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Himalayan Art – Crowns of the Buddhist Priests

January 06, 2022 2 min read

A decade ago I witnessed the Losar ceremonies over 3 days in Lingdum monastery in Sikkim.

Witnessing the head priest leading the group of monks and young novitiates through the various rituals and ceremonies was a treat for the senses and for the mind.

The majesty of the experience was created by all the visual and sensory elements – the amazing architecture, the paintings on the walls, the fragrance of the incense – both fresh & that which lingered within the walls for days or decades, the low-pitched deep sounds of chanting and the gongs. Each of these added a unique wave to the soul-floooding tsunami of experience in those 3 days.

Even through that all-consuming feast of sights and sounds, it was possible to notice the costumes worn by the handsome head-priest over those days. All the monks wore their standard maroon and yellow robes. But the head monk changed according to the demands of the rituals. Some rituals were conducted in simple maroon wool hats and robes and others in simple silk brocade attire.

But the final ceremony of Losar was conducted in a costume that no fashion designer in Milan or Paris can imagine. For, it is the result of being subjected to tests of evolving aesthetics by several generations, staying within some boundaries and crossing others, and yet retaining the identity that existing centuries ago.

Here are two photos for comparison:

The entire ensemble must have weighed at least 10 kilos and added a few meters to his presence. The ornate head-dress itself is heavy & tall.

An article from The Met states “certain crowns possess an esoteric power when held in the hands or worn on the head of initiated tantric priests. Such objects are potent symbols of the esoteric Buddhism of Nepal and enshrine the status of tantric specialists in Nepalese Buddhist society. The act of wearing such a crown plays an essential role in the construction and visual manifestation of power.”

[The article speaks of Nepalese Buddhism but all across the Himalayas – parts of Sikkim, Tibet, Ladakh & Bhutan, even though each have a distinct flavor, there is a large overlap of values & beliefs]

Here’s a screenshot of the crowns in a special exhibition at The Met in 2017-2018

And here I’d like to present the latest crown in the WOVENSOULS collection, acquired from a collector in the US.

Asset 1620

Stunning isn’t it?

I’m researching the motifs to learn about the meaning of the symbols.

Please send in your comments if you know more about the symbolism.



Jan 2022

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