Himalayan Art Resources

Kings: Iconography

Kings: Main Page

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
- King Appearance (visual)
- King by Category/Function (abstract)
--- Indian Kings
--- Tibetan Kings
--- Mongolian Kings: #7571
--- Shambhala Kings
- Outline Page
- List of Kings
- List of Tibetan Kings
- Kings of the Kadam Legbam Tibetan text
- Eleven Figurative Forms
- Yaksha Figures
- Masterworks
- Confusions: King Spirit (Gyalpo)
- Others...

- Kings in Himalayan Art: Part 1
- Kings in Himalayan Art: Part 2
- Kubera, Who Am I?

King Number Sets:
- Three Kings of Tibet
- Four Guardian Kings
- Seven Kings of Shambhala
- Ten Early Kings of Tibet
- Twenty-five Shambhala Vidyadhara

'King Appearance' in Himalayan art is a specific type of figurative form. The principal characteristics are the face often with a stern look achieved by upturned eyebrows accompanied by a mustache and goatee. The clothing is heavy and layered with multiple colours, a cloth head covering or hat sometimes with a small jeweled crown, and boots on the feet. They can hold any number of objects in their hands. There are four important subjects and distinctions to be made with regard to kings in Himalayan and Tibetan art:

[1] Kings with King Appearance
[2] Kings that don't have King Appearance
[3] Kings that belong to Sets
[4] Deities with King Appearance

[1] Kings with King Appearance: There is a minor classification of figure in Tibetan and Indian art known as a Yaksha. These figures are the basis for the King Appearance in art. Yakshas are identical in general appearance to the Four Guardian Kings, Vaishravana in his many forms as a wealth and protector deity, Jambhala and his many forms, Aparajita and others. The Yaksha figure is typically male, slightly bearded, rotund, wearing heavy layered clothing, or armor, or sparsely clad with silk-like garments. In the system of the Eleven Iconographic Forms figures like Vaishravana, Jambhala and Aparajita belong to King Appearance.

[2] Kings that don't have King Appearance: The group of Shambhala Kings have two systems of depiction. The traditional system, most commonly found in painting and sculpture, depicts the individual Shambhala Kings in 'King Appearance.' The second system originating with the Jonang Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism depicts the Shambhala Kings in 'Deity Appearance' with either peaceful, semi-peaceful/wrathful or wrathful forms depending on the specific king and their associated Bodhisattva or Tantric deity. King Gesar of the Tibetan epic literature is an example of a king depicted in Warrior Appearance. A few of the Indian mahasiddhas from the various sets of Eighty-four Mahasiddhas are kings but appear in Lay Person or secular appearance.

[3] Kings that Belong to Sets: many of the individual depictions of kings in painting and sculpture belong to larger sets or groups of figures. These include the Four Direction Kings, the Kings of Tibet, Shambhala Kings, Twenty-five Shambhala Vidyadhara and the kings contained in the Kadam Legbam Tibetan text which narrates the stories of the previous incarnations of Dromton Legpa'i Jungne - later applied to the incarnations of the Dalai Lamas as well.

[4] Deities with King Appearance: a number of deities have King Appearance but function less as kings and primarily as Wealth Deities while maintaining their original Indian 'yaksha' or King Appearance. Examples of these are Vaishravana, Jambhala, Aparajita and Manibhadra.

Kings by Region: Indian Kings | Tibetan Kings | Shambhala Kings

There is also a Tibetan category of worldly spirits called 'King Spirits' (gyalpo). These spirits are included in a larger set called the 'Eight Types of [harmful] Worldly Spirits.' From this group of 'King Spirits' some are believed to have been subjugated and added to the class of Worldly Protectors of Tibetan Buddhism. The most famous 'king spirit' is Pehar Gyalpo who is related to Samye monastery and the famous Nechung oracle. 'King' or in Tibetan language 'gyalpo' spirits generally have Wrathful Appearance which is another of the Eleven Figurative Forms in Himalayan and Tibetan art.

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Jeff Watt 2-2006 [updated 6-2016, 5-2017, 2-2020]