Hilt of a Ritual Sword


Not on view

Originally fitted with a proportionately small blade, perhaps ten inches long, this hilt symbolizes the Sword of Wisdom, used to sever ties to spiritual and temporal ignorance and drive out the demons of negative thoughts and actions, particularly in the context of rituals associated with the Buddhist deities Manjushri, Padmasambhava, and Palden Lhamo. In addition to the use of such swords in actual rituals and ceremonies, iconographically, swords of this type appear in Tibetan scroll paintings (thang ka), wall murals, sculptures and other works of art, usually wielded by protective deities. They are also depicted among the objects required for votive or ritual use and are shown in great detail in a manuscript of ritual practices prepared for the Great Fifth Dalai Lama in the seventeenth century.

The hilt is cast in one piece, with decoration in low relief accented by engraved details. The pommel has a trilobate or trefoil form and probably represents the Three-Eyed Gem (Tibetan, nor bu mig gsum pa), which is derived from the Chinese ju-i motif and is one of a group of auspicious symbols known in Tibet as the Seven Gems (norbu cha bdun). It is decorated on the front with three dots framed by curly leaves or scrolls. The sides and back of the pommel are plain and there is a square opening at the top. The grip swells at the center and is round in cross section. It is decorated all the way around with two rows of stylized lotus petals. The borders or collars at the top and bottom of the grip consist of a continuous circle of triple petal or ju-i symbols set on a beaded ring. At the base of the grip the guard is a very leonine form of kirttimukha mask (Tibetan, tsi pa Ta) with a short downward curving leafy scroll extending from either side of the mouth. Ringlets of curly hair create an arc across the top of the back of the guard. Two locks or tendrils extend upward from the base, representing hair on the lower lip or chin of the mask. The bottom of the guard is open to accommodate the tang and shoulders of its missing blade. The opening is framed by teeth and fangs indicating the opening as the mouth of the mask, as is typical on hilts of this type.

Hilt of a Ritual Sword, Copper alloy, Tibetan

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