Abhidharmakosha: a Buddhist text of the 4th-5th century composed by the scholar Vasubandhu. Detailed explanations of Buddhist cosmology serve as the basis for the painting subjects Wheel of Life, Mount Meru Offering (mandala) and the Rebirth Game.
Acharya (Sanskrit term): a Buddhist monastic religious title applied to scholars and academics. It is the most common honorific title used for teachers such as Nagarjuna, Asanga, Dharmakirti and others. In Tibetan the term is lobpon. (See Titles & Honorifics).
Afghanistan: in ancient times the region was known as Gandhara, 2nd century B.C. to the 6th century A.D. (See Gandharan Style Art).
Altar: a raised flat surface for the purpose of offering up sacrifice as part of a religious activity. The word is sometimes used in Hinduism and occasionally with reference to Buddhism.
Amulet (Tibetan: tog chag. English: lightning metal): small metal objects thought to be created in the ground by lightning striking the earth. Some objects are recognisable and others are in abstract shapes. Old garment clasps, book buckles, bits and pieces of horse bridles, etc., are all gathered together under this one term.
Amulet Box (Ga'u): portable shrines generally made from metal in a repousse style of construction. The purpose and function of an amulet box is for protection when travelling. They often, but not always, have a small window on the front with a religious image inside. Typically the front is very ornate and decorated with the Eight Auspicious Symbols and other motifs.
Apsara: (Skt.) an Apsara is a class of minor female heavenly beings commonly portrayed as decorative elements in art, often depicted as flying in the sky.
Arhat (Elder) (Sanskrit: sthavira. Tibetan: ne tan): Buddhist saints representing the earliest followers of the Buddha, always found in a group of sixteen, they are often painted on cloth, murals, and constructed of metal, stone and wood. In China they are called lohan and are commonly referred to as a group of eighteen or five hundred.
Atelier: the workplace of a particular artist, and more commonly thought of as a school when including the artist's students.
Attribute: a symbolic object associated with a particular subject based on well known examples and textual iconography.
Attribution: referring to the author of a particular work either from a signature or inscription, a provenance extending back to the production of the work, or conclusive evidence based on style, iconography, etc.
Aureola: the circle of light surrounding the head of a spiritual figure.
Avadana Stories: narratives of the previous lives of the Buddha Shakyamuni and close students, illustrated in sets of paintings or as manuscript illuminations. The common literary source is the Bodhisattvavadanakalpata of Kshemendra, 11th century, Kashmir).
Avatar: the Ten Avatar, incarnations, of the Hindu god Vishnu are divided into four periods of time - ages of the world. In the first age are the Fish, Tortoise, Boar and Man-lion incarnations. In the second age are the Dwarf, Rama with an Axe and Rama of the Ramayana Epic. For the third age is Krishna. The fourth age is represented by the Buddha and Kalki. Kalki has yet to come. B
Balri Painting Style: inspired by the Newar Artists of Kathmandu Valley, using bright colours, detailed ornamentation and making full use of the entire canvas. This style was popular in Southern Tibet and with the Sakya and Ngor monasteries.
Binder: the medium in which pigments are suspended in a solution in order to be applied (as paint) to a surface.
Blockprints: a woodcut image in a relief technique where the image is left raised and what is not carved is printed.
Blue Vaidurya Medical Paintings: a set of 80 paintings illustrating the famous medical text known as the Four Tantras (Tib.: gyu shi), designed and commissioned by Desi Sangye Gyatso (1653-1705), regent of the 5th Dalai Lama.
Bodhisattva (Tib.: jang chub sem pa): idealized beings in the appearance of youthful heavenly gods, generally male and richly attired in silks and jewels. They represent the principal students of the Buddha according to the Mahayana Sutras of Northern Buddhism. Click here for full definition.
Bon Religion: the indigenous religion of Tibet and the Himalayan regions, founded by Tonpa Shenrab of Tazik, Central Asia.
Book Cover: carved wooden boards, often decoratively carved and painted, serving as the top and bottom protective covers for folio manuscripts and block printed books.
Buddha: often referring to the historical Shakyamuni Buddha, however in the Mahayana Sutras (religious texts) there are many other buddhas. The Tantric texts describe in detail the various appearances of these buddhas.
Buddhist Religion: the philosophy, or way of life, taught in India by Gautama Siddhartha in the 5th century B.C. Buddhism has been a major influence on the creation of art in all of Asia.
Butter Sculpture: molded into a variety of shapes and intricately coloured, they can stand 10 to 15 feet tall, and serve as elaborate ritual food offerings during religious and harvest festivals. The most elaborate of these are found in Amdo, northeastern Tibet. C
Carving: (stone and wood).
