Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Life Story Paintings (Literary Genre)

Life Story Paintings (Literary Genre) | Life Story Paintings Main Page

2. The Literary Genre (Basis) for a Life Story Painting: There are many different subjects of Life Story painting in Himalayan and Tibetan art along with a large number of types, or genre, of biographical literature upon which each life story is based. The principal types of literary genre are: Biography (individual Life Story or Lineage Teacher compilation), Auto-biography (Rang Nam), Memoires & Diaries, Life Event (or Events), Hagiography, Path to Liberation (Namtar), Secret Biography (Sangwa'i Namtar), Previous Life Stories, Revealed Treasure (or Pure Vision), and Oral Tradition.

Genre Types in Source Literature:
1. Biography/Life Story (skyes bu dam pa'i rnam thar, dam pa'i 'khrungs rabs)
2. Autobiography (rang rnam, rang nyid kyi lo rgyus)
3. Memoires & Diaries (dran gso dang nyin deb)
4. Life Event (mi tshe'i gnad don)
5. Hagiography (dam pa'i 'khrungs rabs lo rgyus)
6. Complete Liberation (rnam par thar pa'i lam)
7. Secret Biography (gsang ba'i rnam thar)
8. Previous Life Stories ('khrungs rabs rnam thar)
9. Revealed Treasure/Pure Vision (gter ma, dag snang)
10. (Oral Tradition, snyan rgyud)
11. Travel Log (lam yig, 'grul bskyod tho deb)
12. Writing From Experience (nyams yig)

Generally included in the above categories are the two important considerations of [1] the author (role and position of the author) and [2] the intended audience.

The example of the Virupa painting below fits the genre of a specific life event. In this case it is a moment in the life of the Tibetan teacher Sachen Kunga Nyingpo when he had a vision of the mahasiddha Virupa appearing in the sky in front and surrounded by very specific attendant siddha figures. Sachen is not depicted, only the vision. The painting does not belong to a set of paintings. It is a one off meant to depict that special moment in Sachen's life.

The second example of the image of Arya Asanga is also narrating a Life Event Genre story. This image highlights a series of episodes in Asanga's spiritual career which ultimately leads to his having a direct communication with the Bodhisattva Maitreya. The result of this meeting leads directly to the writing of the famous philosophical texts of Asanga, although sometimes ascribed to Maitreya.

The third image example is a painting of Je Tsongkapa surrounded by nearly one hundred separate vignettes narrating his entire life story with as much detail as possible. Each vignette is also accompanied by an explanatory inscription written beneath each scene. This painting follows a very straight forward biography style literary genre.

Jeff Watt 8-2012