Archive for the 'Nepal' Category

Object: Buddha and Halo

Figure 1 Statue of Buddha with Halo from Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Statue of Buddha with Halo from Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/1955/18/245
Buddha and Halo statue
Asia: India/Nepal
Brass

This Buddha statue with flaming halo is roughly 29 ¾” tall, 18” wide, and 8 ½” deep. It features a Buddha figure on a lotus flower pedestal, with a halo of flames and Hindu deities surrounding him.

Buddhism is a widely practiced religion based on the teachings of Siddartha Gautama, an ancient prince who is believed to have given up all his worldly possessions and achieved the highest spiritual freedom: enlightenment. Different traditions of Buddhism have different beliefs about Buddha. Some believe he was an actual prince, others believe he was a reincarnation of a Hindu god, while still others believe there was no man at all, but simply the development and spread of an ideological belief system.

The hand symbols of any Buddha statue are significant in understanding the meaning of the statue’s presence. The hand positions are called “mudras” or “mark of identity” in Sanskrit. They are used in both Hinduism and Buddhism as a kind of language to evoke certain ideas or principals. This particular statue has the right hand in the position of charity and generosity, while the left hand appears to be in the position of wisdom.

The lotus throne that the Buddha is sitting on is a common theme in Asian religions, representing the path to enlightenment. The lotus flower is firmly grounded in the earth, yet is able to grow above the murky water of earthly suffering to enlightenment. The Buddha is commonly depicted with a lotus flower, or some kind of lotus reference, as seen here with his pedestal.

The Buddha is surrounded by Hindu deities in this statue, which helps contextualize the way Buddhism was received and adapted into cultures as it spread throughout Asia. Buddhism’s basic tenets speak to the basic tenets of many ancient and modern religions. To be a good Buddhist is to be morally right in knowledge, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. These tenets are then further identified in each regional interpretation of Buddhism. In this Buddha statue, we see that the ideas of reincarnation and a pantheon of gods are incorporated into the Buddhist framework of Indian and Nepalese beliefs.

To learn more about Buddhism, take a look at this BBC documentary:

[Anna Nowka]

Other Resources:

https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/budd/hd_budd.htm

http://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/beliefs/purpose.htm

http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/study/history_buddhism/general_histories/spread_buddhism_asia.html

http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/approaching_buddhism/teachers/lineage_masters/who_was_shakyamuni_buddha/transcript.html

http://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/lotus.htm

Harvey, Peter. 2013. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge University Press: New York.

Object: Sarangi

E_1954_9_3

E/1954/9/3 a-b
Sarangi musical instrument
Hindu
Asia: India
Early 20th Century
Materials: wood, metal, leather, sinew

This sarangi is a 26-stringed musical instrument made of dark stained cedar wood with a long wide neck and a short wide body. It has a white leather sounding platform and metal and gut strings. It is meant to be played with the accompanying bow, and it traditionally was used in Hindu classical music. This instrument has multiple internal chambers, typically 3-4 hollow chambers that help perpetuate the sound.

Musical tradition is very important in India. Children can learn musical tradition from a young age, becoming an apprentice to a master player. These musicians are respected in the broad public community as well as the religious sector.

The sarangi has been in India for as long as musical traditions have been present in the region. The instrument has deep-rooted cultural and religious significance. For instance, the sarangi is valuable to the Indian tradition of meditation, as its sound induces human concentration and religious thought. Vocal harmonies are extremely important in Hindu prayer in some regions of India, and the sound produced by the sarangi complements the human voice during religious performances, creating a more complete sound of praise.

While it is possible to make a sarangi out of gourds, the stringed instrument is traditionally crafted from cedar wood. The sarangi is analogous to the Western violin, as it is also a stringed and bowed instrument. One of the biggest and most obvious differences between the sarangi and the Western violin are the numbers of strings. The Indian sarangi usually contains thirty five to thirty seven strings (even though the example from the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History only has 26 strings) while the Western Classical violin contains only four strings. This instrument can be played standing up, but traditionally, the sarangi is played while sitting down on the ground cross-legged.

