This is an extraordinary book, and its author, Lokesh Chandra is an extraordinary man; combining esoteric learning and an active public life in a characteristically Indian mode. He is a world authority on Tibetan, Mongolian and Sino-Japanese Buddhism, and also a two-time Rajya Sabha member, a former Vice President of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations and Chairman, Indian Council of Historical Research, as well as Director, Indian Academy of Indian Culture. An almost too prolific a scholar and writer, he is the author of 580 books, and his Dictionary of Buddhist Iconography runs into 15 volumes! (Incidentally, this pales in comparison to the original Tibetan translations of the sutras and tantras which comprise 108 mega volumes, with a further 226 volumes of commentaries running into over 200,000 pages!)
Tibetan Art is an insightful guide to the aesthetics and iconography of Tibetan Buddhist art, sumptuously produced by Niyogi Books, with a striking red jacket, gilt edged pages, and over 120 full page colour illustrations. While images of the great monasteries of Tibet and Ladakh are a part of our collective cultural heritage, and we have all seen (and some of us even owned) a thanka scroll painting, few of us can tell one Bodhisattva from another, or interpret the subtle nuances that differentiate Avalokiteswara from Amoghapasa or Astamangala Devi from Vajrayogini, let alone keep track of the numerous other masters, mystics, kings, goddesses, and attendant guardian deities depicted.
The term Buddha is used for one who has attained enlightenment, released thereby from the endless chain of birth and rebirth. There are many, many such—portrayed as monks, royal princes, or in aniconic form. Sakyamuni, the original Buddha (the historical figure known to us as Gautama Budh), himself has, like Vishnu, a thousand epithets, and is depicted in a thousand different forms. As in Hindu iconography, a hand gesture, an accompanying flower or symbol, a change of posture, or the deity’s accompanying vahan, tell an entire story. As an example—the attributes of Pe-har, the guardian deity of Samye monastery: