For more than a thousand years, Tibetan artists have played a key role in the cultural life of Tibet. From designs for painted furniture to elaborate murals in religious buildings, their efforts have permeated virtually every facet of life on the Tibetan plateau. The vast majority of surviving artworks created before the mid-20th century are religious, with the main forms being thangka, paintings on cloth, mostly in distemper, Tibetan Buddhist wall paintings, and small statues in bronze, or large ones in clay, stucco or wood. They were commissioned by religious establishments or by pious individuals for use within the practice of Tibetan Buddhism and were manufactured in large workshops by monks and lay artists, who are mostly unknown. Various types of religious objects, such as the phurbu or ritual dagger,are finely made and lavishly decorated. Secular objects, in particular jewellery and textiles, were also made, with Chinese influences strong in the latter.
Himalayan art is an overall term for Tibetan art together with the art of Bhutan, Nepal, Ladakh and neighbouring parts of Mongolia and China where Tibetan Buddhism is practiced. Sino-Tibetan art refers to works in a Tibetan style and with Tibetan Buddhist iconography produced in either China or Tibet arising from patronage by Chinese emperors. The artists seem to have been a mixture of Tibetan and Chinese, with some Newari from Nepal,and the place of manufacture is often uncertain between the two.
Tibetan religious art has been described as "almost unbelievably conservative", to a large extent representing "the perpetuation of the forms and iconography of the last phase of Buddhist art of India". This was the Pala-Sena art of north-east India, relatively close to Tibet, and the home of key figures like Atisha, a missionary from Nalanda in Bihar. After the decline of Buddhism in India soon after, very little survives from the Indian Buddhist art of this or earlier periods except monumental sculpture, and art historians must deduce much about this vanished culture from Tibetan works.Other influences on Tibetan art over the centuries came from Chinese and Nepalese Buddhist art. Landscape backgrounds were adopted from Chinese painting from about the 14th century for some thanka, and Chinese ornamental styles became dominant around 1700.
The finest achievements are typically considered to be in painted thanka and small bronzes (often gilt-bronze), where the best works have very high levels of technical skill. These were generally private works, only seen within monasteries, and often specifically designed for meditation. More public art includes large statues for prayer halls, large appliqué thankas for temporary display during festivals on thangka walls, and sand mandalas, also temporary.
As Mahayana Buddhism emerged as a separate school in the 4th century AD, it emphasized the role of bodhisattvas, compassionate beings who forgo their personal escape to nirvana in order to assist others. From an early time, various bodhisattvas were also subjects of statuary art. Tibetan Buddhism, as an offspring of Mahayana Buddhism, inherited this tradition. But the additional dominating presence of the Vajrayana (or Buddhist tantra) may have had an overriding importance in the artistic culture. A common bodhisattva depicted in Tibetan art is the deity Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara), often portrayed as a thousand-armed saint with an eye in the middle of each hand, representing the all-seeing compassionate one who hears our requests. This deity can also be understood as a yidam , or 'meditation Buddha' for Vajrayana practice.
More specifically, Tibetan Buddhism contains Tantric Buddhism, also known as Vajrayana Buddhism for its common symbolism of the vajra, the diamond thunderbolt (known in Tibetan as the dorje). Most of the typical Tibetan Buddhist art can be seen as part of the practice of tantra. Vajrayana techniques incorporate many visualizations during meditation, and most of the elaborate tantric art can be seen as aids to these visualizations; from representations of meditational deities (yidams) to mandalas and all kinds of ritual implements.
A surprising aspect of Tantric Buddhism is the common representation of wrathful deities, often depicted with angry faces, circles of flame, or with the skulls of the dead. These images represent the Protectors (Skt. dharmapala) and their fearsome bearing belies their true compassionate nature. Actually their wrath represents their dedication to the protection of the dharma teaching as well as to the protection of the specific tantric practices to prevent corruption or disruption of the practice. They are most importantly used as wrathful psychological aspects that can be used to conquer the negative attitudes of the practitioner.
The indigenous shamanistic religion of the Himalayas is known as Bön. Bon contributes a pantheon of local tutelary deities to Tibetan art. In Tibetan temples (known as lhakhang), statues of the Buddha or Padmasambhava are often paired with statues of the tutelary deity of the district who often appears angry or dark. These gods once inflicted harm and sickness on the local citizens but after the arrival of Padmasambhava these negative forces have been subdued and now must serve Buddha.
Contemporary Tibetan art refers to the art of modern Tibet, or Tibet after 1950. It can also refer to art by the Tibetan diaspora, which is explicitly political and religious in nature. Contemporary Tibetan art includes modern thangka (religious scroll paintings) that resemble ancient thangka, as well as radical, avant-garde, works.
