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.

Tibet, lamas in patched robe (2)

13th century, Tibet, Kagyu lama, copper alloy, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

This lama’s eyes and the seam of his clothes are inlaid with silver, his lips, nails and some seams are inlaid with copper.

The inner garment is decorated with a chased floral motif and scrolled foliage on the hem. His hands do a gesture normally associated with buddha Vairocana, the left one displays an embossed circular design, possibly a dharma wheel.

13th century, Tibet, lama, gilt copper alloy, private collection, published on http://www.astamangala.com

Early works often depict lamas with patched up garments, denoting humility, although at times the sculpture has been richly gilt.

13th-14th century, Tibet, Kagyu lama, possibly Jigten Sumgon Rinchen Pel, copper alloy with silver and copper inlay, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

Silver is often used to inlay the lama’s eyes and the seams of his clothes, and copper for the lips, nails and hems.

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

Here the vest is made of plain fabric and the patches of the outer garment are delineated with deep incisions but the hems are also plain.

15th century circa, Tibet, lama, brass, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

This lama’s meditation cloak is made of strips of embroidered cloth sewn together.

15th century, same as before.

On this example, the outer garments are decorated throughout with a chased floral and rice-grain pattern.

 

Tibet, lamas with attributes (2)

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

This lama holds a bone rosary in his left hand. The middle finger on his right hand presses the thumb in a gesture denoting patience.

14th-15th century, same as before.

A similar style, with the meditation cloak over the shoulders and the tip of a felt boot more visible at the front.

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

This very expressive character holds a closed lotus mandala in his left hand.

Same as before, is or was at the Jokhang in Lhasa, published by Ulrich von Schroeder.

And this one holds a manuscript. His right hand is held in the fear-allaying gesture. The facial features, hair and part of his fine Chinese silk clothes are painted with pigments. His checked vest and outer robe have an incised floral hem.

16th century, Tibet, lama, brass with copper inlay, private collection, photo by Christie’s.

This jolly character holds a long-life vase in his left hand and does the teaching gesture with the other, displaying a diamond engraved in the palm.

The broad hem of his vest is inlaid with copper and decorated with a chased rice-grain pattern. Part of his outer robe is incised with a floral and foliate design.

16th century, Tibet, lama, copper alloy, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

Another smiling personage, with a goatee, holding a drum in his right hand and a bell with a vajra handle in the other.

Tibet, lamas and their garments (3)

12th century circa, Tibet, lama, copper alloy, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

Early Tibetan sculptures normally depict lamas with a sleeveless undergarment, an outer robe which covers the lower undergarment, and a meditation cloak usually worn over the shoulders and wrapping the knees. The above is seated on a low double-lotus base with a backplate decorated with lotus buds and topped with a triratna (set of three gems). The style of his hat originates from the Dolpo area in Nepal.

The artist has used thick beading for the edge of the backplate, incisions for the patched robe, stippling for the floral decoration on the edge of the cloak and piping for the hems.

13th century circa, Tibet, Kagyu lama, copper alloy with copper inlay on mouth, nails and hem, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

The meditation cloak is pleated and has a small collar.

The hem of all the garments is often incised, with a floral or a geometrical pattern.

18th century, Tibet, Sakya lama, gilt metal, at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York (USA).

Sometimes the cloak has slipped off the lama’s shoulders and is piled up around him. We will note the waist of the lower garment showing, and the long strands of plaited hair.

14th-15th century, Tibet. lama, gilt copper, is or was at the Jokhang in Lhasa, published by Ulrich von Schroeder.

This lama doesn’t wear a cloak, his patched robe covers his legs down to the ankles. Traditionally, the right arm is left bare. He does the turning-the-wheel-of-dharma gesture with his hands.

15th century, Tibet, lama, copper alloy, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

As fashion evolves, the pleats of the lower garment gathered under the breast begin to show slightly under the outer robe around the 15th century.

15th-16th century, Central Tibet, lama, copper alloy, private collection, published on Himalayan Resources.

17th century, Tibet, lama, metal, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

At times, the waist of the garment, pleated and held in place with a belt, shows completely.

