--- Deities & Iconographic Subjects
--- Art Compositions & Painting Sets
- Outline
- Guhyagarbha Tantra
- Bon Religion: Bardo Subjects
- Funerary Art
- Masterworks
- Confusions: Guhyagarbha Tantra, Shitro, Bon Shitro
- Others...

- Bardo Thodal Paintings
- Bardo Deities
- The Tibetan Book of the Dead

Bardo is the Tibetan word for between, or an in-between, state. In a religious context the term is most referenced in regard to the state of existence that occurs between death and rebirth. Under the subject of bardo some of the topics of interest that are related to art are the sights and visions that a being is believed to experience during that time. In the West this subject is most commonly referred to as 'The Tibetan Book of The Dead.'

Bardo is an abstract concept. There are no actual images of the bardo. Deity figures and mandala-like shapes are used to convey the ideas of the state between death and rebirth.

The 'Terton' Karma Lingpa (1326–1386), in the 14th century, is credited with the discovery of the 'treasure text' known as the Liberation Through Hearing in the Bardo (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 (996-1035) - 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. Are all peaceful & wrathful deity paintings intended to be representations of the Guhyagarbha Mandala based on the Guhyagarbha Tantra? Are some of the paintings intended to depict the system of Karma Lingpa and the Bardo Todal and if so then how can one tell the difference? Do some of the paintings also represent the half dozen or more other versions of the Bardo Todal based on the revelations of later Nyingma teachers such as Chogyur Lingpa in the 19th century?

In order to come to some temporary solution to this identification problem on the HAR site then any painting depicting the Peaceful & Wrathful Deities that appears in concentric circles and generally represents the entire group of 42 an 58 deities, or just the peaceful alone or the wrathful alone, have been placed under the subject heading of 'Bardo.' All other paintings are included under Samantabhadra, Heruka or Chemchog - the central subjects of the paintings.

Jeff Watt, 3-2010 [updated 6-2017, 1-2022]

Lotsawa House: Peaceful & Wrathful Deities Series

(The images below are both miscellaneous compositions and a selection of examples from the links above).