TIBETAN SCULPTURE AND CRAFTS

TIBETAN SCULPTURE AND EROTICISM

left Sculpture, like painting, is mostly religious in nature. Most of images are of Buddha or Buddhist deities. Many are hollow and have Buddhist sutras or prayers inside. Metal sculptures are made using the lost wax technique. Many Tibetan sculptures are of historical figures or real life religious figures such as past Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas.

Tibetan Buddhist statues can be categorized into two major schools: 1) exotic statues (from outside Tibet or influenced by outside Tibet); and 2) local Tibetan statues. Both can be further divided into more specific genres. Styles from different schools and periods can be seen at places like the Sakya Monastery, Samye Monastery and Potala Palace. The main exotic styles are East Indian statues, Kashmir statues, Nepalese statues, and Yong Xuan statues (statues prevalent at the Chinese royal court in the age of Emperor Yongle and Xuande in the Ming Dynasty in the early 15th century. [Source: Jegyel Palsang Norbu, expert of the Tibet Museum and Shaka Wangdu, deputy researcher of the Tibet Research Institute of Cultural Relics Preservation, Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org ]

Jegyel Palsang Norbu, expert of the Tibet Museum, said: "With the spreading of Buddhist culture since the 7th century, many schools of Buddhist statues emerged in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Ever since Buddhism was introduced to the Tubo Kingdom in the 7th century, the Buddha statues have been localized consciously or unconsciously to cater to the traditional Tibetan appreciation of beauty."

As to how local Tibetan statues were created, according to legend, Guru Rinpoche—the legendary figure who brought Buddhism to Tibet— wanted to localize images of deities so common people could appreciate them better. He then chose some beautiful Tibetan boys and girls to serve as models to adjust the appearance of Buddha statues, such as Arya Avalokiteshvara, Hayagriva, and Tara, whose statues took on characteristics of local Tibetans.

Tantric sculptures produced for caves and temples are often considered to be too sexually explicit by the Chinese government to be put on public display. During certain ceremonies monks reportedly hug statues of gargoyle-like demons and mother-father spirits known as yabyum and then ejaculate on them. Erotic sculptures seen in Tibetan monasteries show women having sex with oxen.

Tsha Tsha: Tibetan Clay Figurines

Tsha Tshas are small clay figurines unique to Tibet. They can be with different all materials and can display characteristics associated with different periods and different monasteries. Their small size made them convenient for early Buddhist pilgrims to take. "Tsha-Tsha" are viewed as small stupas or amulets. The Buddhist artwork found on them was introduced from ancient India. There are relief image versions made out from a one-side mold and round stupa versions made with a two-sided mold. [Source: traditions.cultural-china.com, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org]

Tsha Tshas feature images of Buddha, Buddhist deities and Bodhisattvas. There are round, square and triangular types usually a few centimeters wide. Some of them consist of a single image while some are comprised of hundreds of images. The most common raw material for Tsha Tsha is clay, which is shaped using concave-shaped mold, and then dried or fired in a kiln. Sometimes colors are painted on them. Wild oats or some sacred objects are embedded into the back at the time of making. Valuable Tsha Tshas are made with precious materials such as pearl, agate and saffron imbedded in them that are viewed as medicines. Such figurines are believed to provide curing properties as well spiritual assistance. The most precious Tsha Tshas are made of the mixture of clay and the ashes and remains of the late lamas. They are like mini stupas and are carried as amulets capable of warding off wickedness and strong magic.

Tibetan monks and lay persons make Tsha Tsha is to accumulate Buddhist merit. The completed Tsha Tsha is mainly used to fill the inner shrines of bigger stupas or statues. Tsha Tsha are also used for dispelling illness or praying for good luck. Sometimes they are worshiped at Tsha-khangs—sacred cairns placed at sacred mountain, lakes and caves. Tsha Tshas are often found with prayer flags and Mani Stones.

