Prior to 1961
Materials: Bone (likely from sheep), and cotton cloth (not original to object)
This object is an apron traditionally worn by Buddhist practitioners during Tantric ceremonies in Tibet. Tantric Buddhism, or Vajrayāna Buddhism, is a type of Buddhism that focuses on helping others to achieve enlightenment rather than on reaching personal Nirvana. In order to achieve this goal Tantric Buddhists repeat sacred chants or prayers called mantras, read sacred texts called tantras, practice yoga, and study with a guru. While some aspects of Tantric Buddhism are well known many of the teachings of this type of Buddhism are deliberately shrouded in mystery to prevent the uninitiated from learning religious secrets.
While this apron is made using sheep bones, aprons like this one were sometimes made using human bones. The bone decoration was meant to symbolize the death of the wearer and a release from his physical body in pursuit of enlightenment. A set of six bone ornaments, including the apron, are meant to symbolize the six paramitas, or perfections, necessary for the attainment of enlightenment. These perfections include: generosity, ethics, patience, perseverance, concentration, and wisdom.
The following video shows traditional Tibetan Buddhist dancing. A bone apron can be seen briefly on some of the dancers around minute 1.
Similar aprons can be found at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, University of Missouri Museum of Art and Archaeology, the Australian Museum, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art among others. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]