Posts Tagged 'Nepal'

Ceremonial Phurba (Kila) Dagger

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Figure 1. Phurba Dagger within the Sam Noble Ethnology Collection. E/1958/26/001

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Ceremonial Dagger: Phurba, Kila

Tibetan or Nepalese

Asia

ca. 18th Century

Bronze, Turquoise Stone

The Tibetan Phurba or Kila (in Sanskrit)  is a ceremonial dagger traditionally used in Tibetan Buddhism for tantric rituals. The Phurba (pronounced Pur-pa) can be fashioned out a of a variety of materials, including: wood, bone, glass, clay, horn and even crystal. (1) See figure 3. to see an example of a crystal phurba dagger on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Despite the array of materials used in the creation of phurbas, these ceremonial daggers have a distinct blade which makes them easily identifiable. The unusual blade of the phurba dagger is designed to have three edges. This gives the blade the appearance similar to a stake used to tether objects to the ground, much like the pegs you see today to secure tents. It has been theorized that this stake design is inspired by earlier Tibetan ceremonies, where shamans tethered sacrificial animals to the ground. However, other researchers debate its shape is meant to represent the pegs used to tether a horse, to keep it from wandering. Whatever its design origins, a phurba dagger is never used to stake anything physical. Its power resides in its spiritual ability to tranfix spirits or demons to the earth. (2)

 

Tibetexpedition, Fürst von Gautsa

Figure 2. Photograph of a Tibetan Shaman. Notice the Phurba dagger in his left hand. Photo by Klause Ernst, Tibet, 1938

Indeed, the dagger’s three sided blade usually has a dull edge, proving ineffective in battle. However, Phurbas have grown in popularity in recent years as tourist items, meditative objects, and have even been adopted as a weapon in some schools of marital arts. An example of the phurba dagger being used non-traditionally as a martial arts weapon can be seen here.

Due to it’s wide use in Tibet and some parts of India, the phurba dagger and its

met

Figure 3. A Crystal Dagger on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 15th Century. Image Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art.

ceremonial origins may have evolved from the ancient and native Bon religion in Tibet. (3)  This argument suggests that the dagger always served a spiritual weapon, intended to tether negative spirits in place so that they can be driven from the sites of sacred ceremonies, or to force demons from the sites where shrines will be constructed. (4) In fact, the phurba’s ability to bind spirits was put to use in building thirteen Buddhist temples and stupas within Tibet. It was believed that before Buddhism could be successfully introduced into Tibet, the wild spirits within the region needed to be subdued. The building of Buddhist temples in the area served as both the symbolic and physical tethers binding the goddess of the region, limiting her powers. (5)

 

Many elaborate daggers depict three different faces on the pommel of the dagger. This particular Phurba dagger appears to show the deity, Vajrakilaya, a wrathful but powerful deity of Tibetan Buddhism. Vajrakilaya is the over thrower of obstacles. By meditating on the forces that work against the user, Vajrakilaya removes the interference to bliss, happiness, and enlightenment. This tantric practice was eventually absorbed into all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, and the phurba dagger serves as the primary object of focus during the mediation process. (6) Unfortunately, the details about this ceremony and the phurba’s exact role have been hidden away. These teachings are left to the understanding of the most devout followers and their instructors.

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Figure 4. Depiction of Vajrakilaya as a ceremonial dagger.

Footnotes:

1. Ryan Hudson, “Phurba with Three Faces of Vajrakila Buddha,”  http://www.tibetanculture.weai.columbia.edu/phurba-with-three-faces/. (accessed August 16, 2017)

2. Georgette Meredith, “The “Phurbu”: The Use and Symbolism of the Tibetan Magic Dagger”, History of Religions 6, no. 3 (1967): 246.

3. Meredith, “The “Phurbu”, 240.

4. Meredith, “The Phurbu”, 246.

5. Janet Gyatso, “Down with the Demoness: Reflections on a Feminine Ground in Tibet”, The Tibet Journal 12, no.4 (1987): 41.

6. Robert Beer, The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs (Boston: Shambala Publishing, 1999), 246.

 

Additional Reading:

 

The Tibetan Book of the Dead. “Ceremonial Objects.” Virginia University. Last Modified 2017. Accessed August 16, 2017. https://www.lib.virginia.edu/exhibits/dead/ceremon.html

 

((Christina J. Naruszewicz))

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: 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]

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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