Standing Tara Statue

Describing 51.4-centimeter-tall gilt copper alloy statue inlaid with semiprecious stones from Nepal dated to the 14th century, Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Tara, the Buddhist savioress whose name means “star,” guides pilgrims on their journeys to sacred sites and protects them from peril. On another level of meaning, she also guides and protects the adept on his or her jour- ney toward enlightenment. As the female counterpart to the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, she is the goddess of compassion. [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <*>]

“She takes many forms. Here she stands in the tribhanga pose, her left hand raised in the teaching mudra. Attached to her left upper arm is a lotus. She holds a small citron or pomegranate in her right hand, signifying her gift of com- passion to the devotee. Note the patterns on her palms. She wears a long floral printed dhoti and shawl which falls down her back. As is typical in Nepal, her jewelry is set with actual semiprecious stones and includes a crown, earrings, necklaces, armbands, wide cuff bracelets, and an elaborate belt. Her skin is brightly gilded. <*>

“The overall effect of this figure is one of elegance, refinement, and other- worldliness created by her adornment, her swaying pose and slender, graceful body, and the serene expression on her face. The effect is enhanced by light reflecting off the smooth gilt-copper surfaces. Such images were placed in temples. Nepali sculpture was greatly influenced by the sculpture of India. However, Tara’s anatomy is somewhat less volup- tuous than her Indian counterparts (compare image 18), and her wide face with large, partially closed eyes, pursed mouth, and arched nose is purely Nepalese, as are the elaborate foliate swirls in the crown. <*>

Tibetan Stone and Rock Carvings

Tibet is in rich repositories of culturally significant stone and rock carvings. When you are travelling in Tibet, you will find stone and rock carvings everywhere. Images include those of animals, human figures, gods, plants, utensils, buildings, symbols and natural objects. About 80 percent of old rock carvings of animals and hunting scenes and the daily life of the nomadic people. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org]

Ritu Rock Carving Site, Yaowangshan Rock Carving Site and Zaxi Cave Rock Carving Site are three Tibetan rock carvings sites. Ritu Rock Carvings site in the Ngari area boasts hundreds of rock carvings, whose contents include hunting activities, war and fighting, religious ceremonies, and dancing scenes. The major color there is red. The style is characterized by simple compositions drawn using simple techniques. Yaoshanwang Rock Carvings site is in the Yaowangshan Mountains near Lhasa. The rock carvings have been produced mostly in modern times. The images are mostly religious figures. Zaxi Cave Rock Carvings are found on the east side of Namtso Lake in the Nagqu area. These carvings are found in eight natural caves. Most of the carvings are colored in red. There are images of animals, human, sun and pagodas.

Black stone can be found in the homes of many ordinary Tibetans because it is seen as a propitious stone capable of driving away evil and attracting good fortune. Such stones are not very expensive as they are carved by machine. The most common rock carvings are Mani stones. See Religion. The subjects of Mani stone carvings are usually sutras, designs, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Sometimes the images are carved at the request of the relatives of the dead people to release souls from purgatory. Usually, the contents are decided by a Shaman. Mani stone carving differs significantly from place to place. Those from western Tibet are said to have an elegant flavor, while those in eastern Tibet have an air of antiquity.

Tibetan Butter Sculptures

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Butter sculpture
Tibetans make incredibly detailed yak butter sculptures and friezes of flowers, landscapes, trees, temples, human figures animals and god and goddesses. They are made of a mixture yak butter and tsampa (roasted barley) applied on a wooden frame. They are often placed in monasteries at festival time and left there afterwards. One of their purposes is to symbolize the impermanence of all things.