To learn more about the sarangi, take a look at this interesting video:

[Brady Leach]

References:

The Indian Sarangi: Sound of Affect, Site of Contest, Regula Burckhart Qureshi Yearbook for Traditional Music, Vol. 29 (1997), pp. 1-38

Napier, John. “The Distribution Of Authority In The Performance Of North Indian Vocal Music.” Ethnomusicology Forum 16.2 (2007): 271-301. Music Index.

 

Object: Manuscript Box

E/1955/18/252
Kathmandu Valley, Nepal
ca. 19th Century
Materials: Bronze, Gold Gilding, Precious Stones, Persian Turquoise, Wood

Manuscript boxes like this one were used throughout Southeast Asia by both Hindus and Buddhists to store important religious texts. Their design varies with respect to materials and form. They all show intricate and ornate design work.

The top of this particular box shows the goddess Durga slaying Mahishasura (the buffalo demon), the theme of a famous Hindu story. No man, not even a god, could kill Mahishasura. The trinity of gods created Durga and gave her their weapons to defeat him. The battle of Durga is important in Hindu mythology and ancient art, and it is still told today.

Manuscripts featuring the story of Durga are considered amulets. They are valuable items that can protect their owners from some evil influences. This box is nailed shut, keeping its mysterious contents both safe and secret.

The Kathmandu Valley, where this box was made, has been an important site of cultural exchange since around 300 B.C. Located in Nepal, between India and Tibet, it contains a blend of both Hindu and Buddhist religions. An ancient trade route connected Asia, from Iran in the west, to China in the east. It linked cities in Pakistan, India, Burma and Thailand, and had a crucial stop in the Kathmandu Valley.

Artifacts from this area often reflect the diverse people that have passed through it. This box displays a Hindu goddess, but it contains inlaid turquoise from the Middle East and precious gems that are likely from Burma. It also draws on Burmese design, where manuscript boxes with feet were more common.

The spiral patterns and handcrafted details of this box are unique. They were created by the native people of Nepal, called the Newar. This box’s material, design and overall shape reflect the diversity of cultures, peoples, religions and materials that have existed in or passed through the Kathmandu Valley, from the 8th century to today. Watch the movie below to see a movie version of Durga slaying Mahishasura.

Work Cited

Jwajalapa.com
“The Newar Synthesis”. Accessed 1 October 2013, last modified 23 September 2008.  http://www.jwajalapa.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=48&Itemid=61

Ratanapruck, Prista.
2007 Kinship and Religious Practices as Institutionalization of Trade Networks: Manangi Trade Communities in South and Southeast Asia. Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 50(2/3): 325-346.

Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India
2013 Mythology of Durga Puja. SJFI: India. Retrieved from http://www.durga-puja.org/mythology.html

UNESCO World Heritage Association
“Kathmandu Valley—UNESCO”. Accessed 1 October 2013, last modified 2013. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/121/

[Elly Roberts]

Object: Brass Emblem

E/1955/18/251
Brass Emblem
Nepalese
Asia: Nepal
Unknown Age
Material: Brass

This is a brass religious emblem from Nepal. It is 17.5 inches tall and 5.5 inches in diameter. We do not know where specifically this object comes from, but we do know it represents the Tower of Life, a holy emblem in Hindu and Buddhist belief systems. This symbol is often used to mark temple entrances. Each tier of the emblem represents a plane of human consciousness and existence that reaches upward towards heaven.

The Indus Valley region was home to the early Vedic religions, which focused on ritual and social obligation and included a pantheon of deities. Reincarnation, or rebirth, and karma were ideas introduced very early in this belief system in religious texts such as the Vedas, Brahamanas and the Upanishads. These are all influential teachings in Hinduism, which developed from these early Vedic beliefs. Hinduism today believes in one Supreme Being that manifests itself in many forms, primarily Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, forming the Hindu trinity.

Siddhartha Guatama, a Hindu man born in Nepal, supported certain aspects of his native religion, such as karma – the notion of moral cause and effect, based on behavior.  However, he rejected other facets of this theology, such as the strict caste system deeply embedded in Hindu societies, and the importance of rituals. Instead, he encouraged people to disassociate themselves from earthly pleasures, and focus instead on attaining personal enlightenment, or Nirvana, by eliminating all desire. After reaching enlightenment, Guatama became known as Buddha, and his teachings became the backbone of the Buddhist belief system that then swept through                                                                          East Asia and then around the world.

