What does a jewel-spitting mongoose represent?
January 27, 2009 12:01 PM   Subscribe

Tibetan art filter: what are these sculptures holding in their hands?

I recently visited a museum of Tibetan art, where a guide gave me detailed descriptions of several Buddha and Bodhisattva sculptures. They sculptures were many-armed, and the guide explained that each arm represents an aspect of that particular Buddha or Bodhisattva. In each of the hands the figures were holding small objects—sometimes a jar or bowl, sometimes a plant or animal, often something I could not identify.

The guide mentioned a general name for these objects and seemed to indicate that books exist to catalogue the objects and their meanings, i.e. a bowl represents charity, a mongoose represents greed, etc.

Can anyone tell me if there is a general name for these objects and how I can find out more about what they represent? Sorry if I have screwed up any details—please let me know, as I am new to this kind of art.
posted by Mender to Media & Arts (6 answers total)
Most likely they're holding one or other of the auspicious symbols.
posted by anadem at 12:34 PM on January 27, 2009

Also could be holding a dorje (aka vajra) and a bell.
And Chenrezig also holds a flower, symbol of compassion; Manjusri holds a sword to cut through ignorance.
posted by anadem at 12:37 PM on January 27, 2009

Response by poster: Here is the kind of thing I am talking about; that image is Indian, I believe, but same basic idea.

The auspicious symbols seem to be in the right ballpart, but there were definitely more than 8 different objects reprsented in the various sculptures and images I saw.
posted by Mender at 12:44 PM on January 27, 2009

Clockwise looking at Vasudhara:
1 - no idea
3 - a shell (I think)
5 - treasure vase
7 - just a mudra (a pose not a thing)
9 - the three jewels
11 - another mudra
posted by anadem at 1:23 PM on January 27, 2009

The shell anadem mentions is probably the right-twist conch shell mentioned in the auspicious symbols above (fwiw, DNA is also a right hand twist). I believe the treasure vase anadem refers to may be an incense burner.

It is also common to see bodhi leaves and oil lamps.

My dad is going to Tibet in a few months, so I may have better answers for you after then :)
posted by variella at 1:52 PM on January 27, 2009

Best answer: I have a great little booklet called 'Short description of Gods, Goddesses, and Ritual objects of Buddhism and Hinduism in Nepal' published by the Handicraft Association of Nepal. Admittedly Nepal, but close, I think. Relatively easy to buy online.

The stuff you mention? He calls them Ritual objects. There's 51 cataloged in my book, and that's excepting mudras (ritual gestures).

"[The mongoose] is believed to be the source of all gems and when the god of wealth squeezes it, it vomits forth all the riches."

Some other symbols are tied in with the gods themselves and are described in the descriptions of them. Also the types of pedestal each is on has a name.
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 2:30 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

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