Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Gesar Attributes

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Gesar Attributes, Hands & Weapons:

The general description of Gesar Norbu Dradul already given lists and describes the principal characteristics of his iconography. In brief, he appears as a man of royal stature wearing body armor and riding a horse. The body armor is not described in any particular detail or with any distinctive characteristics. The horse however is always characterized as having a light brown colour.

Principal Characteristics:
1. Royal figure
2. body armor
3. helmet
4. hand attributes
5. light brown horse

The principal hand attributes of Norbu Dradul are a riding crop held upraised in the right hand. In the left hand he typically holds the reins of the horse, along with a spear adorned with a single flag and a lasso wrapped around the hand - the ends flying loose.

Hand Attributes:
1. riding crop
2. spear
3. lasso

Of the sixteen Gesar paintings surveyed fourteen of the central Gesar figures held the riding crop in the upraised right hand. Fifteen of the figures held a spear in the left hand along with either the reins of the horse or a lasso, or all three together. In some cases the spear is held upright in the bend of the elbow and leaning against the left shoulder. Two paintings out of the sixteen that are exceptions to this description just given are the Gesar of the Sichuan Provincial Museum and the painting attributed to the artist Namkha Gyan of Trehor.

The Sichuan Provincial Museum painting of Gesar holds a spear in the right hand and places the left hand to the ear. The Namkha Gyan example is the opposite with the right hand cupping the ear and the left holding a spear along with the reins of the horse. Another slight variation from the common Gesar Norbu Dradul iconographic form can be found at the Sichuan University Museum. Here the central figure of Gesar appears in the usual form except with the additional attribute of a flaming wish-fulfilling jewel held in the left hand.

The Thirty Hero Warriors that commonly accompany Ling Gesar are most often depicted in the same appearance with the same attributes and in the same riding stance. In more detailed paintings and especially in single compositions depicting Ling Gesar and each of the Thirty Warriors then the individual figures can have more personalized riding postures, hand gestures and slightly varying attributes.

However, it is commonly known that only two of the Thirty Hero Warriors have hand attributes completely different from Ling Gesar. The two Heroes with unique attributes are Aku Trotung [HAR #375], the uncle of Gesar, and Chogyong Bernag [HAR #47439]. Both of these figures hold upraised in the right hand a 'torma' offering (stylized food), often shaped like a single red triangle or three triangles in a row, offered in either a human skull cup or on a flat plate. Chogyong Bernag also wears a black broad rimmed hat and a black cloak making him the most recognizable figure in the retinue of Ling Gesar.

With the iconography of Ling Gesar, aside from very specific small details, it is very difficult to tell the difference between Gesar himself and any of the accompanying Thirty Warrior Heroes. In painted compositions identification is principally made through recognition of hierarchy based on size and location of figures in a painting. Size and location indicate directly the hierarchy and importance of all figures. The largest and most central figure in any composition is the most important. Further to that, to identify Ling Gesar in a painting it is necessary to first (1) know the iconographic characteristics of Gesar, secondly (2) to understand the context in which Gesar can appear and thirdly (3) to recognize the accompanying retinue figures that belong to the iconography of Ling Gesar.

(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