Narrative Art Main Page | Controversial Art
One very polite interpretation of the meaning of this subject is the three,  Mongolian man,  chain and  Tiger, represent the Three Lords of the World, the great bodhisattva - Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani. Wearing the attire of a Mongolian man, sometimes holding a book in the left hand with the right he holds a chain leash restraining a fearsome tiger with gaping jaws. The Drepung mural image is a good example depicting the Three Lord Bodhisattvas directly above. All current examples are dated to after the 17th century which tends to indicate that the Mongolian and the Tiger is a very late subject in Tibetan art.
Video: The Mongolian & the Tiger
Another interpretation from the publication 'All Illuminating Mirror' makes reference to the rise of Gelug power in the early 17th century. Paintings, almost always murals, of this subject are predominantly commissioned in the Gelug Tradition of Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism. It is extremely rare to find this imagery represented in the other Buddhist traditions.
Two of the images below are scroll paintings from Mongolia. The third image is of a large wall mural in the Dzong (fortress) of Charang Village, Mustang, Nepal.
The Mongolian and the Tiger narrative should not be confused with the similar depiction of Sogpo Lhapal one of the Twenty-five disciples of Padmasambhava. Typically he is not shown with a chain and the tiger appears to be very friendly and passive.
Jeff Watt 6-2016 [updated 11-2022]