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 2010-2011 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 Tammy Winand. Images may NOT be downloaded or re-used without the express written consent of the copyright holder.


For additional information on Deity masks, I recommend this article, Masks of the Himalayas, by Thomas Murray.                                         

4 comments:

  1. Such a great post! Thank you for sharing. I hope India is treating you well. I miss Dharamsala, but reading your blog brings me back.

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  2. Very interesting! They look quite frightening but with all the information you shared, I've learned so much about these very colorful masks. Thank you for sharing such an informative post. I wish I can go there one day. - She Escobar from LinkedIn.

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  3. Should I put this mask inside or outside my door?

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    1. my apologies for the delay, I just now got the google notice of the last 2 comments...
      I think it's your personal choice where you want to hang such a mask...however, traditionally, they could be placed on an outside wall of a home...they are more symbolic of scaring away your personal emotional "demons" than of real ghosts!

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