Himalayan Art Resources

Glossary: Trees in Himalayan Art

Trees in Art Page | Trees Outline Page | HAR Glossary

Video: Trees in Art

- Ashoka Tree of Marichi: the female deity Marichi 'Goddess of the Dawn' has many different iconographic forms. A number of these forms depict her holding a branch of the ashoka tree.

- Buddha & the Bodhi Tree: each and every buddha reaches enlightenment under a tree. Not all of the trees are of the same species. A wide variety of trees are mentioned in the Mahayana Sutra literature.

- Field of Accumulation - Trees: There are many styles and types of Field of Accumulation paintings. Some types employ a wish-fulfilling tree as the basic compositional guide for arranging the objects which are used to accumulate the merit: teachers, Buddhas, Deities, etc. The Karma Kagyu and Gelug traditions are the two schools that most commonly employ a tree based on descriptions in literature from the 16th and 17th centuries.

- Heavenly Tree of Hindu Cosmology: the Wheel of Life has typically either five or six sections depending on whether the gods and demi-gods are depicted as one. In early Indian cosmology the gods and demi-gods are always described as fighting over the fruit of the tree that is rooted in the demi-god world but blossoms and fruits in the gods world.

- Karma Gardri Tree Composition: a common characteristic of early Karma Gardri style paintings which depict a human figure, generally compositions belonging to sets of paintings, are the inclusion of two types of trees and shrub placed behind the central figure. This stylistic tree configuration is not generally carried into the new Palpung Monastery style of Situ Panchen Chokyi Jungne.

- Life Trees: referring to the tree trunk used as the central structure of n architectural stupa (chaitya). (See an example of a life tree in a narrative vignette).

- Lokeshvara & the Wish-fulfilling Tree: there is a rare form of the deity Lokeshvara where he stands next to a tree while reaching up and grasping a branch. Examples can be found in Nepal but the form does not appear to have taken root in Tibet.

- Mayadevi & the Birth Tree: the mother of the historical buddha is typically depicted either lying down in bed dreaming of the white elephant descending from the heavens or shown standing and holding onto a tree branch while giving birth. The two images of Lokeshvara and the Wish-fulfilling Tree and Mayadevi giving birth are very similar and easily confused.

- Medical Chart Trees (Blue Beryl): in the medical charts of Desi Sanggye Gyatso and the Blue Beryl text three trees are used as an outline and mnemonic aid for remembering the structure and order of the chapters of the lengthy medical text. Other medical traditions also use the model of a tree as a mnemonic device. The medical tree charts of the Karma Kagyu tradition are said to differ from those of the Blue Beryl.

- Medicine Buddha & the Garden of Medicine: according to the early literature describing the Medicine Buddha he resides in his own paradise surrounded by gardens and groves of trees. In the later narratives of the Four Medical Tantras he is described as dwelling in lush medical and herb gardens with flowers, shrubs and trees all of medicinal value.

- Naxi Life Tree: objects such as this generally serve as a protection from all sorts of obstacles and difficulties. The composition is filled with auspicious images, condensed narratives and protective symbols. Some elements are modelled after the 'Wind Horse' prayer flag of the Tibetans such as the four animals in the four corners of the painting: snow lion, tiger, white yak and dragon. A garuda stands atop the life tree with a frog at the base and a snake in between.

- Shadbhuja Mahakala & the Sandalwood Tree: according to the early narratives describing Shadbhuja Mahakala, he is believed to have originated at Sitavana Charnal Ground just outside of present day Bodhgaya. An important part of his description is the giant sandalwood tree that he leans against while appearing in a standing posture.

- Shakyamuni & the Bodhi (pipal) Tree: the historical Buddha is famous for having reached enlightenment at Bodhgaya under the bodhi tree. Each and every buddha described in the Mahayana Sutras is likewise ushered into enlightenment under a tree, but not always a bodhi (pipal) tree. Here, the term 'bodhi' refers to 'enlightenment' and not a species of tree.

- Sukhavati & The Tree Lined Parade: the pure realm, buddha land, paradise of Sukhavati is described as having a very broad straight road lined on both sides with enormous trees which lead up to the throne of Amitabha Buddha. Behind the Buddha is another great wish-fulfilling tree.

- Tree Configuration of Figures: The Tree Configuration of Figures in Himalayan style sculptural art is a development over time that makes use of the late 1st millennium elongated lotus stem and seat originally accommodating a single figure. Several good examples that depict this are a Tara in stone, an Amoghapasha and a Vairochana Buddha. Another variation on this elongated flower blossom is the Lotus Mandala with the longest stem of all and a completely enclosing articulated lotus flower.

- Wish-fulfilling Trees: are found in Buddhalands such as Sukhavati, Tushita and Abhirati, Fields of Accumulation compositions and as decorative elements in Himalayan and Tibetan paintings.

- Yakshi Embracing a Tree: early Indian art commonly depicts female yakshi figures as embracing or leaning against a tree.

- Others...

Jeff Watt 4-2014 [updated 8-2020]