Chaitya (Sanskrit): a Buddhist funerary mound made of stone, a metal or clay reliquary, and a ritual object symbolically representing the mind of complete enlightenment.
Chart: technical paintings, drawings and blockprints dealing with the subjects of protection, astrology and medicine.
Composition: the arrangement of elements in a painting.
Conservation: the practice of attempting to keep a work of art in its original condition by using non-interventionist methods.
Continuous Narrative, continuous representation: a pictorial narrative device involving the representation of successive episodes from the same story within a single picture and against a unified background. The main characters are repeated in each scene and therefore need to be immediately recognizable. This device is common in Himalayan art and examples can be found in the Avadana Stories and the Milarepa biographical paintings. D
Dalai Lama: The Dalai Lama tradition belongs to a system of recognised re-embodiments. Today, the current Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso is the fourteenth in the line. Since the mid-seventeenth century the Dalai Lamas have ruled over Tibet.
Dharmapala: Buddhist protectors, deities that are entrusted with the role of protection for both the religion and the followers. There are two classes,  enlightened protectors (jnanapala) and  worldly protectors (lokapala).
Direction Guardians: the four heavenly kings residing on the lower slopes of the four sided mythical mount Meru, the center of the idealised Buddhist and Hindu worlds.
Distemper: a water based paint.
Donor: an individual, family, or group of people responsible for commissioning an artwork. It is common in Nepalese and Tibetan paintings to find the donors of the painting depicted at the bottom right or left corner of a painting.
Dough Sculpture (Tibetan: torma. Sanskrit: balimta): torma are cone shaped ritual food offerings sculpted in a variety of shapes and sizes, coloured and then adorned with flat circular 'buttons' made from butter.
Dunhuang: a location in Western China famous for cave temples, murals, Buddhist images and rare texts dating back to the 8th century. (See International Dunhuang Project). E
Embroidery: ornamental stichwork applied to any fabric using any kind of thread.
Enlightened Protector: a Buddhist term, the first of the two types of Dharmapala; protectors that are wrathful emanations of the buddhas, fully enlightened beings. Examples: Mahakala and Shri Devi).
Epigraphy: the study of inscriptions. Many stone and metal sculptures have inscriptions written along the base. Tibetan paintings often have verses of blessing written on the back and very occasionally they will have names of donors or the person an artwork was intended for. Narrative and portrait paintings often have name inscriptions on the front written beneath each figure. Nepalese paintings typically place inscriptions in a bottom register and also date the work. Example: back of a painting. F
Fake Art: an object created to deceive as to its date of production, provenance and quality.
Feet and Hand Paintings: paintings containing the hand or foot prints of notable religious teachers. This is commonly found in the Kagyu Schools and based on a text written by Pagmodrupa in the 12th century explaining the technique and efficacy of creating such paintings. Stone carvings and paintings of the idealised feet of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni can be found throughout Asia.
Fresco: a word sometimes used to describe the murals of the Himalayan regions. (See Murals).
Gandhara: an ancient kingdom in the present day regions of northern Afghanistan and Pakistan, flourishing between the 2nd century B.C. and the 6th century A.D. (See Gandharan Art).
Gandharan Style Art: the art of Gandhara, predominantly Buddhist stone sculpture, terra cotta and stucco.
Garuda: both a mythical creature and a deity, half man and half bird, found in the Hindu, Bon and Buddhist religions.
Gelugpa School of Tibetan Buddhism (also known as the Ganden School, and New Kadampa): founded by Tsongkhapa in the early 15th century. It was very active in promoting the monastic system and creating very large monasteries that housed thousands of monks.
Gilding: the process of covering a surface with gold leaf.
Gilt: the application of gold onto a cast metal sculpture.
Gouache: opaque water colours, a common western term used to describe the paints used in Himalayan painting.
Ground: the primary paint layer applied to the canvas or cotton cloth of a painting.
Ground Colour: there are four primary ground colours in Himalayan style art: multi-coloured, black, gold and red.
Gupta Period (380-415):
Guru: religious teacher or preceptor in South Asia. For Vajrayana Buddhism the term is specifically used for a Tantric teacher. The titles of acharya or kalyanamitra are used for Sutrayana, or ordinary, religious teachers. H
Hand and Feet Paintings: paintings containing the hand or foot prints of notable religious teachers. This is commonly found in the Kagyu Schools and based on a text written by Pagmodrupa in the 12th century explaining the technique and efficacy of creating such paintings. Stone carvings and paintings of the idealised feet of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni can be found throughout Asia.
Himalaya: the large mountain range of Northern India, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan that was formed when the Indian sub-continent plate joined the Asian continent.
