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Tibetan murals - Tibet painting art

June,10 2023 BY Yangkyi 0 COMMENTS

Tibetan murals - Tibet painting art

Tibetan painting originated from rock painting in ancient times. Tibetan murals are evolved from early rock paintings consisting mainly of the animal images of deer, ox, sheep, horses, and hunting scenes. Rock painting was quite developed in ancient times, especially after Buddhism arrived, and religious painting was further developed.

Tibetan murals are lightly imbued with the essence of Tibet's indigenous religion, Bon. They also incorporate features from the religious and artistic traditions of India and Nepal, and each mural has its own unique characteristics. In each, a religious figure, animal or simple symbol, is featured with some appointed motifs. While the majority of the murals center on religious aspects of Tibetan culture, others portray historical figures or social activities. As many of these murals are religious in nature, murals are concentrated in temples, the holiest sites in Tibet, although they may be seen anywhere.

Tibetan murals contain rich content, involving religion, politics, history, economy, culture, Tibetan medicine, and social life. Any of the Buddhist scriptures, Buddhist messages, fairy tales, history stories, daily living scenes, mountains and rivers, birds and flowers, patterns and adornment can be adopted into a wall painting, which has a unique style. It uses cold and dark colors, such as black, dark blue, mauve, dark grey, brown and white; drawing with lines, especially plain lines; simple, rough and sparse outlines. It has the same style of art as the atmosphere of the monastery, and contains exaggerated and distorted art images.

Brightly colored wall paintings can be found everywhere in Tibetan monasteries. Some of them are more than 1300 years old. As it is recorded in Tibetan history, in the year when Songtsen Gampo, the Tibetan king, inherited the throne, it is said he saw Sakyamuni, Horse-necked Diamond King, Tara, Stationary Vajrapani, and the four Buddhas. He told the Nepali artisan, Ciba, to carve the four Buddhas into a rock wall and paint them. This is the earliest wall painting and sculpture.

Tibetan mural experienced two periods. The first period starts after Songtsen Gampo became the king. Because he married a Khridzun princess of Nepal, and a Wenchen princess of the Tang Dynasty who brought Buddhist statues and Buddhist scriptures, he built Jokhang Monastery and Romoche Monastery, which affected the development of wall painting. The figures in the wall paintings of that period are chubby, and painted with simple color, which is close to the art works at Dunhuang by Bei Wei and the beginning of the Tang Dynasty. The second period started around 10 century A.C. when the initiator of the Yellow sect, Zongkapa, reformed the religion. Yellow sects grew rapidly as the predominant religion. The number of yellow sect monasteries increased to 3000. During that period, the political and religious leaders collected many folk painters to complete wall painting jobs, and let them run in the families. That is the most splendid period of wall painting.

The painters gave human life to the statue of Buddha through art, which make the statue look faithful, handsome, merciful, charming, fiery and forthright. Such works exist as picture-story book in all the monasteries. Each of these images has distinct features that can be easily recognized by someone who knows a little bit of Tibetan culture.

Tibetan wall painting is actually pictures of Tibetan history. It describes visually social living, the development of religion, historical tales, local conditions and the customs of Tibet. Therefore, Tibetan murals can be classified as religious murals, historical murals, social murals, etc.

Religious Murals

Murals in Tibet focus primarily on religion. Although some early murals devoted to Bon still exist, most of the contemporary murals depict various aspects of Buddhism. The most popular murals are of religious figures, such as Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Guardians of Buddhist Doctrines, Taras in the sutras, or Buddhist masters. In these paintings, there is always a head deity or human, who is usually surrounded by some other deities or humans. If the central figure is featured alone, his surroundings are extravagantly detailed. Jokhang Temple and Tashilhunpo Monastery have built special courtyards dedicated to this type of mural painting.

In addition to the murals of religious figures, there are also some that focus on religious activities, such as debating sutras, Changmo Dance, the Buddhist cosmologic mandalas , and other Buddhist morality tales. In certain temples, chains of pictures illustrate Tibetan legends or follow the lives of religious figures like Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism. One of the most famous legends about the Tibetan ancestors - a monkey and a Raksasi - is told in the murals of Potala Palace and Norbulingka.

Historical Murals

Based on the history of Tibet, these murals depict key historical figures and events. There are paintings of ancient Tibetan kings, like Songtsen Gampo (617-650), Trisong Detsen (742-798) and Tri Ralpa Chen (866-896) of Tubo Kingdom, as well as their famous concubines, Princess Wencheng and Princess Jincheng of Tang Dynasty (618-907) and Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal. Their stories are told through the series of pictures in Potala, Jokhang and Norbulingka.

In Potala, there are also chains of pictures about the biography of the 5th Dalai Lama , who had done much to facilitate the friendship of Tibet and the Chinese central government. Two other historical murals of note: in Ruins of Guge Kingdom there are a series of murals about the rise and down of Tubo Kingdom; and an impressive mural in Norbulingka provides a brief illustration of the entire Tibetan history, from the origination of Tibetans to the 14th Dalai Lama's meeting with Chairman Mao.

Social Murals

Some murals are neither religious nor historical, but rather feature the social life of Tibetans. For example, in Jokhang Temple , there is a group of jubilation murals that shows people singing, dancing, playing musical instruments and engaging in sporting matches. In Potala and Samye Monastery , murals of folk sport activities and acrobatics can also be seen.

In addition, many large palaces or temples in Tibet feature murals that describe their entire architectural design and construction process. These murals can be found in Potala, Jokhang, Samye Temple, Sakya Monastery and other famous buildings in Tibet.

Whether religious, historical or social, all of the murals are elaborate and detailed pieces created by expert artists. In some cases, strict guidelines define the correct way that a key figure should be depicted, so the artist must use his artistic talents to impart subtle differences that will make the mural unique from others that feature the same figure. Colors must be applied properly to make sure the murals do not fade excessively over time.


About the Author - Yangkyi

Yangkyi is one of the experienced female local Tibetan guides in our team. She is exceptionally enthusiastic and responsible. The moment you meet Yangkyi in Lhasa, you will be greeted with her infectious smile and deeply impressed by her encyclopedic insight of Tibetan Buddhism and culture.

Traveling with Ynagkyi in Tibet is a breeze. She takes great care of everything and is extremely accommodating to the needs of every traveler in the tour group. Hopefully, you find Yangki’s travel articles hopeful in planning your Tibet tour.

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