The Tibetan butter sculpture as their name implies are made from yak butter, which is sculpted into various shapes such as Buddha, religious characters, landscapes, pavilions, animals, flowers and trees. Butter sculpture from Qinghai Province's Taer Monastery boasts high artistic quality and unique style with various dimensions and rich contents. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org ]

Butter sculptures are constructed as offerings. The height of some of the butter sculptures can be as much as 10 meters, and depict everything from Offering Goddesses and butter mandalas, through to flowers, animals and auspicious symbols of Buddhism. Each butter image is assembled to create a tableaux or 'torma'. The display of butter offerings are described as 'butter ornaments', 'butter flowers' or 'offering of flowers'. [Source: Gyuto Monks, gyuto.va.com.au ^^]

The making of butter sculpture in Tibet differs in several ways from that achieved by artists and chefs in the West. The butter is modeled, not carved; and is dyed before use, not painted afterwards. In this respect, the methods used resemble closest the modeling of icing in cake decoration. Many tools are used in modeling, including wooden needles, hollow bones for making long threads, moulds for leaves and the like and many types of spatulas. ^^

Unlike other sacred arts, the butter sculpture is associated with both play and competition. Because of the competitive aspect, the techniques are carefully guarded, and a monk must show genuine interest and commitment before he can find a willing teacher.Great pride is taken in making the offerings as attractive as possible. For example, before 1959, in Lhasa, Tibet, His Holiness the Dalai Lama would inspect the work of the great monasteries of the city and award a prize to the best tableaux. ^^

Priceless Tibetan Buddha Statue Looted by Nazis Carved from Meteorite

In September 2012, The Guardian reported: “A priceless Buddha statue looted by Nazis in Tibet in the 1930s was carved from a meteorite which crashed to the Earth 15,000 years ago, according to new research. The relic bears a Buddhist swastika on its belly---an ancient symbol of luck that was later co-opted by the Nazis in Germany. Analysis has shown the statue is made from an incredibly rare form of nickel-rich iron present in falling stars. [Source: Mark Taylor, The Guardian, September 28, 2012]

The 1,000-year-old carving, which is 24cm high and weighs 10kg, depicts the god Vaisravana, the Buddhist King of the North, and is known as the Iron Man statue. It was stolen before the second world war during a pillage of Tibet by Hitler's SS, who were searching for the origins of the Aryan race. It eventually made its way to a private collection and was hidden away until it was auctioned in 2007. [Ibid]

The new owner approached Dr Elmar Buchner of University of Stuttgart to unlock the secrets of the unusual carving's past. Buchner's team of researchers from Germany and Austria dated it to a specific event in astronomy history when the Chinga meteorite fell in the border region of eastern Siberia and Mongolia between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago. Tests proved the icon was made of a rare ataxite class, the rarest meteorite type found on Earth. Gold prospectors discovered debris from the Chinga crash in 1913, but the fragment from which the statue was carved was collected centuries before. [Ibid]

Meteorites have long been heralded as acts of God across many cultures, and early knives and jewellery were often carved from the remnants of space rocks. But tracing their exact origins has proved difficult for scientists. "We were quite astonished by the results," Buchner told the online journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science."If we are right that it was made in the Bon culture in the 11th century, it is absolutely priceless and absolutely unique worldwide," Buchner said. "It is extremely impressive, it was formerly almost completely gilded---there is a great mystery represented by it."

Other Kinds of Tibetan Art

Tibetan handicrafts and art objects include jewelry, clothing, personal affects, seat covers, bed covers, saddle blankets, daggers, tents, monastic furniture, ritual textiles, and gilt copper figures of animals and gods. Even cairns on pilgrimage trails have been made into works of art.

Tibetan aristocrats have traditionally onwed things like capes made from peacock feather thread and adorned with pearls, sable, turquoise and gold medallions; applique "fair weather" tents; and gilt shrines. Nomads are known for making jewelry, daggers, chopsticks, amulets and other objects using silver and turquoise.

Tibetan carpets are known for their double knotting, thick pile and high quality wool which is hand spun and died with natural colors such as walnut, madder, rhubarb and indigo. Tantric carpets from Tibet are used in exorcism ceremonies. They depict flayed elephants, tigers and demons, sometime surrounded by bones and body parts. The carpet industry in Tibet was traditionally based in Gyantse and Shigatse.These days many Tibetan carpets are made by exiled Tibetans in Nepal.

Manuscripts feature Buddha figures, scrolling motifs, repeated geometrical patterns, calligraphy and formalized foliage. Many of the oldest manuscripts, some dating back to the 13th and 14th century, have been taken apart with individual pages sold at art auctions.

