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Final Farewell: The Culture of Death and the Afterlife

Birth, Death and Rebirth: Sky Burial and the Cyclical Cosmos of Tibetan Buddhism

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Plaques from a Ritual Apron

Tibetan tantric Buddhist masters wore these plaques in rituals, performances, and initiations. They were strung together with twine and beads to create a net-like apron worn on the lower body. The plaques were part of a costume, which consisted of six bone pieces: a tiara, bracelets, armlets, a chest piece, an apron, and anklets.

Symbols/Meanings of 20 Plaques from Ritual Apron

Top row:
The three plaques on the left depict the head and front paws of a feline creature, possibly a tiger, which represents Buddha’s unconditional confidence, disciplined awareness, kindness and modesty; alternately, it is a snow lion, which symbolizes Buddha’s unconditional cheerfulness and a mind free of doubt. The animals wear an elaborate tiara like monks do during ritual.

tibet plaquesThe square plaque shows a dancing aspara, which is beautiful, female nature-spirit. The second plaque from the right depicts a human head surrounded by a vegetal design. The one to the top right can either be called a vajra or a dorje (Sanskrit and Tibetan for thunderbolt or diamond respectively), and it represents a ritual tool or a scepter that Tibetan lamas (teachers) hold in their right hands during religious ceremonies. It symbolically destroys ignorance, is indestructible, and represents the male part of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism.

Plaques from a Ritual Apron
Ca. 17th–19th c.
Nepal or Tibet
Human bone (87.146.1-20)
Gift of Peter and Jean Marks

Second row:
The plaque on the far left depicts a vegetal design around a circular lotus blossom with 8 petals, which represents the 4 male and 4 female aspects of Buddha, which face the corners of the earth while meditating. The lotus blossom is one of the eight auspicious symbols, and it represents the purity of Buddha’s mind.

The middle three plaques have intricate vegetal designs, and the two on the far left may represent a trefoil cloud scroll called jui’i.

The two diamond-shaped plaques on the far right have abstract geometric decoration, and they depict the indestructible diamond, which symbolizes clarity and the nature of the mind.

Third row:
Both plaques are lotus thrones, on which deities sit or stand.

Bottom row:
The six small, square-shaped plaques have a combination of vegetal and geometric patterns, and along with beads, they were used as decorative filler that was woven into the apron between the larger, figural plaques.

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