Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Dragon Page

Animal Relationships Guide

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
- Prayer Flags
- Astrology
- Deities
--- Jambhala, White
--- Rahula (protector) (Dudul Dorje Terma)
--- Tekar Drozangma, Tseringma
--- Nujin Shan Mar, Yutog Nyingtig Protector
--- Padma Dorje Shugden
- Confusions: Makara
- Others...

Video: Dragons in Art

Related & Similar Figures:
- Naga Figures
- Snakes & Serpents Outline
- Makara Figures
- Others...

Decorative Elements:
- Vajra Scepter (dragon prongs)
- Background Narrative Element
- Torana (throne back) (18th century)
- Textile Pattern
- Others...

There is no textual or artistic tradition of the dragon in Indian culture. There are some similar figures such as the naga and makara from art and literature that have some over-lapping characteristics and attributes with the dragon of Himalayan art and Buddhism. The dragon appears very much to be a Chinese cultural appropriation. He is commonly found displayed on prayer flags along with the horse, tiger, garuda and snow lion.

A branch tradition of the Kagyu is named after the dragon, Drugpa Kagyu, as is the country of Bhutan and principal religious tradition.

In the Chinese style of composition after the 15th century the elder Vajriputra, from the set of Sixteen Elders, is often accompanied by a dragon in the sky. Paintings of the Sixteen Elders travelling to China depict one of the mounts as a dragon. The dragon image is sometimes used as a decorative element in other paintings and sets of the elders. There is no textual basis for this imagery and most likely appears as a cultural artistic borrowing.

The wealth deity White Jambhala, an emanation of Lokeshvara and originating with Jowo Atisha, rides atop a turquoise coloured dragon accompanied by four dakinis. The Nyingma protector deity Rahula, from the Revealed Treasure Tradition of Dudul Dorje, is also mounted atop a dragon.

In the Kagyu tradition of the protector deity Tashi Tseringma with four sisters, 'Tekar Drozangma' often green in colour clutching a bunch of 'durva' grass in the right hand and a snake lasso in the left, rides on a blue dragon which grasps wish-fulfilling jewels in the claws. Depending on the artist and available pigments the dragon can appear to be turquoise, green or blue. The Yutog Nyingtig protector deity Nujin Shan Mar rides atop a dragon which is sometimes depicted with nine heads. The controversial protector deity Dorje Shugden has five different manifestations. The Padma family form of the deity rides on the back of a dragon.

The addition of the dragon to the torana throne-back decoration for both painting and sculpture appears to be popular from the 18th century to the present. Dragons are not included in the animals typically represented in early and middle period Tibetan art.

Jeff Watt 12-2014 [updated 5-2017, 6-2021]

(The images below are only a selection of examples from the links and topics above).