Popular Contemporary Tibetan artists include Karma Phuntsok , Tibetan-Swiss painter Sonam Dolma Brauenand Jamyang Dorjee Chakrishar.
Tibetan Buddhism is the form of Buddhism practiced in Tibet and Bhutan, where it is the dominant religion. It also has adherents in the regions surrounding the Himalayas, in much of Central Asia, in the Southern Siberian regions such as Tuva, and in Mongolia.
Vajrayāna, along with Mantrayāna, Guhyamantrayāna, Tantrayāna, Secret Mantra, Tantric Buddhism, and Esoteric Buddhism, are names referring to Buddhist traditions associated with Tantra and "Secret Mantra", which developed in the medieval Indian subcontinent and spread to Tibet, Nepal, other Himalayan states, East Asia, and Mongolia.
Buddhist symbolism is the use of symbols to represent certain aspects of the Buddha's Dharma (teaching). Early Buddhist symbols which remain important today include the Dharma wheel, the Indian lotus, the three jewels and the Bodhi tree.
The Potala Palace is a dzong fortress in Lhasa, Tibet. It was the winter palace of the Dalai Lamas from 1649 to 1959, has been a museum since then, and has been a World Heritage Site since 1994.
In Buddhism, wrathful deities or fierce deities are the fierce, wrathful or forceful forms of enlightened Buddhas, Bodhisattvas or Devas. Because of their power to destroy the obstacles to enlightenment, they are also termed krodha-vighnantaka, "Wrathful onlookers on destroying obstacles". Wrathful deities are a notable feature of the iconography of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. These types of deities first appeared in India during the late 6th century, with its main source being the Yaksha imagery, and became a central feature of Indian Tantric Buddhism by the late 10th or early 11th century.
Buddhism includes a wide array of divine beings that are venerated in various ritual and popular contexts. Initially they included mainly Indian figures such as devas, asuras and yakshas, but later came to include other Asian spirits and local gods. They range from enlightened Buddhas to regional spirits adopted by Buddhists or practiced on the margins of the religion. Notably, Buddhism lacks a supreme creator deity.
Tara, Ārya Tārā, or Shayama Tara, also known as Jetsun Dölma is an important figure in Buddhism, especially revered in Tibetan Buddhism. She appears as a female bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism, and as a female Buddha in Vajrayana Buddhism. She is known as the "mother of liberation", and represents the virtues of success in work and achievements. She is known as Duōluó Púsà (多羅菩薩) in Chinese Buddhism, and as Tara Bosatsu (多羅菩薩) in Japan.
Yidam is a type of deity associated with tantric or Vajrayana Buddhism said to be manifestations of Buddhahood or enlightened mind. During personal meditation (sādhana) practice, the yogi identifies their own form, attributes and mind with those of a yidam for the purpose of transformation. Yidam is sometimes translated by the terms "meditational deity" or "tutelary deity". Examples of yidams include the meditation deities Chakrasamvara, Kalachakra, Hevajra, Yamantaka, and Vajrayogini, all of whom have a distinctive iconography, mandala, mantra, rites of invocation and practice.
A thangka, variously spelt as thangka, tangka, thanka, or tanka, is a Tibetan Buddhist painting on cotton, silk appliqué, usually depicting a Buddhist deity, scene, or mandala. Thangkas are traditionally kept unframed and rolled up when not on display, mounted on a textile backing somewhat in the style of Chinese scroll paintings, with a further silk cover on the front. So treated, thangkas can last a long time, but because of their delicate nature, they have to be kept in dry places where moisture will not affect the quality of the silk. Most thangkas are relatively small, comparable in size to a Western half-length portrait, but some are extremely large, several metres in each dimension; these were designed to be displayed, typically for very brief periods on a monastery wall, as part of religious festivals. Most thangkas were intended for personal meditation or instruction of monastic students. They often have elaborate compositions including many very small figures. A central deity is often surrounded by other identified figures in a symmetrical composition. Narrative scenes are less common, but do appear.
Gyantse, officially Gyangzê Town, is a town located in Gyantse County, Shigatse Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. It was historically considered the third largest and most prominent town in the Tibet region, but there are now at least ten larger Tibetan cities.
Vajrayoginī is a Tantric Buddhist female Buddha and a ḍākiṇī. Vajrayoginī's essence is "great passion" (maharaga), a transcendent passion that is free of selfishness and illusion—she intensely works for the well-being of others and for the destruction of ego clinging. She is seen as being ideally suited for people with strong passions, providing the way to transform those passions into enlightened virtues.
