Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Gesar Battle Helmet

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The Battle Helmet of Gesar Norbu Dradul

The battle helmet of Ling Gesar is one of the standard characteristic features in Gesar iconography, however it is not well explained in the ritual literature and must be understood from studying the known paintings - as many as possible. Of the two principal forms of Gesar commonly represented in art, Norbu Dradul and Dorje Tsegyal, the helmet is a standard characteristic of Norbu Dradul - Gesar in the appearance of a warrior, a Tibetan Drala god. With the iconography of Gesar paintings the helmet follows the typical artistic convention of any helmet of a Tibetan warrior, a Drala god. There are three basic components or elements to the helmet. The first (1) is the round shape, the second (2) is the flag decorations and the third (3) is a Victory Banner at the peak.

Three Basic Elements of the Helmet:
1. Round shape
2. Adorned with Flags
3. Topped with a Victory Banner

The helmet has a round shape with extended sides to protect the neck at the sides and back. It can appear to be made of metal, leather or cloth with various textures and designs. The colour and patterns are various. Two or more flags up to seven or eight in number adorn the top of the helmet. The flags, if small in size and few in number, such as two, are attached to the top of he helmet. If the flags are of a large size, and many of them, then they are attached to the back of the figure, typically secured by the belt. The flags are individually solid in color with the numbers of flags creating a multi-colored array. At a distance above the helmet or at the apex of the flags there is generally found a Victory Banner, one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols common to Indian culture and the various spiritual traditions such as Buddhism.

Aside from the three main elements of the helmet there can also be two further adornments sometimes found in painted depictions. They are (4) eagle feathers and (5) ribbons. The feathers can be either one single plume, pointing upward directly above the helmet, or many feathers arranged fan-like to accent the multi-coloured flags and the solitary Victory Banner.

A survey of sixteen Gesar Norbu Dradul paintings showed all had the helmet and flags. Eleven of those also had the Victory Banner placed above and three had feathers, either single or multiple plumes. Four examples of Gesar paintings had ribbons in addition to the basic three elements of the helmet: round shape, flags and a banner.

The Thirty Warrior Heroes that are commonly depicted with Gesar also wear helmets that can be either identical in appearance, similar, or simply smaller versions of the helmet that Gesar typically wears.

There are many other gods and deities in Tibetan Buddhist art that wear the same warrior helmet as Gesar and his Thirty Warriors. The most common of these figures are Dorje Setrab, Tsi'u Marpo, Drala Chegu, Drala Yesi Gyalpo and numerous other figures representing Tibetan Mountain gods, spirits and religious protectors.

(The images used in the survey were HAR numbers: #55029, 47436, 55019, 73433, 48966, 48967, 57091, 77176, 79418, 87624, 87625, 90715 and four paintings not yet available on the HAR website).

Jeff Watt, 11-2011