Ritual Helmet

1677 (made)
Ritual Helmet thumbnail 1
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
South-East Asia, Room 47a
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Elaborate crowns of this type are worn by Vajracaryas, Buddhist priests when officiating at religious ceremonies in Nepal. Vajracarya, "master of the thunderbolt", is both a caste and family name indicating those entitled to perform priestly functions. They command the highest rank in the Buddhist community, the equivalent of Brahmins in the Hindu context. They typically use both a vajra (thunderbolt sceptre) and ghanta (ritual bell) in these rituals. A painted Nepalese manuscript cover dated 1532 depicts such a crowned Vajracarya engaged in ritual on behalf of a donor and his family at a temple stupa; he is depicted holding both vajra and ghanta and seated before a fire altar and assorted ritual utensils, including an offering dish, mirror and miniature chaityas (stupas). The ritual crown depicted bears close comparison to the V&A example, with its forehead diadem and elaborate superstructure, and the ear-like pendants.

This crown has individually cast medallions depicting Bodhisattvas positioned around the dome, with Vairocana in the centre; each is framed within an elaborate foliate medallion. The crown is surmounted by a five-pronged half-vajra. A dated inscription (Nepal Samvat 797) invokes Vajrasattva, the supreme deity of the vajra sect. A number of these crowns have survived, but this example is the finest and most complete.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Gilt copper, set with stones
Brief Description
Gilt copper set with stones, Nepal, Dated to 1677
Dimensions
  • Height: 45.7cm
  • Width: 24cm
  • Depth: 25cm
Gallery Label
1. Ritual Crown Dated 1677 Malla period This crown would have been worn by a hereditary Vajracharya priest of the Kathmandu Valley. The Vajracharyas were originally celibate Buddhist monks. By the early 15th century they had been brought within the prevailing Hindu caste structure of valley society, with a position as one of the highest castes. Gilded copper set with imitation stones in rock crystal and glass Nepal Given by Lt Col. E.W.A. Armstrong Museum no. IS.5-1946 16. Necklace (Tayo) 1800–50 Shah period This is a ceremonial necklace ornament used by Newar women of the Kathmandu Valley on important ritual occasions, including marriage. In early examples the tubular body is hollow. This suggests that they may have been amulet containers, but the present ones are entirely closed, so they cannot now be used for that purpose. Gilded copper and silk Nepal Museum no. 03034(IS) 9. Vasudhara 1500–1600 Malla period Vasudhara, the Buddhist Goddess of Abundance, is important in Nepal. Her name means ‘holding the treasure’. Here her attributes include a vase of gems (kamandalu), an allusion to the jewels of knowledge, a manuscript (pustaka) of Buddhist teachings and a stem of grain symbolising fertility and prosperity. Gilded copper Nepal Museum no. IM.14-1930 12(14/06/2011)
Historical context
Elaborate crowns of this type are worn by Vajracaryas, Buddhist priests, when officiating at religious ceremonies. Vajracarya, "master of the thunderbolt", is both a caste and family name indicating those entitled to perform priestly functions. They command the highest rank in the Buddhist community, the equivalent of Brahmans in the Hindu context. They typically use both a vajra (thunderbolt sceptre) and ghanta (ritual bell) in these rituals. This crown has individually cast medallions depicting bodhisattvas on the dome and Vairocana in the centre. The crown is surmounted by a half-vajra. A dated inscription (Nepal Samvat 797) invokes Vajrasattva, the supreme deity of the vajra sect.
Subject depicted
Summary
Elaborate crowns of this type are worn by Vajracaryas, Buddhist priests when officiating at religious ceremonies in Nepal. Vajracarya, "master of the thunderbolt", is both a caste and family name indicating those entitled to perform priestly functions. They command the highest rank in the Buddhist community, the equivalent of Brahmins in the Hindu context. They typically use both a vajra (thunderbolt sceptre) and ghanta (ritual bell) in these rituals. A painted Nepalese manuscript cover dated 1532 depicts such a crowned Vajracarya engaged in ritual on behalf of a donor and his family at a temple stupa; he is depicted holding both vajra and ghanta and seated before a fire altar and assorted ritual utensils, including an offering dish, mirror and miniature chaityas (stupas). The ritual crown depicted bears close comparison to the V&A example, with its forehead diadem and elaborate superstructure, and the ear-like pendants.



This crown has individually cast medallions depicting Bodhisattvas positioned around the dome, with Vairocana in the centre; each is framed within an elaborate foliate medallion. The crown is surmounted by a five-pronged half-vajra. A dated inscription (Nepal Samvat 797) invokes Vajrasattva, the supreme deity of the vajra sect. A number of these crowns have survived, but this example is the finest and most complete.
Bibliographic References
  • G. Beguin, " A propos d'une tiare d'officiant bouddhique", La Revue du Louvre, June 1984, No.3, p178, pl. 4-5 W. Zwalf, Buddhism: Art and Faith, British Museum, 1985, p.126. Guy, John: 'Indian Temple Sculpture', London V & A Publication, p.59. pl.59. ISBN 971851775095
  • Tibetan art / John Lowry. London: H. M. Stationery Office, 1973p. 89, cat. no. 39
  • L'escultura en el temples indis : l'art de la devoció : exposició organitzada per la Fundació "La Caixa" i el Victoria & Albert Museum, Londres. [Barcelona: Obra social, Fundació "la Caixa", c2007 Number: 9788476649466p.142, Cat.103
Collection
Accession Number
IS.5-1946

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record createdFebruary 13, 2000
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