Tibet, lamas and their hair

People in the Western world tend to think that lamas are monks in general and that, therefore, they have short hair. In fact the term is an honorific title applying to Tibetan buddhist teachers (male or female).

13th century, Tibet, lama, bronze (copper alloy) with cold gold, private collection, photo by Christie’s.

It is very unusual for a lama to be depicted with thick snail-like hair curls like the historical buddha. Nevertheless, the monastic garments, including a meditation cloak, tell us that we are looking at a lama, his eyes closed in rapture, the face painted with cold gold, the hair dyed with  blue pigment. Equally unusual is the robe fastened with a thick embroidered belt and covering both arms.

13th-14th century, Tibet, lama, gilt copper alloy, private collection, photo by Koller.

We have seen a few examples of lamas with their long hair combed back.

16th century, Tibet, possibly a Kagyu yogi, copper alloy, private collection, photo by Nagel.

This smiling man with a moustache wears his long curly hair loose. He holds a long-life vase in his left hand and does the teaching gesture with the right hand, displaying a diamond incised in the palm.

14th century, Tibet, Kagyu lama, copper alloy with copper inlay, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

15th-16th century, Tibet, lama, copper alloy, same as before.

16th century, same, gilt copper alloy repoussé and cold gold, private collection, photo by Sotheby’s.

The majority have short hair, with a receding hairline, more or less pronounced.

16th-17th century, Tibet, Mipa Chokyi Gyalpo, gilt copper alloy, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

Also known as Tsugla Gyatso Trengwa, this personage holds a long-life vase in his left hand. His hair forms a straight line at the front.

17th century, Tibet, lama, gilt copper alloy, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

Some of the eldest are nearly bald, as can be expected.

Same, at the British Museum in London (UK).

On this late work, the lama wears his long hair fastened in the Chinese fashion.

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