Iconography in manuscripts of Dongba tradition is associated to the reading Khyu-t’khyu and consists in the
representation of a horned bird, with a trilobate crown, eagle wInged and with sharped claws.

As seen for the Dragon Lu, with a complete and a just-head iconography, manuscripts attest the same kind of  iconographic variants also for Khyu-t’khyu:

A. a complete pictograph which portraits the Khyu-t’khyu in all its physical features,

B. just head is depicted, as an abbreviated or simplified form of the A., a sign which portraits the Khyu-t’khyu main features, alias the horned and crowned eagle-head.

A resuming list of Khyu-t’khyu attestations into Dongba manuscript, with distinction among A and B iconography is reported below:

Manuscripts relate about Khyu-t’khyu as a supernatural creature, of very big size, strong and powerful, and depicts as a
strong enemy of the serpent-like deities.

Its origin is related in manuscript Khyu-t’khyu t’u-bbue, which title means the origin of the Khyu-t’khyu[1], and in manuscript Khyu t’khyu Ssù ‘athe fight between Khyu-t’khyu and Ssù.[2]

Casella di testo:  Khyu t'khyu Ssù 'a, pg. 1


(1) in the beginning of time, when heaven came forth, the earth was spread out, the sun came forth, the moon came forth, the stars came forth, the planets came forth

(2) when the tree were born able to walk, when the rocks split and were able to talk

(3) when Dongba Shilo was born, when the Khyu-t’khyu named Du-per was born

(4) when the king of the Ssù name Dso-na-lo-chi was born

(5) the Ssù (6) and the people had one father but two mothers

(7) the domestic animals didn’t eat the same grass of the wild animals

Manuscript Khyu-t’khyu t’u bbuethe origin of the Khyu-t’khyu, belonging to Szi chung bpo ceremony also related about the extraordinary powers of the bird deity, which were given to the Khyu-t’khyu in the moment of its creation.

Among those powers, for instance, the Khyu-t’khyu got [3] the power to gain the victory against the Ssù and the Lu, or [4] iron sharp claws and a sharp sickle to  suppress the demons of Du and Dsa classes. Manuscript enumerates them and describes how the Khyu-t’khyu use in the feats against demons and hostile spirits:

· a precious and powerful jewel which Khyu-t’khyu put between the horns

· brilliant golden eyes to suppress the demons of the Mun and Ghugh classes

· silver and golden down feathers

· silver crop

· turquoise wings and turquoise tail

· keen years and sharp horns

As we have seen for Ssù deities, the manuscript Khyu t’khyu Ssù ‘athe fight between Khyu-t’khyu and Ssù relates about the division of properties of the creation, and as just studied for the Ssù, Dongba Shilo – as compassionate Buddha – operated by sending the powerful king of the Khyu-t’khyu to stop the Ssù king usurpation.

Moreover, because the Ssù king had stolen the precious jewel of the crown of the Khyu-t’khyu king, the latter was very offended and hungry versus the Ssù king.[5]


“(last line, both rr.)The Khyu-t’khyu was sent by Shilo flying from the East to the West.

His shadow could be seen on the lake the King Ssù was afraid and went into the lake hiding”

This strong adversity of the bird-god versus the serpent-god, the iconography , also the syllable Khyu-t’khyu of the Naxi name of the winged-deity, should all be related to the equivalent deity in the Tibetan pantheon, the ཁྱུང་ཆེན Khyungchen, a mythical bird-god which represents the good creations,[6] the traditional adversary of the serpent divinity ཀླུ Klu.

As for Tibetan ཀླུ Klu and Indian Naga exist a strong correlation previously discussed, as the ཁྱུང་ཆེན Khyungchen has to be considered as closely related to the Indian गरुड Gāruḍa.

गरुड Gāruḍa, ཁྱུང་ཆེན Khyung-chen and Khyu-t’khyu shares common features, as at first they are very ancient and powerful creatures, eternally fighting against Naga, with eagle wings by golden feathers, wearing a crown over the head.

Such features as common points are also attested outside the context of manuscript, and the Khyu-t’khyu is a central theme of scrolls, paintings, and handcrafts,[7] as for instance is visible by the following pictures directly taken by the author between 2005 and 2009, which present various documentation of different artistic expressions of the Khyu-t’khyu iconography and iconology, especially focused on the theme of the struggle against the serpent-deities Ssù.

