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Ritual helmet

Ritual helmet

  • Place of origin:

    Nepal (made)

  • Date:

    1677 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gilt copper, set with stones

  • Museum number:

    IS.5-1946

  • Gallery location:

    South-East Asia, Room 47a, case 10

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.

Place of Origin

Nepal (made)

Date

1677 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Gilt copper, set with stones

Dimensions

Height: 45.7 cm, Width: 24 cm, Depth: 25 cm

Historical context note

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.

Descriptive line

Gilt copper set with stones, Nepal, Dated to 1677

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)


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

p. 89, cat. no. 39
Tibetan art / John Lowry. London: H. M. Stationery Office, 1973
p.142, Cat.103
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: 9788476649466

Labels and date

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]

Subjects depicted

Buddhist

Categories

Buddhism; Religion; Gemstones; Metalwork

Collection

South & South East Asia Collection

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