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Tibetan art

From Academic Kids

Tibetan art refers to the art of Tibet and other present and former Himalayan kingdoms (Bhutan, Ladakh, Nepal, and Sikkim). Tibetan art is first and foremost a form of sacred art, reflecting the over-riding influence of Tibetan Buddhism on these cultures.

The art of Tibet may be studied in terms of influences which have contributed to it over the centuries.


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Greek influence brought by Alexander the Great

The conquests of Alexander the Great brought Greek art influences to India in the 4th century BC. The Greek skill in statuary influenced Buddhist centers in present day Afghanistan and Pakistan and led to a new Greco-Buddhist synthesis. Whereas the Buddha did not previously have a standardized statuary representation, the Greek models inspired both bronze and stone statues of the Buddha to be created for temple use.

Mahayana Buddhist influence

As Mahayana Buddhism emerged as a separate school in the 4th century BC it emphasized the role of bodhisattvas, compassionate beings who forego 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. A common bodhisattva depicted in Tibetan art is the Gelugpa 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.

Tantric Influence

More specifically, Tibetan Buddhism is a subset of Tantric Buddhism, also known as Vajrayana Buddhism for its common motif of the vajra, the diamond thunderbolt (known in Tibetan as the dorje).

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 underway in the monastery to prevent corruption of the practice.

B�n Influence

The indigenous shamanistic religion of the Himalayas is known as [[B�n]]. 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.

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