Himalayan Art Resources

King: Gesar Dorje Tsegyal

Gesar Main Page

Gesar Dorje Tsegyal (rdo rje tshe rgyal), Gesar Vajra King of Life, is the second most common form of Gesar to appear in art. He is typically depicted in King Appearance with a peaceful countenance and clothing. The head is topped with a tall white hat, he wears heavy layered clothes of multi-colours along with felt boots. The right hand holds to the heart a wish-fulfilling jewel and the left extended to the side holds a bow and arrow. He is seated in a relaxed posture on a throne decorated with three flayed human skins.

Dorje Tsegyal can be depicted in painting or sculpture in this single form described above, or he can be accompanied by seven other figures. The full retinue as described by Mipam Jamyang Namgyal Gyamtso (1846-1912) includes the youth Dorje Legpa standing at the proper right side of Gesar and in a similar appearance. On the left side stands the female figure Dorje Yudronma. In front is the army general Migmar Chenpo along with the Four Great Secret Mothers appearing as beautiful young girls. In total, there are eight figures described in the full group of the Gesar Dorje Tsegyal retinue.

The original description of the form of Dorje Tsegyal, and possibly with retinue, is attributed to Lelung Zhepa'i Dorje (1697-1740) and his 'Revealed Treasures' (terma). This is known from authoritative Tibetan informants and from the lists of collected writings of Lelung. Most of the Lelung writings on the subject of Gesar are not currently available. It is hoped they will be located in the near future.

"He was also one of the first masters to reveal practices related to Ling Gesar (gling ge sar) the semi-divine Tibetan hero famed for his use of theriocephalic drala (dgra lha) and werma (wer ma) to return balance to the human world. His recorded three texts are entitled, [1] Chapters of Narrative about Gesar from Pure Vision (dag snang ge sar gyi gtam rgyud), [2] Relief at an Era's End: A Supplication and Offering to King Gesar and his Ministers (ge sar rgyal po dpon blon gyi gsol mchod dus mtha'i dbugs 'byin la) and [3] The Third Set of Quintessential Instructions of Gesar from Pure Vision (dag snang ge sar gyi man ngag skor tsho gsum pa la)." (See the Biography of Lelung by Tom Greensmith).

There are several sculptural representations known in museum and private collections. Only a few examples are shown here. Others will undoubtedly be found. The metal images can vary in posture and hand attributes but in general follow the Dorje Tsegyal depiction and descriptions.

Gesar is generally classified as a protector deity in Tibetan Buddhism. In general Gesar can also be employed for the four Tantric activities of [1] Peaceful, [2] Increase, [3] Powerful and [4] Wrathful. Different iconographic forms of Gesar are used, visualized, imagined, when performing these different activities. Only one painting depicting all of these various forms in known to exist [image not available]. Gesar as a deity with a ritual component, separate from the Epic Literature, belongs primarily to the Nyingma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism along with some popularity in the Drugpa and Karma Kagyu Traditions. The arrow divination ritual of Gesar has been popular for over a hundred years. The most popular ritual texts used for the practices of Gesar Dorje Tsegyal were composed by Ju Mipam. So far, the paintings and sculpture are all a product of the 20th century.

Jeff Watt, 12-2011 [updated 10-2022]