Sherab Palden Beru, Tibetan (1915 - )

Sherab Palden Beru (born Kham, Tibet 1915) is a celebrated exiled Tibetan thangka artist who has played a key role in preserving the art-form through the training of western students over a period of more than four decades.

Born into a nomadic family that had lived in the eastern province of Kham since the mid-15th century, Beru entered the Namgyal Ling monastery at the age of nine. His aptitude for drawing was quickly recognised, and his formal artistic training began from the age of 13, under the guidance of the monastery's artist-lama. Nine years later, he completed his first thangka.

It was whilst studying at Namgyal Ling that Sherab attained high levels of skill, not only in Thangka painting, but also in associated monastic disciplines such as ritual music, and Lama dancing in particular. In 1956, after over 30 years of living at the monastery, Beru left for Lhasa, where he stayed for three years, until forced to escape to India following the invasion of Tibet by Chinese forces. Once in India, Sherab Palden began thangka painting again, based for a while in Dalhousie where, amongst other works, he was commissioned by Lokesh Chandra to produce a series of drawings of mandalas for publication. He was then asked by the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, to make his way to Scotland where Chogyam Trungpa and Akong Tulku Rinpoche had established the first Tibetan Buddhist centre in the west, Kagyu Samye Ling, in Eskdalemuir, Dumfriesshire. Despite having some initial misgivings about leaving the Tibetan community in exile in Northern India so soon after having arrived as a refugee, Sherab Palden acceded to the wishes of his Guru.

For the next 35 years, Sherab Palden devoted himself to creating thangkas of outstanding quality in the Karma Gadri style, and to training western students in the techniques of thangka painting. His work can be seen in centres through Europe, Asia and North America. His principal achievements are to be seen at Samye Ling itself, where he designed not only the temple interior but several cycles of exquisite thangkas, depicting variously the Kagyu Lineage holders, Sakyamuni Buddha, Indian mahasiddhas and the Four Directional Guardians. Most notable are the much-copied painting of the Kagyu Lineage Refuge Tree and the painting of the Guru Yoga of the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje.

The paintings in the temple at Samye Ling are remarkable for their combination of large size and exquisite detail. As in Tibet, many of these paintings took between one and three years to complete. Along with Akong Rinpoche and his students, Sherab Palden also helped retrieve, restore and preserve thangkas from Tibet, many of which were destroyed in the early days of the Chinese occupation. Later Sherab Palden was joined at Samye Ling by his nephew, Gyamtso Tashi, an ordained monk and sculptor, who reached India after making a three-year pilgrimage on foot across Tibet.

Now well into his 90s, Sherab Palden no longer contributes directly to the art-work, but remains a leading authority on matters of Tibetan art, and is regularly consulted by practicing thangka artists.


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