 

 

 

Tibet, lamas on throne (2)

13th century circa, Tibet, Kagyu lama, brass, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

This character is seated on a lotus over a stepped throne covered with a cloth and supported by two lions and decorated with a vajra sceptre and scrolls at the front.

Same, with silver and copper inlay, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

This lama with a powerful jaw is portrayed in a similar way but the seams of his patched robe and his vest are inlaid with silver. He sits on the same type of throne …

covered with a cloth inlaid with silver and copper.

13th century, Tibet, lama, gilt copper alloy, copper alloy, private collection, photo by Sotheby’s.

These thrones supporting lamas were very popular in 13th and 14th century Tibet and often decorated with tiny coral and stone cabochons, as above. It is worth remembering that these sculptures are very small (about 9 cm for the previous two and 14 cm for this one), which makes them all the more remarkable.

13th-14th century, Tibet, lama, copper alloy with silver and copper inlay, stone and coral, private collection, photo by Sotheby’s.

The upper part of this throne is inlaid with silver, copper and stones; the cloth is decorated with coral and stone cabochons, and a strip of copper with a chased geometrical motif.  There is an horizontal vajra sceptre at the front of the last but one tier and some scrolled lotuses above.

The artist has used silver for the eyes and the beaded seams of the clothes, and copper for the seams and the incised edges.

13th-14th century, Tibet, lama, copper alloy, private collection, photo by Sotheby’s.

Here there is an upright vajra sceptre at the front and incised diamonds around the upper edge, no metal or stone inlay.

14th century, Tibet, Kagyu lama, copper alloy with copper and stone inlay, is or was at the Jokhang in Lhasa, published by Ulrich von Schroeder.

Yet another style, with two lions and a yaksha on a cut-out background, the columns and rims decorated with incised and copper-inlaid geometrical shapes and stone-inlaid visvjaras. The copper hem on the lama’s robe has a stippled floral motif. He sports a very ostentatious hat painted with pigments.

Tibet, various panditas

13th-14th century, Tibet, pandit, copper alloy and cold gold, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

This unidentified character holds a vajra sceptre in his right hand and a skull cup in the other.

14th century, same as before, copper alloy with silver inlay, same as before.

In buddhism, the term pandit or pandita, of Hindu origin, refers to Indian scholars and teachers who have mastered 5 sciences (the sanskrit language, reasoning, medicine, arts and spirituality). They are normally depicted with a monastic robe and a pointed hat with long flaps on each side.

15th century circa, Tibet, Kushalipa, gilt copper alloy, probably part of a Chakrasamavara set, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

Kushalipa, an accomplished Indian teacher who spent several years teaching the dharma in Tibet, is seated in the vajra position with his hands turning the wheel of dharma. He wears a fine robe decorated with a chased floral pattern.

15th century, Tibet, almost certainly Mahapandita Vanaratna, gilt copper alloy and paint, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

This mahapandita (‘very great scholar’) is thought to be Vanaratna, who made several journeys to Tibet, where he was asked to teach a particular aspect of buddhism in which he specialised.

 

 

Tibet, Amoghasiddhi – buddha appearance (2)

12th-13th century, Tibet, Amoghasiddhi, copper alloy with silver and copper inlay, private collection, photo by Nagel auctions.

Amoghasiddhi, in his buddha appearance, is seated in the vajra position, his right hand held in the fear-allaying gesture, the other in meditation.

His particularly tall chignon is topped with a lotus bud finial, he has copper inlaid lips and hem, silver inlaid eyes.

18th century, Tibet, Amoghasiddhi, copper alloy, private collection, photo by Lempertz.

18th century, Tibet, Amoghasiddhi, copper alloy, private collection, photo by Lempertz.

In Tibet, his right hand often does the vitarka mudra (thumb and forefinger pressed together). The fear-allaying gesture (above) is more common in Nepal and India, where he may also have both hands in the meditation gesture. Same as before, gilt copper alloy, same as before.

Same as before, gilt copper alloy, same as before.Traditionally, he holds a visvajra in his left hand (usually missing from sculptures).