Himalayan Art: the definition of Himalayan Art is art indigenous to the Himalayas and surrounding regions, predominantly concerned with religious subjects and recognisable through the unique use of composition, symbols and motifs. Individual works of art are commonly created in sets forming much larger works of art. The geographic area of the Himalayas and surrounding regions comprises; North India, Nepal, Bhutan, Historical Tibet, Mongolia, China, Buryiat and South-Eastern Russia (Siberia).
Iconometry: the geometric rules, drawing guides and measurements used in the creation of correctly proportioned figures in Himalayan art.
Illuminated Manuscript: miniature paintings, often figures or narrative scenes, used to decorate the pages of books.
Illustration: a picture in a book intended to accompany a text.
Impasto: raised surfaces on a painting giving an effect of three dimensionality, generally used for ornamentation such as crowns and jewellery.
In Situ: in its original place. A term referring to artworks in their original location where the artwork was intended to be placed or kept.
Indian Adept (Skt.: maha siddha): the great Hindu and Buddhist Tantric practitioners of medieval India.
Indian Scholar (Skt.: acharya, pandita): a term referring to scholars in general (acharya) and to those engaged in debate and disputation (pandita).
Initiation Cards (Tib.: tsag li): small paintings, generally the size of playing cards, created in sets and used in Buddhist and Bon rituals and initiations, containing illustrations of deities, animals, objects, and abstract images.
Jataka Stories: narratives of the previous lives of Shakyamuni Buddha, often represented in sets of paintings, manuscript illuminations, or carvings. In Himalayan art the most common representations are based on the 3rd/4th century text of Aryashura called Jatakamala, Garland of Stories. This is a compilation and re-writing of thirty-four popular stories in both verse and prose style.
Karmapa: The Karmapas are a line of successive teachers aknowledged as the first lineage of reincarnating lamas in Tibetan Buddhism. The main seat of the Karmapa is Tsurpu Monastery, north-west of Lhasa, and the specific tradition is known as the Kamtsang Kagyu (Karma Kagyu).
Kirtimukha (English: the face of glory): the face of a mythical creature often found in Newar wood sculpture.
Krishna: a form of the Hindu god Vishnu. Krishna almost always appears youthful and blue of colour, surrounded by adoring girls.
Kubera: referring to a wealth god, a proper name used in old Indian texts for Vaishravana, the guardian king of the north. The name Kubera is also used for various attendant figures found in the mandalas of Vaishravana, Jambhala, Vasudhara and others. The word Kubera is almost never found in Tibetan language texts.
Makara: a mythical sea creature having a snout like an elephant and the body like an alligator.
Mala: a string of beads used for counting prayers, mantras or dharanis.
Mandala: a circular diagram, highly technical and precise, representing the entire universe; the container and contained, animate and inanimate. Mandalas are painted on cloth, on the ceilings of temples, as murals, fashioned from metal, wood or stone, sometimes coloured threads and also from coloured sand.
Naxi (Nakhi): a minorities people of China centered in the city of Lijiang and surrounding areas. They have a unique culture, language and written script. A form of Tibetan Buddhism and the Bon religion are practiced amongst other belief systems.
Nepalese Painting Style in Tibet: inspired by the Newar Artists of Kathmandu Valley, using bright colours, detailed ornamentation and making full use of the entire canvas. This style was popular in Southern Tibet and with the Sakya and Ngor monasteries.
Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism: the oldest of the four main schools, established with the founding of Samye Chokor Ling monastery in the 8th century by Padmasambhava and Shantirakshita. Nyingma means old, or ancient, and differs from the other three schools, Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug, in a number of ways. The three later schools are collectively called the Sarma schools, meaning new. A significant characteristic of the Nyingma is that it is anarchic with no central authority. All of the other schools have a clear authority and hierarchy. O
Offerings: a particular subject of Buddhist painting or sculpture, representing items of clothing, weapons or food, and meant as offerings for various deities.
Padma: lotus flower, a common motif in Himalayan art.
Padmasambhava (Tib.: Guru Rinpoche): the Indian founder of Tantric Buddhism in Tibet. In the 11th century with the rise of the Revealed Treasure tradition (Tib.: terma) the worship of Padmasambhava took on cult status. Hundreds of new deity forms of Padmasambhava were created representing all aspects of iconography and Tantric activity; peaceful, wrathful, male, female, wealth, power, healing, etc.
Panchen Lama: closely associated with the Dalai Lamas and the monastery of Tashi Lhunpo, the Panchen Lamas are a line of successively re-incarnating teachers in Tibetan Buddhism. The first Panchen Lama, Lobzang Chokyi Gyaltsen, was the tutor of the 5th Dalai Lama and the most important Gelugpa teacher of his time.
