Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Furniture Introduction

Furniture Main Page

Decorative Furniture of Tibet & the Himalayan Regions

Decorative furniture of Tibet and the Himalayan regions reflects the rich history, culture, and spiritual beliefs of the various peoples. While varying tremendously depending on the region and specific use, there are certain characteristics and artistic features that are commonly found with the furniture such as colours, symbols and figures.

The furniture is often brightly painted with vibrant colours typically red, blue, yellow, and green. These vivid hues are not always for aesthetics alone but rather carry symbolic meanings, often associated with the indigenous Bon and Buddhist religions.

Symbols & motifs like the lotus flower, the endless knot, the two golden fish, the wheel of Dharma, and others from the well known Eight Auspicious Symbols of India are a mainstay. Each of these eight symbols and others can carry profound meaning within both Tibetan culture and Buddhism. The Bon religion will have other unique symbols such as the yungdrung and khyung. Motifs are somewhat different and are generally abstract with elaborate designs or the simple repetition of motifs creating abstract patterns.

Following from the traditional and indigenous symbols, the furniture is often created for religious or ceremonial use and decorated with figurative art of two types. The first is the depiction of figures associated with narrative or moral stories such as the Sage of Long-life or the Four Harmonious Friends. The second type are religious figures such as Buddhas, deities, protectors and lineage teachers. These depictions generally serve as reminders of spiritual principles but also carry protective and auspicious meanings. Also in relation to the figurative art, but less frequently, are the mandalas, intricate geometric patterns, representing the larger symbolic environment of a meditational deity.

Landscape and nature imagery, reflecting the natural beauty of the Tibetan plateau and Himalayan regions, along with mountains, rivers, clouds, and other elements of the natural world can be found accompanying the moral stories or the figures of peaceful deities. For the wrathful and protector deities then harsh environments such as cemeteries, charnel grounds and sharp craggy mountains dark and foreboding are typically included.

Decorative furniture can be found in homes, administrative buildings, temples and monasteries. The main types of furniture are tables, shelves, cabinets and trunks. In temples there will also be ornate thrones for the religious hierarchs, and as an aside there will also be temple doors both outside and inside that are painted and decorated in a similar fashion to the abstract and figurative furniture.

Two of the most common varieties of furniture are the cabinets and storage trunks, the latter which are also used when traveling. These pieces are often the most decorated, highlighting the rich artistic traditions of Tibetan & Himalayan craftsmen.

Wood is the most common material used for furniture manufacture along with some examples made from metal or other materials. This wood is typically cut to size, carved, painted, and occasionally lacquered to create a more durable piece. Metalwork is often added to the trunks and cabinets in the form of brass or copper, as accents, protective corners, also for furniture legs, or decorative elements of drawers, or especially used on doors. The furniture can often have a solid, heavy build to withstand travel, yearly cleaning and rearranging and usage over time.

With the Tibetan and Himalayan decorative furniture, it is really important to understand it is not just created for its aesthetic value but also for the rich layering of cultural narrative, history, and spirituality of both the Bon and Buddhist religions that many of the pieces embody.

Shinzo Shiratori, 8-2023


Wooden Wonders: Tibetan Furniture In Secular And Religious Life by David Kamansky. Serindia Publications, 2004.

Tibetan Furniture by Chris Buckley. Floating World Editions, 2006.

Auspicious by Design: A Collection of Antique Tibetan Painted Furniture
by Camilla Corona. Mera Publications, 2021.

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