Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Rainbow Imagery

Painting Subject Page

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
- Halo Circles
- Garments: Walse Ngampa, Tagla Membar
- Rainbow Sphere
- Streamers of Light
- Rainbow Body
- Confusions
- Others...

Video: Rainbow Imagery

A rainbow in a circle or semi-circle is often added to the outer ring of a halo surrounding a peaceful deity in Himalayan art. The colours do not always follow the light spectrum of red, orange, yellow, green, and blue. The artist chooses the best colours that will enhance a particular painting. The halo colours chosen are entirely dependent on the principal colour of the central deity. In Himalayan art the haloes are used to enhance and frame the central figure of a composition. Great care is taken in choosing colours that contrast rather than conflict or obscure the central figure.

In Buddhism the idea of the rainbow is primarily used either by philosophers as a simile or by artists as a tool for expression. The rainbow is not generally found in iconography. With the Bon religion the rainbow is far more common as a symbol in iconography, as clothing, a mount for flying through the air, and other imaginative visual devices.

In the Bon religion it is common to use rainbows as clothing such as a shawl or upper garment. A very good example of a rainbow garment wearing goddess is found with HAR #200041 at the middle right side. Natural occurrences from the environment are commonly employed in Bon imagery, such as clouds, fire, water, and such. Rainbow hued goddesses are not uncommon such as HAR #32781.

Rainbow spheres are popular in both the Bon and Nyingma traditions. Generally they would surround a deity or figure of some type. They can also be found without a figure as a symbol or visual artifact in meditation or a dark retreat.

Streamers of rainbow light are sometimes used to signify that that something is emanating or moving, sometimes shimmering. A good example is HAR #102252. The point of origin always has the narrowest stream and the end point has the widest stream of light. This can sometimes be found with certain paintings of Elders such as Vajriputra and Vanavasin.

Both the Buddhist and Bon religions have a concept of 'rainbow body.' A rainbow body is achieved after a high degree of spiritual realization is attained. Sometimes the rainbow body appears at the time of death and no corporeal body remains.

Jeff Watt 12-2021

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