Temple banners depict deities such as Sambara embracing his consort Vajravarahi with an escort of 12 dakinis, deities who represent female wisdom, and have muted colors of gold, rose and blue silk with applique and embroidery. See Monasteries, Temples, Tibetan Religion; See Homes and Villages, Tibetan Life, Tibetan People and Life

Tibetan Quilts, Cushions and Carpets

Tibetan quilts are indispensable for Tibetan people's live. Made of local wools, they are soft, delicate, warm and durable. A common quilt can be used for at least eight years, while a high- quality one can be used by two generations. The material for a high-grade quilt is made from from pure, thin wool, which is soft and warm. Tibetan quilts are usually divided into four types: twin-, three-, and four-thread woven and high-grade quilst, respectively weighing 5, 7, 8 and 12.5 kilograms. It is said that Nanggarze is a birthplace of Tibetan quilts. Tibetan quilts are mainly made in Lhasa, Shigatse and Shannan. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org]

Tibet has a long history of making rugs from Tibetan highland sheep's wool, called changpel. Tibetan rugs are used for many purposes ranging from flooring to wall hanging to horse saddles, though the most common ones are “sadian” (carpet for covering floors) and “kadian” (puff, a plush mat for coving cushions). The knotting method used in Tibetan rugmaking is different from that used in other rug making traditions. Some aspects of the rug making have been supplanted by cheaper machines in recent times, especially yarn spinning and trimming of the pile after weaving. However, some carpets are still made by hand. The Tibetan diaspora in India and Nepal have established a thriving business in rug making. In Nepal the rug business is one of the largest industries in the country and there are many rug exporters. Tibet also has weaving workshops, but the export side of the industry is relatively undeveloped compared with Nepal and India. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org] tibetan rug

By size, carpets larger than 18 square feet are called sadian, and the others are called “kadian”. Kadians are widely used as cushions. They are usually about 0.9 meters by 1.8 meters in size -- this size fits the function as both a seating area and small bed in many Tibetan houses. Ka of Kadian means "above" in Tibetan. This is because the Kadian is placed up above the seat. Traditionally, Kadian, made of colorful cashmere and felt, wears well. It is used for sitting or sleeping on, rather than for spreading out as floor coverings. It can be used to keep warm, and is waterproof. It is not only comfortable bedding but also a beautiful adornment.

The felt produced on the Tibet plateau is hard but flexible, and contains long fibers, which makes it good raw material for Kadian. Kadian is produced all over Tibet. The ones from Gyangze of Shigatse area are special. The area of Gyangze, with a history of 600 years in rug-making, has long been famous as 'the home of Kadian.' In Gyangze, every family knows how to make carpets. Gyangze is well known for not only its singular weaving technique, but its especially bright colors. All the dyes are made from local leaves, the roots of herbs, and mineral stones, except for red and black. These colors are very bright and colorfast. Kadian of Gyangze is not only famous in China but also has a big market in India, Nepal, and Bhutan. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org]

Tibetan Knifes: Weapons and Crafts

Chloe Xin of Tibetravel.org wrote: “Tibetan knives are essential and indispensable in Tibetan people's daily life. Most Tibetans, male or female, carry knives. Usually, Tibetans wear a waist knife that is used to cut meat, and can double as protection while also serving as an accessory. It also has high value as an ethnic handicraft with a longstanding good reputation at home and abroad. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org <>]

“There are three sorts of knives: long, short, and small. The longest ones are usually more than a meter, short ones are about 40 centimeters, and the small ones are just over 10 centimeters in length. In terms of shapes, there are pastoral styles, kamba styles, and the Shigatse area style. Knives are widely used for chopping down trees, for butchering animals, or even for the sky burial in Tibet. Indeed, knives have become a kind of decoration loved by boys and girls. Tibetan knives designed for men are usually rugged, while those designed for women are typically elegant. <>

