Tibetan bronzes

Khen Lop Choe Sum is the Tibetan phrase that refers to the religious triumvirate who are said to have founded Buddhism in Tibet. In the 8th century CE the Tibetan king, Trisong Deutsen, requested the Abbot of Nalanda university, Shantarakshita, to promote Buddhism in his kingdom. This move was opposed by practitioners of the indigenous Bon religion. Shantarakshita advised the king to invite the tantric Guru Padmasambhava to Tibet. Padmasambhava travelled through the Himalayan kingdom and preached Buddhism, subduing all adverse forces, and eventually founded the first Tibetan monastery in Samye. Monks from Tibet travelled to Nalanda and brought with them translations of commentaries by Buddhist scholars. The bronze piece shown in the featured photo is of Guru Padmasambhava.

The Himalayan Tibet Museum on Gandhi Road in Darjeeling was an unknown gem. Opened in 2015, it concentrates on history, culture, and art, rather than the religion. I’ve seen Tibetan bronze statues before, they are rather common across the Himalayas and trickle down through trade into the homes of people in the northern plains. But these were a class apart. The exquisite detailing on the statue of Tara which you see above arrested my feet immediately. Bronze, two colours of wood, precious stones! The artistry involved was tremendous.

This large statue of Amitayus, the Buddha of Eternal Life, was donated to the museum by the Dalai Lama. This larger than life size statue is another piece which is hard to walk away from. The elaborate forms of the Bodhisattva’s clothing and head-dress are so different from other schools of Buddhist art that I wondered about the influences which led to the development of this form. Some day I hope to run into an art historian who’ll tell me all about this history. Until I meet that guru, I’m content to search the mountains.

This was the single unlabelled piece in the museum. I puzzled over it, and noticing the left hand in the abhaya mudra, realized that it had to be a depiction of a Bodhisattva. I asked one of the staff, and they said immediately that it is a statue of Manjushree, “The book of knowledge on his left, the sword to cleave ignorance in his hand.” The museum is run by the Manjushree Foundation, a Tibetan non-profit.


By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.


  1. These are fabulous, especially that last one! I had no sense of the scale of the one of Amitayus until I read that you describe it as larger than life. I’d been visualising these all as quite small – are the others also big?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The whole time I was teaching, a Thangka of Manjusree hung in my house. It was an excellent and inspiring reminder of what my job really was; not arguing with students over grade or bosses over whatever it was they argue about, or meeting deadlines (though I did), it was about that. It was really that serious. Not just my students’ ignorance, but mine.

    Liked by 1 person

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