Casella di testo:   Khyu-t'khyu as protective deity on the entrance to the village of 玉水寨 Yǜ Shuǐ Zhài -  Jade Water Village, Lijiang – 08/2005. Is evident the iconology of the Khyu-t'khyu as antagonist of the snakes, as here and in the handcrafts below it is depicted devouring them.

Casella di testo:  Wooden carved and painted handcraft in Lijiang, 2005 Casella di testo:  Wooden carved and painted handcraft of a Khyu-t'khyu devouring a Ssù - snake. Handcraft, Lijiang, 2005

Casella di testo:  Wall-painting outside the Dongba Palace, Lijiang, 2009. The Khyu-t'khyu iconography, with horns, crown, the precious jewel, eagle winged and with sharpen claws, devouring a snake. Casella di testo:  Wall painting in a room of the Temple ..., Lijiang, 2009. Again the iconography of the Khyu-t'khyu while devouring a snake.

Casella di testo:  The White King Khyu-t'khyu (Du-phar Khyu-t'khyu), from Rock, 1952-I plate XVI. Around are depicted the regional Khyu-t'khyu. Below two kings Ssù are venerating and submitting to the power of Khyu-t'khyu White King. Casella di testo: Khyu-t'khyu miniatures in illuminated manuscripts       Harvard Yengchin collection, respectively

Khyu-t’khyu and Ssù modern iconographies are clearly directly derived from religious scrolls[8] and miniatures of manuscript belonging to Dongba tradition. Such representations and themes are in turns evidently related with Indian iconographies of the Indian गरुड Gāruḍa and the Tibetan ཁྱུང་ཆེན Khyungchen:

Casella di testo:   गरुड Gāruḍa,1900 - 1959, Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton - retrieved from Himalayan Art [20/12/2009 h.10:29] Casella di testo:    ཁྱུང་ཆེན Khyung-chen,1800 - 1899, Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton. Collection of Rubin Museum of Art (acc.# F1997.51.1) - retrieved from Himalayan Art [20/12/2009 h.10:29]

As the Naxi Khyu-t’khyu and the Tibetan ཁྱུང Khyung, the Indian गरुड Gāruḍa‘s iconography depict such deity as a winged powerful god, in terrifying expressions, with the head the tail and wings of an eagle, with golden/yellow body; its
iconology is that of the king of birds, the archenemy of serpents, as if often depicted devouring and crouching them with claws.

Khyu-t’khyuKhyungGāruḍa, and SsùKluNaga show strong relationship, moreover from Tibetan Khyung to Naxi Khyu-t’khyu is possible to identify also similitude in the phonetic of the names of the eagle-winged deity, a feature which is possible to hypothesizes also for the deified founder of Dongba tradition, Dongba Shilo.

He plays an important role both in the Khyu-t’khyu birth and in the struggle between the latter and the serpents, and this is
perfectly according to Shilo’s icon of powerful medium between man and supernatural creatures, as a such powerful  creature as the Khyu-t’khyu indeed complies with his orders. Moreover, Obedience and loyalty of Khyu-t’khyu to Dongba Shilo could be compared with the figure of the Gāruḍa as the vehicle of Vishnu in the Indian tradition.

Enriched also by this common points with the Khyu-t’khyu, Dongba Shilo could be related to the Bön Buddha སྟོན་པ
གཤེན་རབ མི་བོ་ཆེ
sTon-pa gShen-rab mi-bo-che and as the latter Shilo had better not to be looked as just extraordinary human being, or medium priests, or shamans, but as སངས་རྒྱནས sangsrgyansfully enlightened Buddha, in a very similar way as looking to सिद्धार्थ गौतम Siddhārtha Gautama.

The terms Tibetan སྟོ་པ་ sTon-pa and Naxi Dongba evidently show a common root, phonetic and semantic: both words mean master, teacher, in the sense of the original founder of a spiritual tradition, who’s the source of the tradition itself,[11] thus Dongba Shilo as སྟོན་པ གཤེན་རབ sTon-pa gShen-rab and as सिद्धार्थ गौतम Siddhārtha Gautama was the most enlightened and powerful being, venerated and respected by all creatures, able to suppress and/or convert all demons and hostile powers.

According to Naxi – Dongba tradition, the king of Khyu-t’khyu, indeed obeys to the order of Shilo, starting to look for the king of the Ssù who, depicted trembling by fear, jumped into the water to hide himself in the deepness.