“Made from delicately processed steel, Tibetan knives are typically quite bright and sharp. Handles are normally made of ox horns, ox bones or wood. Some top quality ones are entwined with silver or copper string. Sheathes, wrapped in copper or silver, tend to be more exquisite. Outside of the simple wooden or leather sheath covers, copper or sometimes silver or even gold in nice designs of birds, animals, or grass and flowers can be seen. Some are even inlaid with precious or colored stones, or even jewels. Just how expensive is up to the holder. <>

“Lhasa, Damxung, Lhatse, Yi'ong and Qamdo are well known for the production of the Tibetan knives. Typical Tibetan knives of the Shigatse area are produced in Lhatse. The Latse knife, with its beautiful appearance, sharp blade, and delicate and expensive scabbards, have long been recognized as an outstanding product. Bright and sparkling, such knives are handmade of high quality steel. <>

Roles of Tibetan knife: 1) Tools for daily life: To eat meat, Tibetans need knives. In some places, knives serve as plows and sickles. 2) Weapons: In 1904, when the British invaded Tibet, Tibetan soldiers fought with primitive rifles and long-handle waist knives. 3) Adornments: Tibetan knives are adorned with handles made of bull horns, antelope horns, wood or metal. Knife sheaths are made of animal hides, bull horns, metal or wood and are adorned with the "eight auspicious patterns" in gold, silver, copper and iron wire, swastikas, the auspicious pattern of dragon and phoenix, or are inlaid with corals, agates, peals peals and jade. <>

Decorations on Tibetan Arms and Armor

Donald LaRocca of The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: The materials and techniques used to decorate arms and armor from Tibet cover a broad range. The primary structural materials are iron and leather, frequently used in combination with gold, silver, copper alloys, and wood, and often incorporating turquoise, coral, yak hair, and various textiles. The techniques most often employed to decorate objects made principally of iron include damascening, inlay, engraving with gold and silver, pierced work, chiseling, and embossing. These techniques can be used alone but are more frequently combined. The degree of ornamentation and the range of symbols found on Tibetan arms and armor can vary considerably, but generally the same decorative motifs found on other Tibetan objects and works of art, such as furniture, ritual implements, sculpture, and paintings, are seen on arms and armor. [Source: Donald LaRocca, Department of Arms and Armor, The Metropolitan Museum of Art <*>]

“Damascening (also called overlay) is by far the most common technique used on iron in Tibet. It is done by scoring or crosshatching an iron surface with a pattern of fine lines, usually within the borders of an engraved design. Gold or silver wires are then laid over the crosshatching and rubbed with a burnishing tool to adhere the wires to the iron ground. Wires laid side-by-side and properly burnished can produce the effect of a continuous sheet of gold or silver. Inlay involves inserting gold, silver, or copper wires into the grooves engraved into the surface of the iron for that purpose. True inlay, however, is rarely found on Himalayan ironwork, damascening being the preferred technique. Engraving consists of incising a design into a metal surface using punches, chisels, or other specialized engraving tools <*>

“Mercury gilding (also called fire gilding) is frequently used for applying a thin layer of gold to objects made of silver, bronze, or copper alloys, but seems not to occur before the late nineteenth or early twentieth century on Tibetan objects made of iron. In mercury gilding, a paste (called an amalgam) is made from gold mixed with mercury. This paste is applied to a metal surface that has been coated with a thin layer of copper or copper sulfate. The surface is then heated until the mercury evaporates, which fixes the gold to the surface. In a relatively rare variation on this technique, an iron surface is damascened with a layer of silver, and then mercury gilding is applied over the silver. <*>

“Pierced work refers to intricately pierced patterns created in an iron surface with punches and files. It is used on relatively flat panels and on very complex surfaces such as saddle plates, and is often combined with chiseling and damascening. Leatherworking techniques include painted and tooled leather and leather appliqués. Most impressive, however, is the use of gold leaf and pigmented shellacs applied over leather to simulate the appearance of lacquer, which is used to great effect on horse armor, leather arm defenses, and on bow cases and quivers. <*>

