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Tibet: Treasures From the Roof of the World

Skullcup (Kapala)
Tibet, 19th Century
Skullcup (Kapala)

Tibet Museum
Photo Courtesy of Bowers Museum


A human skull rests on a mount of pure gold, embellished with turquoise. During a sacred ceremony, the elaborately decorated lid was removed and the skull perhaps lined in gold became a crucible. Inside, symbols of ordinary life were placed, heated, and transformed as part of an elaborate ritual enacted to help the initiates visualize the conversion of ordinary life and death into the path of enlightenment. This skull, given the elaborate mount of costly materials, undoubtedly belonged to a high-ranking lama, whose spiritual status lent special importance to this ritual object.

all images and text © Bowers Museum and Tibet Museum


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