Pandita (Sanskrit): a Tibetan Buddhist term used to describe either an Indian scholar that assisted, along with a Tibetan scholar, in the translating of Sanskrit texts into the Tibetan language, or a Tibetan scholar that translates Sanskrit into Tibetan. (See example: Sakya Pandita and Indian Scholar).
Proportion: in painting or sculpture, the relationship between the constituent parts one to another, or any of the parts to the whole. In Himalayan art proportion is moderated by the relatively strict use of iconometry. (See Iconometry).
Provenance: referring to the prior ownership and history of an artwork.
Purana: Indian Sanskrit texts often the source for the study and iconographic descriptions of Hindu gods and deities.
Purba (Tibetan term. Sanskrit: kila): a peg, shaped like a three bladed dagger, a ritual object represented three dimensionally in metal, wood or crystal; for pegging down disturbances and obstacles arising in the practice of Tantric Buddhism.
Raksha/Rakshasi: dangerous male and female spirits and daemons of classical Indian literature. Their fearsome appearance became the model for wrathful Buddhist deities such as Mahakala, characterised by round bulbous red eyes, gaping slathering mouths with large bared canine teeth, flaming hair, large bellied and thick limbed.
Shangpa Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism: founded by Kedrup Kyungpo Naljor in the 11th century, although having the same name, this school is unrelated to the Kagyu School descending from Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa.
Shaiva: a religion of India (Hindu) that holds the god Shiva in highest reverence. He is typically portrayed in a benevolent form, as a white or ashen skinned yogi, with the hair in a topknot and a trident (trishula) stuck in the ground at the side. In his malevolent form he is known as Bhairava, dark coloured, rakshasa-like, fearsome looking and often with many heads and arms.
Shakti: a female consort of a male deity found in Hindu Tantric art. This term is not used for Buddhist Tantric art.
Shiva: the principal god of the Shaiva Religion of Hinduism. There are many iconographic similarities between Shiva and various Buddhist deities such as Avalokiteshvara and Chakrasamvara. (See Shiva Bhairava).
Stupa: a Buddhist funerary mound made of stone, a metal or clay reliquary, and a ritual object symbolically representing the mind of complete enlightenment.
Sutra: Indian Buddhist texts, often written in Pali or Sanskrit language, the iconographic source for images of Shakyamuni Buddha, the bodhisattvas and Arhats.
Swastika: meaning auspicious in the Sanskrit language. When turning to the left it is the principal religious symbol of the Bon and Jain religions. For the Bon a right turning swastika has no meaning. Several Bon historical figures and deities hold a single swastika, or a double swastika sceptre. For the Buddhists it is a decorative element occasionally having a more specific meaning within a localized Tantric context. T
Tsagli (Sanskrit term): small paintings, generally the size of playing cards, created in sets and used in Buddhist and Bon rituals and initiations, containing illustrations of deities, animals, objects, and abstract images.
Vaidurya: the Sanskrit word for a type of precious or semi-precious stone, commonly used with reference to lapis lazuli, blue sapphire, or blue beryl. Vaidurya is also the name of several titles composed by Desi Sanggye Gyatso in the 17th century.
Vaishnava: a religion of India (Hindu) that holds the god Vishnu in highest reverence. He has many different forms and is best known through his ten emanations (avatars), one of which is Krishna and another the Buddha. Some of his forms are comparable to the tantric forms of the Buddhist deities Avalokiteshvara and Amoghapasha.
Vajra (Tibetan: dor je. English: the best stone):  from the Vedic literature, the scepter of the Hindu god Indra namely a lightening bolt,  from the Puranic literature, a weapon made from the bones of a rishi, and  a word representing Tantric Buddhism - Vajrayana. As a Buddhist scepter it is a small object made of metal generally having five or nine prongs at each end that bend inward to form two rounded shapes. As a ritual object it is usually accompanied by a bell with a half vajra handle (Sanskrit: ghanta).
Vajravali: a famous Buddhist initiation and meditation manual that describes the form and function of mandalas along with detailed descriptions of the deities they contain.
Vajrayana: Tantric Buddhism, the form of Northern Buddhism that relies primarily on the Tantras, technical manuals said to have been taught by the Buddha, and offer complete enlightenment in 1, 7 or 21 lifetimes.
Vishnu: a god of the Indian sub-continent, principal deity of the Vaishnava religion of India.
Wheel of Life: the Buddhist world view represented on cloth or painted as a mural, illustrating the six realms of existence, the twelve links of dependent arising and the three poisons.
White Vaidurya Astrological Paintings: various paintings based on the designs and descriptions from the White Vaidurya Astrological text of Desi Sangye Gyatso (1653-1705), regent of the 5th Dalai Lama.
Worldly Protector: a Buddhist term used to differentiate between different types of protector deities; the guardian kings of the four main directions, the ten protectors of the eight directions, above and below, along with regional and mountain deities.