The king of the Khyu-t’khyu, because of

· its powers,

· its enmity against the serpent deities,

· iconographic features and details as the jewel, crown, etc…

seems really to be related to the Tibetan ཁྱུང Khyung

· god bird with eagle wings,

· very powerful deity,

· enemy of the serpents ཀལུ Klu;

as in its turn, the concept of ཁྱུང Khyung and its features has to be related to the one of the Indian Gāruḍa.

In this particular context the Naxi – Dongba king of the birds named Khyu-t’khyu Du-per seems to be closely related to  the Tibetan ཁྱུང ཀཧ ཧྡབ་ཆྷགས རྒྱལ་པོ Khyung hDab-chhags rgyal-po the king of the bird divinity ཀྱུང Khyung also named ཁྱུང ཧྡབ་ཆྷགས སེང་གེ hDab-chhags seng-ge the most powerful of all birds, [12] as in a similar way the Naxi Dongba Ssù was previously related to the Tibetan concept of ཀླུ Klu and the Indian Nāga, and in this same context the Ssù gyi-bbu king of the Ssù named Dso na lo ch’i was linked by the author to the Tibetan ཀླུ རྒྱལ་པོ གཙུག་ན་རིན་ཆྷེན Klu rgyal-po gtsug-na-rin-chhenthe King of the serpent deities ཀླུ Klu named gTsug-rin-chhen, as the latter could is in turns be associated to the Indian Nāgarāja (rāja = king [of] Nāga = serpent gods) named Ratnachūḍa.[13]

The struggle between eagle-winged and the reptiles deities seems to be a Tibetan-Indian-Naxi/Dongba common core, which here the author highlighted, as in Naxi – Dongba tradition appears a local sedimentation of such tradition, expressed by art and by the pictographic manuscripts dedicated:[14]


(1) The Khyu-t’khyu couldn’t see the Ssù king.

(2) The Khyu-t’khyu the came before Shilo and tell him that his claws were not long enough to reach the Ssù.

Shilo thus gave the Khyu-t’khyu copper and iron claws.

On the 1st day of the moon, from West to East the Khyu-t’khyu circled around the lake.

He sized the Ssù king and said:

I will take you and go from the earth to the sky.

The King Ssù then said:

I possess the strength of three people, but I need not to use the strength on one

(3) The Khyu-t’khyu then wound the Ssù once around the mountains and stretched.

The Khyu-t’khyu then wound the Ssù a second time and stretched him.

(4) The Khyu-t’khyu wound and stretched the Ssù the third time.

The Ssù then said:

I will not move no fire quarrels.

I won’t move no rock quarrels. Not as much as one pinch that can be picked
between two finger nails.

The Khyu-t’khyu then said:

[…] pg. 7, r.2 – I wound Thou around the mountain and stretched Thou in punishment.

The Ssù king wept, his tears fell into the lake they couldn’t be retrieved.

Early, in the morning, the Ssù king was shackled with copper and iron chains, so he couldn’t leave.

The Khyu-t’khyu was to sit and watch him day and night.

As emerged while studying the Ssù iconography, Shilo intercedes pacifying all the parts in cause of this struggle: humans have to propitiate the Ssù and not to exploit nature resources in indiscriminate and profane attitude; the Ssù in their turns let the human proliferate and grant for their prosperity. The king of Ssù could be free from chains and Khyu-t’khyu tortures if the precious jewel robbed had given back (pg. X, r. 5)

In another manuscript entitled Khyu-t’khyu Saw – invite the Khyu-t’khyu[15] both the power of the eagle-winged deities to fight the Ssù, and the power of Shilo as granting for peace are confirmed:


“(1) If it were not for Shilo and the Khyu-t’khyu

(2) then the Ssù and the Lu couldn’t be repayed.

(3) Medicine couldn’t be given to the ill.

(4 -5) It wouldn’t be possible to ask for prosperity and longevity.

(6) Neither the thousands generations of Ssù could be chased out.

Neither the Ssù could be suppressed.”

Manuscript then resumed the story of the origin of the Khyu-t’khyu, because the ceremonial is performed to require the help of the power of the Khyu-t’khyu, thus according to Naxi Dongba tradition and as is written in pg. 4 of the same text, “if the origin of the Khyu-t’khyu isn’t related, then must not speak about the Khyu-t’khyu.”