As Buddhism and Hinduism developed and changed over the centuries throughout Asia, both religions prospered in Nepal, producing a powerful artistic and architectural fusion. Buildings reflect outstanding craftsmanship in their intricate ornamentation in brick, stone, timber and bronze that are some of the most highly developed in the world.

Take a look at this PBS Documentary to learn more about the development and spread of Buddhism:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Photo Quiz Answer!

Thanks to everyone who took the photo quiz last week! Now, what is this object?

Answer: A TREASURE CHEST!

This is a brass treasure chest (or manuscript chest) from the Ethnology collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. It was collected in the early 20th Century and is inlaid with stones and decorated with gold filagree. Nepal, a country bordering both China and India, has a diverse and fascinating history defined in large part by their location in the Himalayas and their position as a cross-roads between China and India. A chest like this would have been used to hold small treasures and important manuscripts by wealthy nobles or perhaps members of the ruling family.

To see a timeline of Nepal’s complex history, take a look at this link.

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Knife

E/1975/1/20
Nepal: Kukri Knife
Asia
Materials: Steel, Brass, Leather, Wood

The Gurkha of Nepal is a formidable group of soldiers identified by their crescent shaped knives called Kukri knives.  Typically fighting alongside British soldiers, most recently in Iraq, these soldiers are the archetypal warrior.  During World War II it is rumored that they could sneak behind German lines to their fox holes where the Germans slept two by two and slit the throat of one of the two German soldiers.  The surviving soldier would then wake to find his partner.  This psychological warfare built up the reputation of the Gurkha mystique.

The knives are a large reason why Ghurkha’s are seen as such invincible warriors. Large curved blades approximately 12 inches long, these knives are used for slashing rather than stabbing.  The notch at the bottom of each blade is said to divert blood away from the handle.  Each blade is hand crafted, even modern military issue blades.  Many Ghurka soldiers forge their own knives, a tradition passed down from their fathers.  The Kukri is usually accompanied by two smaller knives called a karda and a chakmak, which fit into the sheath of the Kukri.  The karda is used for small jobs and is placed next to one’s cot to ward off evil spirits.  The chakmak has a blunt edge which can be rubbed against a rock to create sparks to start a fire.

[Stephanie Adams]

Object: Statuettes


E/1955/18/244
Gilded Brass Lions
Nepal
ca. 1644 – 1949
Materials:  Brass and semi-precious stones

This is a pair of brass lions that have been gilded and inlaid with semi-precious stones.  They wear collars around the neck and have belts around the middle.  They are fastened to jewel-covered brass stands.  The lions each stand 9.75” high.

The pair of lions was produced in Nepal possibly during the time of the Ch’ing Dynasty.  Nepal is a landlocked country in South Asia.  It is bordered to the north by China and to the south, east and west by India.  The Himalaya Mountain Range extends across the country, with eight of the world’s highest mountains, including the highest–Mount Everest — within its borders.

Gilding is the decorative technique of applying fine metallic leaf or powder to solid surfaces such as wood, stone, or metal. Methods of gilding include hand application, chemical gilding, and electroplating.  The pair of lions have been gilded and inlaid with semi-precious polished and cut stones.

The lion has been a symbol of power, courage and majesty throughout the world.  In Nepal, the animal symbolizes the same virtues.  The Nepalese word for “lion” is “singh;” derived from the Sanskrit word “simha” which means “lion.”  The use of “Singh” as a surname was first incorporated by the ancient Ahir kings of Nepal and later by the Rajputs of the 7th century because of the word’s association with power and majesty.

Usually seen in pairs, the lion was regarded as a guardian figure throughout South Asia.  Often called “Fu Dogs” due to the dog-like appearance of the face, the guardian lions were mythical creatures who offered protection to their owners.  The example of lions here were most likely produced as a pair of guardian/protector “Fu Dogs.”  [Debra Taylor]


Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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