Tsang Nyön Heruka (1452-1507) – The "Madman of Tsang"
  See it in the Museum
Orientation 2
Furniture 2

ABS 311

 Code: ABS 311

  Country: Tibet


  Date: 1500 - 1600

  Dimensions in cm WxHxD: 17.2 x 26 x 13.3

  Materials: Gilt copper

Gilt copper, stone inlays, cast by the lost wax method

Tsang Nyön Heruka (Tib. gTsang smyon He ru ka), ‘the madman of Tsang’ lived from 1452 till 1507 and was a major figure of the Kagyü order. After a lengthy education in monasteries, he followed the tantric practices laid out in early Indian texts, inhabiting charnel grounds where he smeared himself with human blood, fat and ash, picked fingers and toes from corpses to bind into his matted locks and chose a flayed human skin as a cape. Despite his eccentric behaviour he wrote the most famous biography of the Kagyü hierarch and saint, Milarepa (1040-1123), considered a masterpiece, following it up with the accompanying volume, the Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, one of the most popular literary works in Tibet.

In this superb image of one of Tibet’s most extraordinary characters, the yogin exuberantly brandishes his right hand holding a vajra. A blood-filled kapala sits in his left hand resting on his lap. A diadem binds his mass of plaited hair, and a short dhoti is tied beneath his bulging belly. His eyes are wide open and his mouth is framed within a small moustache and beard. Almost naked, he wears the bone ornaments of the charnel grounds consisting of the circular earrings, armlets, bracelets, anklets, and necklaces. He sits in the royal ease posture on an antelope skin that covers the lotus pedestal. The finely gilded and inlaid copper alloy is typical of images known to come from Tsang, the south Tibetan region in which Tsang Nyön Heruka lived. The well defined jewellery and fine finish combined with powerful volume and movement are characteristic of Tibetan bronzes of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. A lengthy inscription on the back of the pedestal identifies him clearly as Tsang Nyön, precising the statue was made as a veneration object for the retreat centre of rKe tshang on the initiative of Götsang Repa (Tib. rGod tshang ras pa, 1482-1559), Tsang Nyön's direct disciple and heir, underlining the historical importance of this masterpiece of Tibetan Art. The yogin’s free spirit and wild nature are beautifully realized in this portrait, which is imbued with a sense of triumph in his achievements gained through such eccentric behaviour, a ‘madness’ for which Tibetans have the highest esteem.


མོས་གུས་ | ཡིད་བཞིན་ནོར་བུའི་བྱིན་ | བརླབས་ཀྱིས། རྣལ་ | འབྱོར་རྒོད་ཚང་རས་
པའི་བསམ་པ་བཞིན། རྐེ་ཚང་སྒྲུབ་ | སྡེའི་མཆོད་གནས་ | ཨེ་མ་ཧོ།
༄།དུས་གསུམ་སངས་རྒྱས་ཐམས་ཅད་ཀྱི། །སྐུ་གསུང་ཐུགསུ་ | དང་ཡོན་ཏན་དང་། །ཕྲིན་ལས་གཅིག་ཏུ་བསྡུས་པའི་དཔལ། །སྙིགས་ 
དུས་འགྲོ་བའི་མགོན་གྱུར་བ། །ཕྱོགས་ལས་རྣམ་རྒྱལ་ཧེ་རུ་ཀ། རྡོར་འ[ཆང་ཁྲག་]འཐུང་རྒྱལ་པོའི་སྐུ། །དོན་གཉིས་ལྷུན་གྲུབ་ཨེ་མ་ཧོ། དྲན་མཆོག་གཙང་སྨྱོན་རྗེ་ལ་འདུད།

mos gus | yid bzhin nor bu’i byin | brlabs kyis/ rnal | byor rgod tshang ras
pa’i bsam pa bzhin/ rke tshang sgrub | sde’i mchod gnas | e ma ho/
/dus gsum sangs rgyas thams cad kyi/ sku gsung thugsu | dang yon tan dang/ phrin las gcig tu bsdus pa’i dpal/ snyigs
gro ba’i mgon gyur ba/ phyogs las rnam rgyal he ru ka/ rdor [chang khrag] thung rgyal po’i sku/ don gnyis lhun grub e ma ho/ dran mchog gtsang smyon rje la dud/

Through the blessings of the Wish fulfilling Jewel of devotion, according to the intention of the yogi rGod tshang ras pa, [this is] the object of veneration of the retreat centre of rKe tshang. Wonder!
Glorious one who gathers all the bodies, speeches, minds, qualities and activities of all the buddhas of the three times, protector of the beings of the degenerate times, Heruka completely victorious in all the directions, royal body of the Blood drinking Vajradhara, may the two objectives spontaneously realise! Wonder! Before the supreme guide gTsang smyon I bow.

Provenance Collection Mr Peter van der Zalm, the Netherlands, before 1988. Collection Mr and Mrs J. Meijer, the Netherlands, 1988-2013.

Bock, Etienne; Falcombello, Jean-Marc; Jenny Magali, 2022. Trésors du Tibet. Sur les pas de Milarépa.. Paris: Flammarion. P. 246-247

Dinwiddie, Donald (ed.), 2003. Portrait of the Masters: Bronze Sculptures of the Tibetan Buddhist Lineages. Chicago & London: Serindia Publ. Inc. and Oliver Hoare Ltd.

Kreijger, Hugo E. , 1989. Godenbeelden uit Tibet: Lamaïstische Kunst uit Nederlands particulier bezit [catalogue of the exhibition held in the museum voor Volkenkunde in Rotterdam]. Den Haag: Gegevns Koninkljike Bibliotheek. P. 64

Nies, Marcel, 1995. Spirit of Compassion, Himalayan Images of the Past, Present and Future, catalogue, Marcel Nies Oriental Art, Antwerp. Marcel Nies Oriental Art, Antwerp. Pp. 62-63

van Alphen, Jan , 2005. Cast for Eternity, Bronze Masterworks from India and the Himalayas in Belgian and Dutch Collections. Ethnographic Museum, Antwerp. P. 188, fig. 61