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Metal and Stone Vestiges
Religion, Magic and Protection in the Art of Ancient Tibet

Image 15b

These thokchas also depict early variants of Bon shrines, and were cast not later than 1200, if not considerably earlier. The trio of shrines on the left consists of five tiers resting on a thin base. In the Bon tradition, these graduated tiers symbolize the five elements (space, air, fire, water, and earth) that compose the universe. These stepped structures are topped by three long points, which in Bon are referred to as, ‘the horns of the bird, the sword of the bird’ (charu chatri). This finial symbolizes the superlative nature of the Bon religion and its heavenly origin.

The pair of shrines on the right bears a remarkable resemblance to the petroglyphic shrines in image 15a. It is highly unlikely that they share the same structural elements out of coincidence, and we can infer that these objects are functionally and chronologically interrelated. While we can be confident that the petroglyphic and copper alloy objects simulate tabernacles and/or cosmological symbols, their exact cultural basis and application have been lost to time.

all text & images © John Vincent Bellezza

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