Mantra talismanic plaque, or tokcha

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  • Catalogue text

    This plaque has the letters of a Tibetan mantra in its lower register and, above, small representations of the three principal protectors of Tibet, the Bodhisattvas Manjusri, Avalokitesvara, and Vajrapani. The mantra is the six-syllable Om mani padme hum, linked especially with the veneration of the four-armed aspect of Avalokitesvara, and here concluded by the additional syllable hri. In the centre of the three deities, the Shadakshari Avalokitesvara holds prayer beads in the upper right hand, the lotus in the upper left hand, and joins his principal hands over the centre of his chest in the mudra of veneration [1]. This aspect of Avalokitesvara, called the Bodhisattva of Compassion, is believed to be embodied in human form as the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. To his right is Arapacana Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, wielding the sword which cuts through the clouds of ignorance and holding a book in front of his heart. The third Bodhisattva is Vajrapani, wielding the vajra in his right hand as an emblem of the dynamic energy of the Buddha. The faces of the Bodhisattvas are much abraded from rubbing, but their attributes are quite clear. The plaque was obviously the object of much devotion over time, and the holes in the lower register indicate that it may have been worn on the body, or that a string was passed through the holes to keep the plaque stable inside an amulet box. The letters are written in the standard Tibetan alphabet although the prayer itself is in the Sanskrit language. The cult of this form of Avalokitesvara was introduced to Tibet by the Indian pandita Atisha during the eleventh century and became extremely popular there. From a comparison with similar examples, it can be dated to the thirteenth to fourteenth century [2].

    [Footnotes:]

    1 The name Shadakshari ('six syllables') refers to the mantra Om mani padme hum, specifically associated with this aspect of Avalokitesvara.

    2 See Anninos, 'Tibetan Buddhist Amulets', pls. 40-2.

    In: Heller, Amy, Early Himalayan Art (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2008)

Further reading

Heller, Amy, Early Himalayan Art (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2008), no. 58 on p. 164, p. 67, illus. p. 164

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