Gyendruk: The Six Ornaments

The six ornaments or gyendruk (རྒྱན་དྲུག) is common artistic back-support or gyapyöl (རྒྱབ་ཡོལ་), which is found around the Buddha statue in Bhutan and the Himalayan Buddhist world. The decorative background most likely developed from the artistic backdrop and periphery containing floral designs and representations of mythological animals, created for divine image. Such back-support was created in ancient Indian art in the form a decorative torana arch. The six ornaments commonly encircle the Buddha and are created for both paintings and three-dimensional images of the Buddha. The six are as follows:

Elephant

At the bottom of the arched back-support are two white elephants flanking the Buddha. The elephant is considered an ornament due to its strength and trunk (གླང་ཆེན་མཆེ་བའི་རྒྱན་). It is also likely that the elephant was considered initially the ornament of size (གླང་ཆེན་ཆེ་བའི་རྒྱན་) for its large size, and accompanying stability and firmness. It represents the perfection of concentrative meditation (བསམ་གཏན་གྱི་ཕར་ཕྱིན་) among the six perfections. The elephants are sometimes portrayed as offering incense and butter lamp to the Buddha.

Lion

Above the elephants are two lions with elegant turquoise coloured mane. The lion is considered as an ornament for its elegance and turquoise coloured mane (སེང་གེ་རལ་པའི་རྒྱན་). It is also likely that the elephant was initially considered the ornament of display (སེང་གེ་རོལ་པའི་རྒྱན་) for its elegance and agility. It represents the perfection of wisdom (ཤེས་རབ་ཀྱི་ཕ་རོལ་ཏུ་ཕྱིན་པ་) among the six perfections. The snow lion is a very common subject of artistic creation throughout the Himalayas,.

Sharabha Hybrid

The third animal commonly included in the six ornaments is an interesting hybrid of a deer or antelope with horns, fangs or claws. It can have a head of a goat, body of an antelope or horse, feet of a lion, etc, mainly to symbolize the union of strength, speed, agility, performance, etc. Known as sharabha or tamo, it is an ornament of flowery design (མེ་ཏོག་གི་རྒྱན་) or perhaps the ornament of being non-obstructive (མི་ཐོགས་པའི་རྒྱན་). The hybrid animal represents the perfection of effort or zeal (བརྩོན་འགྲུས་ཀྱི་ཕ་རོལ་ཏུ་ཕྱིན་པ་) of the six perfections.

Dwarf

Holding the crossbeam of the throne are two strong and stout dwarves. The figures represent a group of strong and wild men who appear in ancient tales. These strong men are commonly depicted as short and stout figures with enormous strength in Himalayan Buddhist art and architecture. They are considered ornaments of strength (རྒད་ཆེན་སྟོབས་ཀྱི་རྒྱན) and represent the perfection of perseverance and fortitude (བཟོད་པའི་ཕར་ཕྱིན་) among the six perfections.

Makara

Above the crossbeam supported by the dwarfs are highly intricate figures of makara which is a hybrid water-dwelling creature combining the features of a crocodile, elephant, fish, etc. The makara is an ancient Indian artistic symbol of power and is presented in different forms and styles across the Himalayas. It is considered as the ornament of flourish (ཆུ་སྲིན་པ་ཏྲའི་རྒྱན) and represents the perfection of discipline (ཚུལ་ཁྲིམས་ཀྱི་ཕར་ཕྱིན་) of the six perfections.

Naga

The sixth figures are two naga spirits, who often have half-snake bodies and are believed to dwell in the subterranean world. The subterranean world of nagas is considered to be blessed with much wealth and abundance. Thus, the two beautiful and clean nagas are considered ornaments of wealth (ཀླུ་མོ་ནོར་གྱི་རྒྱན) and they represent the perfection of giving (ཚུལ་ཁྲིམས་ཀྱི་ཕར་ཕྱིན་).

On the top of the set of six ornamental figures, one can also find a garuda, a mythical bird, holding a snake in its mouth and hands. The six figures are also set in the decorative foilage of decorative flowers, leaves, fruits and clouds.

The decorative back-support of the six ornaments are theoretically said to be reserved only for the images of the Buddha but it is not uncommon to find other mythical or historical religious figures sculpted there.

 

Karma Phuntsho is a social thinker and worker, the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of many books and articles including The History of Bhutan.

Arts and Crafts Bhutan Cultural Library Bhutan

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Collection Bhutan Cultural Library
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Author Karma Phuntsho
Year published 2018
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Rights ཤེས་རིག་དང་ལམ་སྲོལ་གྱི་དོན་ལུ་ཕབ་བཟུང་ཞུས། ཤེས་རྒྱུན་ལས་སྡེ་ལས་གནང་བ་མེད་པར་བསྒྱུར་སྤེལ་འབད་མི་ཆོག། For educational and cultural use only. Reproduction is strictly prohibited without permission from Shejun.
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