Tibetan thangka (19th century)
Tibetan thangka (19th century)

The earliest known settlers in Nepal were the Newaris. who settled in the main Kathmandu valley. Their origins are not known but racially they show affinities to the Mongolians. In the third century AD, the Licchavis, a tribe from what is now the Bihar state in India conquered Nepal and introduced a strong Indian cultural influence.

In about 879 AD, a Newari king, Raghavadeva, came to power. The Newari rule lasted until 1324 when the Indians of the Malla dynasty, fleeing from Muslim invaders, overran Nepal. The Mall dynasty ruled until 1678 when it was overthrown by the Gurkha clans of Western Nepal. Descendants of these Gurkhas still rule Nepal.

The recorded history of Tibet dates from the seventh century, when Songsten Gampo unified the country. To consolidate his borders, Songsten Gampo married a Chinese and a Nepalese princess. Both were Buddhists and began the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet. Buddhist missionaries from India introduced an alphabet into Tibet and developed the Tibetan form of Tantric Buddhism which incorporates elements of the old, shamanistic Bon religion.

In 1206, the Mongol, Genghis Khan, incorporated Tibet into his empire. In 1270, the head lama of the Sakya monastery converted the Mongol emperor to Buddhism and, in return, was appointed Viceroy of Tibet. Tibet remained a feudal society ruled by rival sects of Buddhist monks. When the Gelugspa sect gained ascendancy in 1578, the Mongol emperor made him the effective ruler of the country, with the title of Dalai Lama.

With its defeat of the Mongols, China acquired control of Tibet in the 17th century. In 1904, Tibet was invaded by the British who were alarmed at reports of a planned Russian invasion. This action led to a convention, in 1906, which recognised China as the legitimate ruler of Tibet. In 1918, strained relations between Tibet an China resulted in armed conflict. In 1905, the new Communist Chinese government invaded Tibet and, in 1951, the Tibetan government capitulated signing a treaty that, among other things, gave the Dalai Lama authority in domestic matters. A Tibetan revolt in 1958, led the Dalai Lama to flee the country in March 1959.

Himalayan Bronzes

Tibetan bodhisattva (100 - 1200 AD)
Tibetan bodhisattva (100 – 1200 AD)

Himalayan art (often referred to as Tibetan art) comes from Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and parts of Western China as well as Tibet. All of the art of this region is intended primarily to serve a ritual purpose in the Tibetan form of Buddhism known as Lamaism. It is difficult to date Himalayan art and very little of it is signed.

In contrast to Chinese bronzes, Himalayan bonzes are often finished by painting the face, hair, hands and feet – usually with bright colours. The clothes of Bodhisattvas and Taras (female companions of the Buddha) may be adorned with semi-precious stones, such as turquoise and coral or, in later works, glass.

Occasionally, the base of a work may bear the name of a deity, but usually there is just the sacred symbol of the thunderbolt.

The base plate closes off the hollow inside of the figure which is intended to mantras (prayers) and other relics.


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