Hair styles

 Himalayan Buddhist sculptures offer a wide variety of hairstyles. Most of the following images are extracts from photos already published (i.e. location and photo credits already quoted).


1st-2nd century, Gandhara, Shakyamuni, at the Met.

This is an unusual and life-like image of the historical buddha, with small ears, a moustache and long matted hair tied in a top knot.

2nd-3rd century, Gandhara, Shakyamuni, schist.

On early Gandhara sculptures he often has long wavy hair piled in a small bun (ushnisha) with no lotus bud or any other finial on top.


There is a small group of 6th century bronze buddhas from the late Gandhara period that do not follow the standard greco-buddhist aesthetics. Their hair, including the bun,  is arranged in concentric semi-circular rows of curls inversely matching the folds on their sanghati. They often have  oblique elongated eyes and thick lips.

This buddha with slanted eyes (8th century Swat Valley or Jammu and Kashmir), displays a similar coiffure but the hair is coiled on top of the head.

9th century, Nepal, Shakyamun, Cleveland Museum of Art.

11th-12th century, India.


In other parts of the Himalayas, Shakyamuni and other figures with a buddha appearance usually have individual snail-like curls topped with a lotus bud or other finial.

Undated, Tibet, Shakyamuni.

The bun or chignon may have different shapes and proportions (the above is topped with the flame of enlightenment).

A curious 9th century Kashmiri Vairocana with circular incisions in the guise of hair curls.


3rd century, Gandhara, Pakistan, Maitreya, schist, at the Met.

There is a larger variety of hairstyles for figures with a bodhisattva appearance, depending on the region and the period. The above has long curly hair falling loose over his back except for two top knots.

3rd century, Gandhara, Pakistan, Avalokiteshvara, at Musée Guimet.

This one, on the contrary, has all his hair gathered in a bunch coiled over his head and slightly showing on one side of the crown.

17th-18th century, Tibet, Phagpa Lokeshvara.

One of the distinctive marks of most Nepalese and Tibetan statues of Phagpa Lokeshvara is the way his long hair is folded into two banana-like bunches showing on each side of his crown.

12th century, India, Khasarpana Lokeshvara.

In his khasarpana form, Avalokiteshvara often has a tall braided Indian-style chignon with a cascade of curls on the sides.

Early 8th century, Swat Valley or Gilgit, Maitreya.

In the Swat Valley region, part of the hair is tied in a scallop or fan shape that shows above the crown, another part is braided and falls over the shoulders…

7th-8th century, Swat Valley, Avalokiteshvara.

The rest of the hair can be loose or braided….

… this Avalokiteshvara’s hair forms loops at the top of his head and thick snail-like curls below.


6th-7th century, Swat Valley, Avalokiteshvara.

A singular case with dreadlocks, some of them used to secure the effigy of a buddha on his head.

7th-8th c., Himachal Pradesh, Padmapani, brass, 16 cm, close up

Another remarkable coiffure, with a cascade of curls on one side of the face. (7th-8th century, Ashmolean Museum, first attributed to Himachal Pradesh then to the Swat Valley).

Avalokiteshvara, 10th century, Kashmiri style, Western Tibet.

 Avalokiteshavara, 11th-12th century, Kashmir.

In Kashmiri art, bodhisattvas’ thick curly hair is parted  in the middle and the hairline starts low down on the forehead. The hair may be tied in a fan-shaped bunch, a top knot or a chignon, some long strands of twisted hair often falling on the shoulders.

8th century, Nepal, Vajrapani.

These Nepalese bodhisattva has an original bunch of curls cascading on one side of the head and decorated with a flower.

11th-12th century, Avalokiteshvara, Tibet.

An early example of a multi-tier chignon on a male bodhisattva, also seen on  sculptures of Yellow Jambhala…

15th-16th century, Nepal, Tara.

Circa 18th century, Mongolia, Ushnishavijaya, Newark Museum (USA).

reappearing much later on female deities, but with just two tiers.

18th century, Tibet, Ushnishavijaya.

An alternative being the double top knot.




12th century, Northeast India, Avalokiteshvara.

The standard Pala-style braided chignon is tall, tapered and topped with a finial. Long strands of hair are left to fall over the shoulders.

15th century, Tibet, Maitreya.

This is a rare example of intricate braiding at the back of the head.

Circa 11th century, Ladakh, Avalokiteshvara.

On some sculptures from the ancient Tibetan empire, the Pala-style chignon is exaggeratedly tall and thin.

13th-14th century, Tibet, Vajrapani.

A rare Vajrapani with most of his hair as if gathered in a net, the rest worn in a small top knot and two side strands.

12th century, Nepal, Manjushri.

