Photojournalism From Tibet in Exile

Everyday Exile Photojournalism showcases images from Tibetan exile communities, mainly in India. The goal is to educate viewers in other countries re: everyday life, culture and issues facing Tibetans who have fled Chinese-occupied Tibet.

All images copyright 2010-2015 by Tammy Winand and may not be used in any way without the express written permission of the photographer. Please contact via email for permissions.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Deity Masks

Across the Himalayan region, colorful and, to the uneducated western eye, bizarre or even frightening, deity masks are displayed on exterior walls and for sale at street side vendors. These masks are (usually) replicas of the masks worn at special Tibetan Buddhist ceremonial events known as Cham.

Bright red, blue, black or unpainted wood, these intricate carvings depict faces with bulging eyes, fangs, a large third eye, and sometimes crowns of toothy skulls. 

These masks have a long history, stemming from the time when Buddhism was just coming to the area now occupied by Tibet, Ladakh, and Nepal. One of the most important figures of this time is Padmasambhava, also known to Tibetans as Guru Rinpoche.

Guru Rinpoche came to Tibet from India to share the Buddhist teachings. At the time, the native people mostly followed ancient shamanistic religions, particularly Bon. Tradition holds that a great battle occurred between Padmasambhava and the old nature gods. Padmasambhava was victorious, subduing the old gods, who then had to agree to protect the teachings of Buddhism.

These dharmapalas, or protector deities, are depicted as wrathful figures. There are eight dharmapalas, but the one most commonly depicted is Mahakala.

The Cham dance commemorating Guru Rinpoche's victory is still held in Tibetan communities. I was lucky enough to attend one at Sherab Ling Monastery in the Tibetan exile settlement of Bir in India during 2010. The rest of images below were shot in Tibetan exile communities in both India and Nepal.

Masked Monks Waiting to Perform at 2010 Sherab Ling Cham

Masked Monks Performing at Sherab Ling Tsechu Cham

Multi-colored Mahakala Masks at a Vendor in Boudha, KTM, Nepal

Metal Deity Masks with Flaming "Mane" in Kathmandu

Aged Deity Masks Outside a Shop in Boudha

Deity Mask on a Shop Door

All images copyright 2015 Tammy Winand, all rights reserved. Please see my stock galleries on shutterstock, dreamstime, 123rf, and mostphotos (largest selection of India, Tibetan, Kathmandu related images) to download.