Symbols on Tibetan Arms and Armor

Donald LaRocca of The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: The degree of ornamentation and the range of symbols found on Tibetan arms and armor can vary considerably, but generally the same decorative motifs found on other Tibetan objects and works of art, such as furniture, ritual implements, sculpture, and paintings, are seen on arms and armor. While these motifs can have deep religious or iconographic significance, on secular objects they usually serve simply as protective and auspicious symbols, and as signs of Buddhist piety. [Source: Donald LaRocca, Department of Arms and Armor, The Metropolitan Museum of Art <*>]

“The most prevalent form of decoration consists of a wide variety of scrollwork, which can range in appearance from leafy tendrils to stylized clouds to flame patterns. Scrollwork can be used as the sole design feature, but it more often serves as the background for other motifs, particularly dragons, which are perhaps the single most frequently used motif (1999.118). Nearly as popular as the dragon is a type of monster mask known in Tibetan as tsi pa tra or by its Sanskrit name kirttimukha. It is found throughout Tibet, China, India, and Indonesia, where it is used as a sign of good fortune and to ward off evil. A closely related motif has a very similar mask, but joined to the body of a winged creature, which represents the khyung or garuda, a mythical bird that protects against serpents and illnesses. <*>

“Other important and frequently encountered designs come from the group known as the Eight Auspicious Symbols, which consist of the endless knot, lotus, umbrella, conch shell, wheel, victory banner, vase, and pair of golden fish. These can appear individually or in groups, as central design features or as subtle accents on virtually any type of Tibetan object, from the most humble utilitarian item to the most elaborate ritual object or painting. Also frequently used is a motif resembling a flaming jewel, which generally takes one of three forms: three distinct orbs representing the Three Jewels; a cluster of elongated shapes representing the Precious Jewel or Wish-Granting Jewel; and a single flaming jewel or flaming pearl. Other popular individual motifs are the thunderbolt (rdo rje or vajra), the swastika, and the whirling emblem. Less common motifs also occur, such as the "dry skull," a symbol associated with ritual offerings to the wrathful deities. <*>

“A less common but highly evocative type of decoration on armor and weapons is the use of lettering. This usually takes the form of Lantsa (also called Ranjana), an ornamental alphabet derived from ancient Indian scripts, which is used for sacred texts and individual symbolic letters called seed syllables, or bija. In a few instances, more conventional Tibetan scripts are also incorporated into decoration or used for inscriptions.” <*>

Tibetan Pottery Wares

Pottery in Tibet has a more than 5000-year history. Neolithic pottery pieces and unbroken pottery wares unearthed at Karub ruins in Qamdo are the earliest pottery ware crafts ever discovered in Tibet. The patterns were of the objects were made by pasting, carving and drawing. They are mainly woven patterns, labyrinth-patterns, water streaks, lozenges and straight lines, appearing on the middle part of the body of the ware. The pottery jars with either single ear or double ears were beautifully built and finely worked. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org]

Currently the main pottery making centers in Tibet are in Gyantse, Maizhokunggar, Lhunzhub, Mangkang, Chanang, Chagyab, and Sog. Styles include coarse sandy wares, glazed pottery, red pottery, black pottery and painted pottery. Among the types are urns, jars, olla, post, bowls, basins, incense holders and cups. They fall into two broad categories according to their functions and purposes: 1) those for religious purpose and 2) those for everyday life use.

Religious utensils have traditionally been used for worship, consecration and being buried with the dead. Especially in the early days, they were not only the containers for offerings to the deities, but also the symbols of the wealth and power, which were only used in great rituals and events. Today, religious pottery wares are generally painted black and white with a red background. The shapes mainly are jars and bowls for things live making offerinsg and lghting incense. Patterns include lotus flowers, the eight auspicious symbols such as the treasure banner and shell. Pottery wares used in everyday life are generally not painted.

