The Dragon's Gift



DRAGON Gallery


The Dragon's Gift:

The Sacred Arts of Bhutan

February 26 - May 23, 2008

This catalogue accompanies The Dragon's Gift: The Sacred Arts of Bhutan, one of the most highly anticipated exhibitions of Buddhist art to be held in recent times. For over five years, the Honolulu Academy of Arts, under the direction of Dr. Stephen Little, has conducted ambitious fieldwork and research in Bhutan. Enjoying a close working relationship with the Royal Government of Bhutan, the Honolulu Academy of Arts research teams have been given unprecedented access to the nation’s treasuries of sacred art and dance.

The Dragon's Gift offers a rare opportunity to introduce, to the wider international audience, some of the most sacred Buddhist images of Bhutan. From the wealth of material surveyed, the organizers of the exhibition have selected over one hundred objects of superior aesthetic achievement and deep religious significance, the vast majority of which have never before been seen in the West. Nearly all of the works of art presented in this catalogue are from active temples and monasteries and remain in ritual use.

Most of the items are painted or textile thangkas or gilt bronze sculptures which date primarily from the 17th to the 19th centuries – a golden age in the Buddhist arts of Bhutan. Ranging from depictions of Tantric deities to individualized portraits of Buddhist masters, the exhibition and catalogue present outstanding works of art with a wide iconographic scope. For the Buddhist people of Bhutan, these sacred items are conceived as supports along the journey to enlightenment, and are of vital spiritual significance.
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Buddha Vajrasattva
16th century
Dongkarla Kunzang Choling, Paro

Bodhisattva Manjushri, 18th century
Ink and mineral colors on cotton
Height: 201 x Width: 100 cm
Trashigang Gönpa, Thimphu

The Dragon’s Gift introduces such key Buddhist masters in Bhutan’s history as Padmasambhava (also known as Guru Rinpoche, 8th century, who first brought Tantric Buddhism to Bhutan), Pema Lingpa (1450–1521, a famous “Treasure Revealer”), Drukpa Kunley (1455–1529, the “Divine Madman”), and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594–1651, the unifier of Bhutan), and such key religious figures as Buddhas, bodhisattvas (including the powerful female deities Tara and Prajnaparamita), and wrathful deities (including Mahakala and Yamantaka).

The exhibition’s timing is significant as it opens in 2008, during which Bhutan will transform itself into a democratically elected constitutional monarchy.

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Bhutan is the only country in the world to adopt Vajrayana, or Tantric Buddhism, as its official religion, and the particular form of Buddhism found in Bhutan permeates all aspects of culture and the arts. Bhutan is remarkable for the antiquity and continuity of its Buddhist teachings, with the first temples in the region established during the seventh century. The arts of the two main branches of Vajrayana Buddhism in Bhutan, the Drukpa Kagyu and the Nyingma schools, will be represented in the exhibition.

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Dzong Fortresses

The exhibition is divided into 12 sections.

Section One: Buddhas
Shakyamuni, the historical founder of Buddhism in the fifth century B.C., is the first image encountered in the exhibition. Paintings depicting his life and previous incarnations complement sculptural representations. Depictions of the five cosmic Buddha Families, such as an elaborate sculpture of Aksobhya, provide a broader definition of Buddhahood.

Section Two: Bodhisattvas
Bodhisattvas, beings who defer their own attainment of complete Buddhahood to assist others on the path to enlightenment, are highly venerated in the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition. This section introduces such popular and revered Bodhisattvas as Manjushri, shown in multiple forms including a sumptuous painted thangka of the White Manjushri, Vajrapani, and Avalokitesvara.

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Section Six: Deity Yoga
A wide variety of spiritual figures comprise the Buddhist pantheon in Bhutan. Many of these deities are the focus of Buddhist ritual practices such as visualizations and mantra chanting. This section introduces these figures, the concepts they represent, and associated practices. Examples include a powerful yab-yum sculpture of Vajrasattva and his consort, representing the feminine wisdom and masculine “skillful means” (upaya) that lead from ignorance to enlightenment.

Section Eight: Mandala
Perhaps no visual expression of Buddhist thought is as mysterious and attractive to the Western viewer as the mandala. Intricate spiritual diagrams that are considered maps leading to wisdom and spiritual knowledge, mandalas are powerful tools employed in the quest for enlightenment. A variety of painted mandalas will be presented along with references to associated ritual practices.

© www. Honolulu Academy of Arts



CLICK to go to Orientations

The geographical inaccessability of Bhutan has for centuries shrouded the Himalayan kingdom in mystery and romance. However, as this tiny nation begins to open itself to the world, a dynamic society which honours traditions and preserves values is revealed. In 2003, Stephen Little, Director of the Honolulu Academy of Arts, began negotiations with the Royal Government of Bhutan to organize an international exhibition to highlight its unique culture. Five years in the planning, `The Dragon's Gift: The Sacred Arts of Bhutan' opens in Honolulu on 24 February, accompanied by a symposium.

In this issue, essays by Terese Bartholomew, John Johnston and Dorji Yangki highlight distinctive aspects of Bhutan's art and architecture.

Joseph Houseal, Mark Fenn and Ephraim Jose demonstrate how this project extended beyond the selection of artefacts for display. The creation of an archive documenting ritual dance traditions and the setting-up of workshops to educate people in the practices of restoration and conservation reflect the unprecedented engagement of a foreign cultural institution with different levels of Bhutanese society.

© Volume 39 - Number 1 - January/February 2008


Reference :

The Gong Due Ritual Dance Visualization
Sand Mandala

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Core of Culture Dance Preservation, Bhutan
Expedition Leader: Joseph Houseal 2004-2006


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Black Hat Dance, Zhanag and Cham Dance

Five Bhutanese Offerings of Sensory Enjoyment

silk cloth for the touching fingers
conch shell with yoghurt for the nose
mirror for the eyes
cymbals for the ears
sweet fruit for the tounge

The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs

the Dragon's gift -
an online traveller
folds his hands

... ... ... ... ... . BHUTAN SAIJIKI

Dragon Art Gallery


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