Across the Himalayas, Manjushri in his one-head form usually has his hair divided in three bunches to form a top knot and two poney tails.


14th-15th century, Nepal, Tara.

A series of early Malla period wooden sculptures of Tara portray her with her hair parted in the middle and sleeked back.

Circa 15th century, Nepal, Tara.     16th-17th century, Nepal, Tara

Other works show her with a chignon, smooth or braided.

15th and 17th  century, Tibet, Tara.

These two Tibetan Taras have their hair gathered in a thick bunch behind the right shoulder.


8th century, Swat Valley, Tara, bronze, private collection, photo by Boran Asian Art

A Swat Valley example with the hair braided and arranged on one side, the crown being modified accordingly to display it.

7th-8th century, Nepal, female devotee.

This woman’s hair is coiled on each side of her head.



Undated, Tibet, ascetic lama.

A singular case of short matted hair locks

17th century, Tibet, yogi with short straight hair.

12th-13th century, Tibet, yogi with shaven head.


The famous Tibetan yogi, poet and saint, Milarepa, always has his hair combed backwards but with a few variants. It may be straight and split in many strands or three strands or five…

16th century, Tibet, Milarepa.

or worn loose in a single mass of long thick curls or short ones.

top knot

16th century, Tibet, Kukkuripa.    15th-16th century, Tibet, Catrapa.

Many mahasiddhas are depicted with a top knot; the hair may be rolled over an object (such as a book) that holds it in place, or folded and tied at the base.

16th century, Tibet, Kanha with his hair coiled and piled on his head.

15th century, Tibet, Avadhutipa with a hair bun.





 Tsang Nyon Heruka with  a magnificently braided chignon tied with a band.

Undated, Tibet, Dampa Sangye.

We have seen Dampa Sangye with long and short hair. On this image his thick hair is raised except for a row of flat curls at the front, giving the impression that he wears a cap.


Tibet, Sonam Tsemo with long black hair worn loose and with short curly hair knotted at the back… or with his hair split in two and dyed blue.

Middle-aged and older Tibetan teachers may be balding or quite bald, they rarely have thick white curls.

13th c., Tibet, Kagyu lama, sil., 4,4 cm, pos. Sanggye Yarjon, rear of head, Bonhams.jpg 13th century, Tibet, lama with buddha curls.jpg

A rare case of a lama with a hair whorl and another with a buddha hair style.

12th century, Nepal, king, probably Gunakamadeva.

On the left, an early Nepalese work with the king’s hair braided and piled on his head like a turban. Next to it, a much later portrait of the famous Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo with a similar hair arrangement plus a top knot.

Songtsen Gampo is normally depicted with a conical turban with a truncated top (to support a small buddha) and a long braid of blue or black hair on each side of his head.


11th century, Kashmir, Humkara with topknots.


13th century, Tibet Blue Achala.

Some deities with a wrathful appearance may have blue hair, the rest often have their hair dyed with red/orange pigment. It may be gathered in a braided bun, a top knot…


a mitre-like bunch, a two-tier chignon, a bun …


a scallop-shape bunch tied with a snake, a tripartite flaming bunch

Alternatively, the hair is shaped like flames that stand straight up or go sideways. In the case of multi-headed deities, the flaming hair is pulled in a single bunch topped with a finial.

15th century, Tibet, Mahakala.

18th century, Tibet, Mahakala, Legden.


In his Brahmarupa aspect, Mahakala has a mahasiddha‘s top knot, sometimes with a thigh bone across it. In his Legden form he may have orange flaming hair but sometimes has a long braid of blue-black hair …

Circa 13th century, Tibet, dakini.

Dakinis and some female deities with a dakini appearance may have red/orange hair.


Vajravarahi usually has long blue or black hair, arranged in a variety of ways.

16th c., Nepal, Vajravarahi, gilt cop.+pig., 17,4 cm, long hair, Bonhams

On this 16th century Nepalese example she has long red hair worn loose across the back.

12th c., India, Bihar, Hayagriva or Yamari.

We sometimes come across singular depictions such as this figure with snake-like flaming curls.


11th-12th century, Tibet, Vajrapani, brass, private collection, photo by Renaud Montméat.

12th century, Tibet, Achala, gilt metal, is or was at the gTsug Lakhang, published by Ulrich von Schroeder.

13th century, Western Tibet, Vajrapani, bronze with cold gold and pigments, at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney (Australia)

13th century, Tibet, Vajrapani, bronze (brass), private collection, photo by Christie’s.

This type of hairstyle appears to be specific to 12th and 13th century Tibet and goes with very low three-leaf tiara. On these examples, the iconography for Achala and Vajrapani is the same except for the attribute in the right hand.


Like the others, this page will be regularly updated.