Yellow in Himalayan art: Between the Sun and the Earth

Yellow in Himalayan art: Between the Sun and the Earth

"Rongsang Qujisangbo", 17th century, Royal Ontario Museum


Rongzom Chokyi Zangpo


This controversial Nyingma translator and philosopher

was often accompanied by golden light in his dreams

Throughout most of his life

Yellow symbolizes "translational wisdom"

and embodies the identity of a Buddhist scripture translator.



In the biography, the yellow aura is referred to as "the golden light of speech".



"Bodhisattva," 14th century, Rubin Museum of Art


Among the "Five Buddhas," the Amitabha Buddha is located in the south,

and his body color is golden yellow.

The Sakya tradition founder refers to it as the "color of the sun"(ཉི་མའི་ཁ་མདོག་),

emphasizing its significance in representing the wisdom of equality.



The term "sunshine yellow" refers to a pale yellow color, similar to the color of a goose or milk. It can also refer to a darker shade of yellow in general.


"The Goddess of Wealth and the monk from Han Dynasty", 17th century, Ruben Museum


The above combination is not commonly seen

Usually associated with the "expansion" aspect of the "four industries"

Yellow is the symbol color for "expansion"


Local: Cai Yuan Tian Mu


As a female deity of both spiritual practice and wealth,

the worship of the Goddess of Wealth can be traced back to

early South Asian local goddesses,

yellow-bodied "Prosperity" deities

empowering karmic consequences and their worldly forms

(such as wealth and health, etc.)


Local: Fortune Peach


The color of the peach in the hands of the monk from Han region changes continually with different scenery.

A yellow peach is called an "unripe yellow peach"(མ་སྨིན་ཁམ་སེར་).

It symbolizes the continuous increase of good deeds.


Local: Corner of Offerings

Yellow-white is the most common color of offerings.

White symbolizes basic offerings,

while yellow symbolizes special offerings,

such as golden altar offerings.




Pink (དམར་སྐྱ་) is the color of "nuns,"

while orange (ལི་ཁྲི་ཚོན་) is the color of "monks,"

"Monks" and "nuns" should not be too close,

They need to be separated by the colors of the sky and earth (blue/green/white)


"The Yellow Zhanbala," 20th century, Tibet House Museum


Store fine wine in conch shells

The ferret and fruits in hand symbolize wealth

The Yellow Jambhala is among the "increase" gods

The most popular practice deity in Tibetan Buddhism




Red and yellow as colors represent high lamas.

If brightness is added, then red and yellow.

(Tibetan painting realm proverb)

* (The New/Classic) Miantang School believes that "red and yellow" can symbolize monks

In color theory, it also adds a sense of oppression to the artwork.






Monk's belt, robe, and cloak

The main color is yellow

While the monk's robe and skirt

Are mostly red and red-yellow in color

Demagexi Danzeng Pengcuo




In the traditional painting of Tibet, yellow is the most abundant secondary color.

Yellow is a symbol of nobility and imagination.

- David Jackson


Yellow is warm because the places where the sun shines are all "golden" (མདོག་གསེར་ཕྲེང་; in Tibetan culture, the moon is the collector of the sun's "golden threads"). Yellow is also secretive because it can symbolize divine wisdom and power succession, as well as generic decoration. In local culture, yellow is a regulating color (the color of the goddess in local religion), a decorative color (the color of the master of all decoration materials), and a color used to wrap sacred objects.


Local: Wisdom is the good mother(ཤེས་རབ་བྱམས་མ་)


The Mother of All Deities in indigenous religion

and the fundamental source of cosmic wisdom

She is renowned as the Cosmic Queen(སྲིད་པའི་རྒྱལ་མོ་).


With the influx of color concepts from all directions into the Himalayas and Tibet, the meaning of yellow has also become more complex. In local color theory, Tibetan numerals "five" (༥), "seven" (༧), and "eight" (༨) are often used to represent yellow, orange, and gold; or Tibetan abbreviations "Sa" (ས་) and "La" (ལ་) are used to represent yellow and orange.


Yellow is a commonly used complementary color in Tibetan color theory, so it plays an important role in "color relationships". When "white and yellow" meet, they are like "good friends", adding brilliance to the image; when "black and yellow" meet, they are like "distant relatives", reducing color change; when "green and yellow" meet, they are like "patients", disrupting the color hierarchy; and when yellow colors meet each other, it is considered "so-so", showing a lack of skill on the part of the artist (early Karma Gadri painting schools often used the interaction of yellow colors to test the skills of the artist).


"The Dense Kong" , 17th Century, Rubin Museum


Both the "hook gold method" and "fill gold method" emphasize the importance of yellow as one of the four core background colors.


"Master Tsongkhapa", 18th century, Rubin Museum of Art


In Gelugpa Buddhism, the "Maitreya worship" exalts the sacred significance of yellow to the extreme.




"The Great Achiever Naropa," 18th century, Rubin Museum


Masterpiece of yellow-themed outfit

It is considered to be a work of possibly the "Gustav Klimt of fashion"



Shelter from the golden land

This article is translated from Sorang Wangqing's blog.

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