While the manuscript Khyu-t’khyu Ssù ‘a – fighting among Khyu-t’khyu and Ssù describes and relates about the struggle between the two kings of deities in very ancient time, the manuscript Khyu-t’khyu Saw describes with more details about how the fighting against Ssù and their terrible curses is:

[pg. 7]

“(1) If it were not for the regional Khyu-t’khyu victory couldn’t be gained over the Ssù

(2) the thousands of Ssù could not be driven out.

(3) Dongba then have to invite the White King Khyu-t’khyu ti descend and protect the family.

(4) The family then have to perform Chu-bpa-ngy for the (5) Khyu-t’khyu.

(6) The White King Khyu-t’khyu (7) descended int the East from the white mountain to protect the family.

(8) The Khyu-t’khyu chase the nine white Ssù who bombard the home with rocks, (9) leprosy […]

(10) The white Khyu-t’khyu pronounced a Hoa-lü spelling: “Zaw ko ngaw dsaw wu ho p’a sso-wua-haw”

(11) The nine Ssù were driven out. [Pg.9] “Thereupon the family had no illness”

The same part is repeated from pg. 9 to pg. 12, for the other four regional Khyu-t’khyu who are invited to descend; there is two differences to be mentioned:

· the colors of beings varied because it depends on the quarter of the compass

· the syllables of the Hoa-lü pronounced by the Khyu-t’khyu varied, depending on the Ssù to which they are destined.[16]

As evinced about the reptile-iconography deities, the Hoa-lü are magic spells which are believed to be able to coerce supernatural beings, in this case the Ssù.

This is possible because, according to the tradition, the principle of the Hoa-lü is based on the believe that to each spiritual beings belong a particular rate of vibration, and this kind of vibration are  reformulated and reproduced as sounds in Hoa-lü, giving to the speller the magician power even to annihilate by dissolution the particular element or spirit to whom it belongs.[17]

[1] Manuscript is actually conserved in a copy at the Harvard Yenching Naxi manuscripts collection with number 9903995, Joseph Rock private collection number 1941, and it’s dedicated to the ceremony Szi chung bpo.

[2] Manuscript is preserved in 2 exemplars in Harvard Yenching Naxi manuscripts’ collection, n. 11100747 and n.11100748. Rock numbered respectively as 3153 and 994 in his private collection.

[3] Ms. 9903995: 15, VII

[4] Ibid: 15, VIII

[5] The jewel of the crown of the Khyu-t’khyu is named nobu. The name itself as the iconography could be both closely related to the Tibetan concept of jewel ནོར་བུ norbu. According to Naxi Dongba tradition, to the jewel are  attributed impressive magical powers, thus the Ssù king, coveting for it, stole and concealed in the deepness of the dark lake where he used to live

[6] Tucci G., 1894: 237. The ཁྱུངKhyung is also known and defined as the king of birds ཧྡབ་ཆྷགས་སེང་གེ་རྒྱལ་པོ hDab-chhags
seng-ge rgyal-po
, and the most powerful of all the birds ཧྡབ་ཆྷགས་སེང་རེ hDab-chhags seng-ge.

[7] also in subjects of contemporary Naxi arts, according to the Modern Naxi-Dongba Painting Society  recommendations to realize works directly inspired or closely belonging to Dongba religious tradition and Naxi ancient culture heritage, to be distinguished from imitation or just iconographic copy belonging to the contemporary craftsman products and works . Cfr. McKhann C., 2003 Icon and Transformation: (Re)Imaginings in Dongba Art”, co-curated with Zhang Yunling and Yang Fuquan; presented at Whitman College Sheehan Galley (Jan. 17-Feb. 27), Walla Walla Carnegie Center for the Arts (April 1-April 30), Multnomah County Library Collins Gallery (May 3-June 15), University of Washington School of Art Jacob Lawrence Gallery (July 1-July 30).

[8] Naxi traditional painting of Dup’er was only used during the portion of rituals which performs the chasing out of the Ssù, never before because of the terrible fear of the Ssù from the Khyu-t’khyu, so if the picture remains the Ssù would not come when invited.

The picture represent five Khyu-t’khyu, and the central one is white, devouring a snake in his beak holding head and tail of the snake with the claws of his feet.

In the corner the regional Khyu-t’khyu are depicted with colored body, depending on the region where they are  believed to live.

