Hats are one of the most unique and interesting features of Himalayan and Tibetan art. They are also the most important characteristic to look for when trying to identify religious teachers in paintings and sculpture. All of the different religious traditions, both Buddhist and Bon, have their own distinct hats. There is an almost endless variety of colours, shapes and styles. Luckily for the novice iconographer and student of religious traditions the hats can be easily separated into four basic styles.
Hats of the Himalayas - Four Principal Hat Styles: - Pandita Style - Lotus Style - Fan-like Style - Cap Style
Other Hat Styles: - Religious Traditions - Miscellaneous Hats
Quick Key Guide:
Pandita Hat (monks only): Nyingma (red & pointed), Kadam (red), Sakya (red), Kagyu (red), Shangpa (red), Bulug (red, orange or yellow), Jonang (red or orange), Gelug (yellow & pointed)
Lotus Hat: Nyingma (multi-coloured, various shapes)
Fan-like Hat: Kagyu (red), Gelug (yellow)
Cap Style Hat: Karma Kagyu (black, red, orange, green speckled, white), Miscellaneous TraditionsPandita Hat: The most common style of hat and also the earliest is believed to have originated in India and is the Pandita hat. The hat is round in shape and tapers upward to either a small or steep point. It covers the ears at the sides with long lappets which hang down over the shoulders. The hat is common to all of the various Buddhist traditions and schools. Generally it is only worn by monks and signifies an advanced level of education. This hat is the principle head covering of the Sakya, Shangpa, Jonang and Gelug traditions. For all traditions the hat is typically red. In recent centuries the Sakya tradition has adopted the convention of folding the lappets upward and folding them over the crown of the hat creating a triangular banded appearance at the front of the hat. The Gelug tradition uses a yellow coloured Pandita hat borrowed from the preferred style of Shalu monastery.
Lotus Hat: The second style is the Lotus hat made famous and modeled after the hat of Padmasambhava, one of the three popularly credited founders of Buddhism in Tibet. This hat is similar to the pandita hat in basic shape but without the lappets. The sides are folded up. It is multi-coloured and ornate with ribbons and a half vajra ornament at the top, or adorned with one or three vulture feathers. Some hats also have a bird feather above the vajra. This is the principal hat of the Nyingma tradition and can be worn by either monks or lay teachers. There are many varieties of Lotus hat, some small and some very large with greater or lesser ornamentation depending on the particular Nyingma tradition. The Payul branch of Nyingma has a unique Lotus hat identified by long lappets that hang down over the shoulders.
Fan-like Hat: The third style is the Fan-like hat popularized by Gampopa Sonam Rinchen. The hat is tall and very broad like a fan with wide lappets hanging down on the sides extending to the shoulders or even lower. Quite often the lappets on the sides are folded upward creating an even more fan-like appearance to the hat. The hats are almost always red in colour when depicted in painting. In real life the hats are often created from silk brocades generally gold in colour and patterned with decorative plants and birds. This style of hat is the principal head attire for most of the Kagyu traditions (except for the Karma Kagyu). Fan-like hats are not generally found with any of the other Buddhist traditions and remain unique to the Dagpo Kagyu traditions descending from Gampopa and his students. In the Gelug tradition the 1st (6th) Panchen Lama Chokyi Gyaltsen also wears a style of hat similar to a fan-like hat which is later copied by the Jetsun Dampa of Mongolia and Changkya Rolpai Dorje and other teachers who are primarily in the East.
Cap Style Hat: The fourth style is the Cap style hat, and just as caps in the West are generally small and just cover the top of the head, so it is with the Tibetan cap style of hat. The small size and general lack of excessive ornamentation or side flaps are the main characteristics. Caps are the principal head attire of the Karma Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. The most famous cap is the black hat worn by the Karmapa line of teachers. From the time of the 5th Karmapa there were two styles of black hat: a simple traditional hat and and also a very ornate black hat. Other caps of the Karma Kagyu are the red hat of the Shamarpa, followed by the red, orange, and green speckled hats of other ranking teachers. Caps are also worn by Other Kagyu traditions, as do the Nyingma, Sakya and Jonang Traditions, but to a much lesser degree than in the Karma Kagyu tradition.
Recognizing the hats of Tibetan teachers is the most important key to identifying the different religious traditions in paintings and identifying individual figures in art. Both a general and an intimate knowledge of hats is an essential tool in the study of Buddhist iconography.