Tibetan Jewelry

Tibetan ornaments and jewelry includes as rings, bracelets, necklaces, made of red and yellow coral, Tibetan carnelian, yak bones, Tibetan silver, Tibetan copper, turquoise and other natural materials joined together with yak-hide string. The most common Tibetan ornaments are broad and delicately designed silver bracelets, peacock-blue yak-boned necklaces inlaid with turquoise, and dangling earrings made of red coral and Tibetan silver. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org ]

Among the Tibetan crafting techniques are encasing, inlaying, and making wire drawing. The techniques used decorate jewelry are also used on religious articles and everyday objects such as snuff bottles with hollowed-out designs; prayer wheels; barrels to hold rice for offering before Buddha images; and sea-snail-shaped ritual horns. The designs are mostly derive from religious beliefs and the lifestyle of the Tibetan people, often featuring symbols that convey special meaning. and the deeply-hued Tibetan silver is a mysterious temptation.

Tibetan silver products are handmade by Tibetan silversmiths are especially famous. Many the Tibetan silver bracelets are carved with the six-syllable mantra ("Om Mani Padme Hum"), which in Tibetan Buddhism is believed to have the ability to eliminate disease, fear of death, prolong life and increase wealth. Some pendants are in the design of Vajra, which in Buddhism is a ritual instrument for subduing demons, believed to dispel all sins and bring people power, courage, and intelligence. Amulets are often silver or bronze small boxes inlaid with pearls or precious stones and are used to contain clay or metal images of Buddha, Tibetan pills, Buddhist paintings or photos of a living Buddha. Tibetan opals fall into 12 categories according to the number of cat's-eyes one contains, each representing a particular meaning. For example, a one-eye opal represents brightness and wisdom, and a two-eye opal represents harmonious marital relationship and happy family life.

Many handicrafts and jewelry items feature dzi beads. Dzi beads literally means “heaven pearls” and are regarded as gifts given by gods. Such beads are etched black-and-white or brown-and-white, with symbols comprised of circles, ovals, square, waves stripes, lines and various other symbolic patterns. Sometimes the beads looks like an eye, so some people think that they have magic power. To Tibetans, each symbol on a dzi bead has a specific meaning. They are precious possession to the Tibetan, with so many fascinating stories of its mystical power attributed to it. A true natural dzi bead is very expensive. Most dzi beads found in markets are man or machine-made. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org ]

Tibetan Earrings and Amulet Boxes

In Tibet, both men and women wear ear ornaments, including ear rings, ear drops and ear nails. Tibetan men usually wear earrings on their left ear. Tibetan women wear earrings on both sides and enjoy more various texture and shape than men. Tibetan ear ornaments are typically made of gold, silver, copper and various semi-precious stones like turquoise. The most common earrings for Tibetan men are called "Aron". [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org]

Tibetan earrings are usually very large and are inlaid with stones. Some Tibetan earrings are in the shape of a twist. Most Tibetan ear nails are in a shape of flowers, in the middle of which is a semi-precious stone. Tibetan ear drops are mainly made of agate, turquoise or coral embedded in a metal base. Tibetan ear drops are relatively heavy. Tibetan men often use a rope to hang the drops on ears. In the old days, Tibetan officials wore eardrops in shape of Dorje Phurba (daggers) as symbols of their authority. Pastoral men have traditionally worn bigger earrings than farmers.

Gawu, the Tibetan women’s amulet or protective talisman, is a type of jewelry often worn around the neck of Tibetan women. They are usually very small, well-crafted boxes made of silver or copper or other precious metals. Their exterior contains very exquisite carving inlaid with pearls or other gems. Their interior usually contains a small image of the Buddha made of clay or metal, statues, sutras, magic knots, Tibetan pills , ward off evils and some other things. They may also contain an image of one's guru. A gawu box can be taken wherever one goes and used to invoke protection from the Buddhas and Dharma Protectors. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org ]

Image Sources: University of Purdue, Kalachakranet.org, CNTO; Mandala images, Univeristy of Liverpool, Harvard Education Review

Text Sources: 1) Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China , edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K.Hall & Company, 1994); 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~; 3) Ethnic China ethnic-china.com \*\; 4) Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org *|* New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated July 2015

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