[9] About the Gāruḍa iconography and iconology: Danliélou, Alain. The Myths and Gods of India . Rochester,  Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1991; Moor, Edward. The Hindu Pantheon . Los Angeles: Philosophical research society, 1976; Rice, Edward. Eastern Definitions: A Short Encyclopedia of Religions of the Orient . Garden  City, New York: Doubleday, 1978; Thomas, P. Epics, Myths and Legends of India. Bombay, India: D. B. Taraporevala Sons & Co. Private Ltd, 1961.

About the Tibetan Khyung iconography and iconology: Georgette Meredith, 1967  “The “Phurbu”: The Use and Symbolism of the Tibetan Magic Dagger” in History of Religions,  Vol. 6, No. 3 (Feb., 1967), pp. 236-253; Rene de  Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Oracles and Demons of Tibet (s’Gravenhage,1956), pp. 256-57; Fredrick W. Bunce, 1994 “An encyclopedia of Buddhist deities, demigods, goblings, saints, and demons with special focus on iconographic  attributes” Volume 1: 168, 204, 263; Khyung iconography also in amulets cfr. John Vincent Bellezza, “THE ANCIENT AMULETS OF TIBET: THOGCHAGS, A collection of Miniature Masterpieces”; John Vincent Bellezza, “Metal and Stone Vestiges, Religion, Magic and Protection in the Art of Ancient Tibet”.

For correlation and relationship between Khyung and Gāruḍa: Sarat Chandra Das, “A Tibetan-English dictionary: with Sanskrit synonyms”: 163, 706, 1120; Fredrick W. Bunce, 1994 “An encyclopedia of Buddhist deities, demigods,  goblings, saints, and demons with special focus on iconographic attributes”, Volume 1: 168; Keith Dowman, 2003 “The flight of the Gāruḍa: the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism”: 53, 196; René de Nebesky-Wojkowitz, 1993 “Oracles and demons of Tibet, the cult and Iconography of the Tibetan protective deities”: 13.

[10] JEAN COUTEAU, “FROM MYTH TO NATIONAL SYMBOL” Vol. 1 No. 1 of “The Archipelago”; Ven. Jampa Choskyi, 1988 “Symbolism of Animals in Buddhism”, Buddhist Himalaya, VOL. I NO. I;

[11] Lopon Tenzin Namdak, 2007 “BONPO DZOGCHEN TEACHINGS. according to Lopon Tenzin Namdak” Lopon  Tenzin Namdak, ed. & intro by John Myrdhin Reynolds: 3

[12] The Tibetan ཀླུ རྒྱལ་པོ གཙུག་ན་རིན་ཆྷེན Klu rgyal-po gtsug-na-rin-chhen is mentioned in the Klu-hbum bsuds pai snying po, translated by Laufrer and also in the Bon-po Sutra translated by Schiefner: 42, 49.

For the relationship between Naga cfr Vogel, Indian Serpent Lore: 49

[13] Hypothesizing that the Tibetan XXX is older then the Naxi YYY, then the Naxi name seems to be the translation of the Tibetan one, as it is composed by pictographs that are used as phonetic units.

[14] This last phrase, as all such passages of correlations, is not just a suggestion about a possible relationship  between Naxi – Dongba Khyu-t’khyu myth and related Tibetan and Indian counterparts, but also to consider Dongba pictographs as an historical relative recent sedimentation of ancient religious and traditional iconographies and iconologies.

In other words, when I look at the Naxi – Dongba Khyu-t’khyu of Ssù tradition, and to the Tibetan Khyung – Klu, and to the Indian Gāruḍa – Naga, it seems to me that I’m looking at the same thing, but with different light and different eye.

Moreover, from the same point of view, Naxi – Dongba pictographic manuscript tradition could be seen as an  historical stage of a wider phenomena which could be named as pictography, a stage and a form of the artistic and religious expression stream.

[15] Manuscript is actually preserved in a copy in Harvard Yengchin Naxi manuscript collection,  number 11100791 Joseph Rock private collection number 1004. Rock states (1952: 97) that this manuscript belonged to the famous  Dongba 杨福光Yang Fu Quan of the village of 长水Chang Shui (Naxi toponym Ghughk’o).

[16] Transliteration and latinization of the different Hoa-lü cfr. Rock, 1952: 99 – 100

[17] About Hoa-lu, please cfr. Reptiles-deities

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