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Tibetan calligraphy

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Tibetan calligraphy

Buddhist mantra in Tibetan script

Tibetan calligraphy refers to the calligraphic traditions used to write the Tibetan language. As in other parts of East Asia, nobles, high lamas, and persons of high rank were expected to have high abilities in calligraphy. However, unlike calligraphy in China, Japan, and Korea, calligraphy was done using a reed pen as opposed to a brush. Nevertheless, East Asian influence is apparent visually, as Tibetan calligraphy is at times more free-flowing than calligraphy involving the descendants of other Brahmi scripts. Given the overriding religious nature of Tibetan culture, many of the traditions in calligraphy come from religious texts, and most Tibetan scribes have a monastic background.[1]


A variety of different styles of calligraphy existed in Tibet:

  • The Uchen (དབུ་ཅན།, "headed"; also transliterated as uchan or dbu-can) style of the Tibetan script is marked by heavy horizontal lines and tapering vertical lines, and is the most common script for writing in the Tibetan language, and also appears in printed form because of its exceptional clarity. When handwritten, it is the most basic form of calligraphy, and must be mastered before moving onto other styles.[2]
    • Ngatar (སྔ་དར། 前宏期) development
      • Toad 蟾体 - the initial Thonmi Sambhota edition
      • Liezhuan 列砖体
      • Xiongji 雄鸡体
      • Ke 稞体
      • Chuanzhu 串珠体
      • Qianglang 蜣螂体
      • Yuyue 鱼跃体
      • Tengshi 腾狮体
    • Qitar (ཕྱི་དར། 后宏期) development
      • Sarqung or chung (standard ujain; གསར་ཆུང༌།)
      • Sugring
      • Sugtung
      • Sarqên
  • The umê (དབུ་མེད།, "headless"; or ume) style is a more cursive script which can be seen in daily correspondence and in other day-to-day life. The feature which distinguishes it the most from u-chan is the lack of the horizontal lines on the top of letters.
  • The bêcug (དཔེ་ཚུགས།; or betsu) style is a narrow, cursive variant of umê in squarish shape.
  • The zhuza (འབྲུ་ཚ།; or drutsa) style is a variant of umê but with ujain vowel symbol.
    • curve-leg zhuza
    • straight-leg zhuza
    • short-leg zhuza
      • 棱体
      • 粒体
  • The cugtung (ཚུགས་ཐུང༌།; or tsugtung) style is shortened, abbreviated variant of u-me, traditionally used for commentaries.
    • Yi style 伊体
    • Xiong style 雄体
  • The cugrin (ཚུགས་རིན། 徂仁体) style
  • The kyug'yig (འཁྱུག་ཡིག།, "fast letters"; or chuyig) is a highly abbreviated, fluid, cursive version of u-me. It is a common form of handwriting for notes and personal letters.
    • general cursive小草
    • extremely cursive 大草
  • The cug-ma-kyugyig style - a style halfway between cug'yig and kyug'yig
  • The gyug'yig (རྒྱུག་ཡིག།) style

Other related styles

The vertical Phags-pa script is known as horyig (ཧོར་ཡིག་ hor-yig, "Mongolian letters"). A more ornamental version of the horyig style was used in the past to make personal seals. It is often found written vertically as opposed to horizontally.

These styles are not fixed, and are not limited to those listed above. By mixing features of various styles, and adding various ornaments to the text, the number of styles becomes quite large. While ujain may be used to write entire Sutras or Buddhist texts, the rest of the styles are more frequently used to write a single phrase or saying.

Notable examples

The world record for the longest calligraphy scroll is held by Jamyang Dorjee Chakrishar, who penned a 163.2 meter scroll containing 65,000 Tibetan characters. The scroll contains prayers for the 14th Dalai Lama composed by 32 different monks.[3]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^

External links

  • An exhibition of Tibetan Calligraphy by Jamyang Dorjee Chakrishar
  • Interview with Tsering Phuntsok, a Tibetan calligrapher living in Germany.
  • Andrew West, Phags-pa script
  • Tibetan writing styles
  • Exquisite Example of Tibetan Calligraphy by His Holiness The XVII Karmapa
  • An exhibition of Tibetan Calligraphy by P. N. Dhumkhang
  • Contemporary Tibetan calligraphy by Tashi Mannox
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