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Easily Recognized Figures

About Tibet

Easily Recognized Figures

In the phantasmagoria of figures that populate Tibetan art in sculpture, mural paintings and thangkas, some important historical people and religious beings can be recognized by their iconographic conventions.

King Songtsen Gampo ( AD 608-50). He introduced Buddhism to Tibet and founded Tubo line of kings, always wearing high orange or gold turban with small Amitabha Buddha head peeping out of the top. Chinese wife, Wen Cheng, always on viewer's right. Nepalese wife, Tritiun, on viewer's left.

Padmasambhava ( or Guru Rinpoche, eighth century). He was invited from India to Tibet in 747.Exorcized demons by supernatural powers. Wearing magical, crown-like, red hat, severe expression, curled moustache, he was a sounded earliest Tibetan Buddhist sect. Carries dorje and magic scepter with skull-heads.

Tsong Khapa ( 1357-1419). Great reformer of Tibetan Buddhism. Founder of the Yellow Hat Sect. Always seated. Wears pointed yellow cap with long ear flaps. Usually smiling, with a bulbous nose. His image is often repeated with large and small versions of himself sitting side by side.

Fifth Dalai Lama ( 1617-1682) He unified Tibet and made Yellow Hat Sect the state religion and built the Potala. Wears pointed yellow cap with ear flaps. Portly, with double chins and popping eyes. Often has small moustache. He was the greatest Dalai Lama in Tibetan.

Sakyamuni ( fifth century BC). The historical Buddha . His enlightenment and teachings set in motion the Buddhist faith. Often he has blue hair with a cranial bump on top, but sometimes crowned. Usually sits cross-legged on a lotus-flower throne.

Yamantaka the Terrible. Favorite of the eight guardians of the faith, popularized by Tsong Khapa. A wrathful form of the bodhisattva of wisdom. Colored blue with horned bull's head. Many arms. Body draped with skulls. Tramples on human forms representing stupidity, sloth and nihilism. Often shown in sexual embrace ( yab-yun) with his female partner, Prajna ( Wisdom), symbolizing the union of compassion and insight. Four Heavenly Kings, guardians of the four directions. Usually found as large statues or murals in temple porches and entrances. East is white, carries a musical instrument. South in blue, carries a sword. West is red, usually carries a stupa or dorje. North is orange and carries an umbrella. The chief of the four kings is East.
Tara, the most beloved of female deities. Special protectress and savior of the Tibetan people. Symbolizes fertility. Believed to fulfill wishes. Green Tara associated with night and Tritsun; White Tara with day and Wen Cheng. Usually seated. Wears pagoda-shaped crown. Delicate features. Has seven eyes on face, hand and feet.

Chenrezi, the bodhisattva of compassion. ( Tibetan manifestation of India's Avalokitesvara, or China's Guan Yin.) In full splendor he displays 11 heads ( of which one is wrathful) and multiple pairs of arms. Sometimes encircled by 1,000 hands. In simpler forms he is hard t distinguish from other crowned Buddhas.


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