Discover the Lukhang Murals at the Rubin Museum of Art

Potola Palace, Lhasa, Tibet

Hidden in the Potola Palace is the secret Lukhang Temple. Amazingly preserved, this temple is a unique expression of Tantric Buddhist art historically available only to the Dalai Lama and his retinue for deep meditation and closed off to the public. The current Dalai Lama has lifted the silk curtains so to speak, and in addition to allowing visitors has allowed the detailed wall murals to be photographed. Currently at the Rubin Museum of Art you can see the Lukhang Murals even better than you can in the actual temple thanks to new photographic methods by Thomas Laird and Clint Clemens.

A separate room at the museum displays life-size, high resolution pigment prints placed similarly to how they appear in the walls of the temple itself, and handily for me are accompanied by audio recordings that detail at least some of what is going on in these complex scenes. The 18th c. wall paintings illustrate the Dalai Lama’s path to enlightenment and are unusual because these mystical teachings of Tantric Buddhism tend to be passed by whisper rather than openly expressed. 

Detail of East wall showing two Mahasiddha
They are also remarkable for their color and complexity, and the sense of order maintained despite the activity of all the tiny figures. While the recording only touch upon the surface of what is going on in each panel, nonetheless it provides a great and enticing background. With such expressive figures and scenes, I found my imagination going into overdrive as I examined them, and I had to promise myself I would come back for a second look.

While I imagine these setting isn’t quite as awe-inspiring as ascending by wooden ladder to this hidden secret in the Dalai Lama’s palace in Tibet, it’s certainly more accessible. 

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