Buddhist art is visual art produced in the context of Buddhism. It includes depictions of Gautama Buddha and other Buddhas and bodhisattvas, notable Buddhist figures both historical and mythical, narrative scenes from their lives, mandalas, and physical objects associated with Buddhist practice, such as vajras, bells, stupas and Buddhist temple architecture. Buddhist art originated in the north of the Indian subcontinent, in modern India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, with the earliest survivals dating from a few centuries after the historical life of Siddhartha Gautama from the 6th to 5th century BCE.
Tibetan tantric practice, also known as "the practice of secret mantra", and "tantric techniques", refers to the main tantric practices in Tibetan Buddhism. The great Rime scholar Jamgön Kongtrül refers to this as "the Process of Meditation in the Indestructible Way of Secret Mantra" and also as "the way of mantra," "way of method" and "the secret way" in his Treasury of Knowledge. These Vajrayāna Buddhist practices are mainly drawn from the Buddhist tantras and are generally not found in "common" Mahayana. These practices are seen by Tibetan Buddhists as the fastest and most powerful path to Buddhahood.
Tibetan mythology refers to the traditional as well as the religious stories that have been passed down by the Tibetan people. Tibetan mythology consists mainly of national mythology stemming from the Tibetan culture as well as religious mythology from both Tibetan Buddhism and Bön Religion. These myths are often passed down orally, through rituals or through traditional art like sculptures or cave paintings. They also feature a variety of different creatures ranging from gods to spirits to monsters play a significant role in Tibetan mythology with some of these myths have broken into mainstream Western media, with the most notable one being the Abominable Snowman – the Yeti.
Ngor or Ngor Éwam Chöden is the name of a monastery in the Ü-Tsang province of Tibet about 20 kilometres (12 mi) southwest of Shigatse and is the Sakya school's second most important gompa. It is the main temple of the large Ngor school of Vajrayana Buddhism, which represents eighty-five percent of the Sakya school.
The imagery of the Refuge Tree, also referred to as Refuge Assembly, Refuge Field, Merit Field, Field of Merit or Field of Accumulation is a key part of a visualization and foundational meditation practice common to Tantric Buddhism. Based on descriptions in the liturgical texts of various traditions, Refuge Trees are often depicted in thangkas employed as objects of veneration, mnemonic devices and as a precursor to the contents being fully visualized by the Buddhist practitioner during the Refuge Formula or evocation.
The Nyethang Drolma Temple is a temple in Nyêtang in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China dedicated to Tara. It is associated with Atiśa (980–1054), who founded the Kadam school of Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery survived the Cultural Revolution relatively undamaged. It is dedicated to Tara, a female bodhisattva, and contains many statues and paintings of Tara.
Tabo Monastery is located in the Tabo village of Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, northern India. It was founded in 996 CE in the Tibetan year of the Fire Ape by the Tibetan Buddhist lotsawa (translator) Rinchen Zangpo, on behalf of the king of western Himalayan Kingdom of Guge, Yeshe-Ö. Tabo is noted for being the oldest continuously operating Buddhist enclave in both India and the Himalayas. A large number of frescoes displayed on its walls depict tales from the Buddhist pantheon. There are many priceless collections of thankas, manuscripts, well-preserved statues, frescos and extensive murals which cover almost every wall. The monastery is in need of refurbishing as the wooden structures are aging and the thanka scroll paintings are fading. After the earthquake of 1975, the monastery was rebuilt, and in 1983 a new Du-kang or Assembly Hall was constructed. It is here that the 14th Dalai Lama held the Kalachakra ceremonies in 1983 and 1996. The monastery is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) as a national historic treasure of India.
The Guhyasamāja Tantra, also known as the Tathāgataguhyaka, is one of the most important scriptures of Tantric Buddhism, written in Sanskrit. In its fullest form, it consists of seventeen chapters, though a separate "explanatory tantra" (vyākhyātantra) known as the Later Tantra is sometimes considered to be its eighteenth chapter. Many scholars believe that the original core of the work consisted of the first twelve chapters, with chapters thirteen to seventeen being added later as explanatory material.
Rakta Yamari is a Tantric Buddhist meditational deity which is a wrathful form of bodhisattva Manjushri or Yamantaka. Yamari deities have two forms: red (rakta) and black (krishna), and are part of the Anuttarayoga Class of Tantric Buddhism.
The Ngor Mandala collection of the Sakya tradition alone lists eight different forms/lineages of the blue/black buffalo-faced Vajrabhairava and four of red Rakta- or blue Krishna-Yamari. All the former are yidams whereas Yamaraja is a Dharma protector.