Mantra Plaque Talisman or TokchaTibet
length: 7.1cm, height: 5.4cm, weight: 70g
This well-worn tokcha plaque comprises a central pierced register of the three main protectors of Tibet, the Bodhisattvas Manjusri, Avalokitesvara and Vajrapani. The lower register has been cast with the six-syllable mantra: ‘Om mani padme hum hri’.
Avalokitesvara appears on the far left in the panel and holds a lotus in his left hand and prayer beads in the right. This aspect of the deity is known as the Bodhisattva of Compassion and when embodied in human form is the Dalai Lama.
Tokchas (also spelt as thokcha, tokche, thogchak, thog-lcag, or thogchag) are small ‘found’ ancient, sacred objects that went on to serve as votive talismans, and which were valued for their magical properties. Usually they are of bronze or copper alloy. Many are believed to also contain some meteoric metal. Tibetans highly prized them and would wear them to protect them and to absorb evil. Usually they were hung from the neck or attached to clothing, but also were sewn onto amulet pouches or attached to religious articles. They were also used by Tibetan sharmans – healers, spirit-mediums and magicians – as part of their ‘tools’ of trade.
Particularly effective or powerful
tokchas would be sold on or passed down through the generations. Accordingly, genuine and powerful tokchas should show a great deal of wear, as in the case of the example here.
It is likely that many
tokchas originally were belt fittings or ornaments either from Tibet or from the Eurasian Steppes and Central Asia or Persia, and were traded into Tibet along Silk Road trading routes. Others were purpose-made as talismans, which explains why some genuine tokchas can be very similar. The traditional belief however, was that tokchas were not made by humans and even that they had simply fallen from the sky. The animal motifs employed in many tokchas suggest a linkage to Tibet’s pre-Buddhist Bon past. (Buddhism was introduced to Tibet in the early 7th century.)
See Heller (2008, p. 164) for a near-identical version of the example here.
The example here is in a stable and wearable condition. As mentioned, it has an exceptional patina and obvious antiquity. It was acquired from the estate of a private English collector who built up a fine collection of
tokchas over his lifetime.
Bashkanov, M., M. Bashkanov, P. Petrov, & N. Serikoff, Arts from the Land of Timur: An Exhibition from a Scottish Private Collection, Sogdiana Books, 2012.
Early Himalayan Art, Ashmolean Museum, 2008.
et al, From the Sacred Realm: Treasures of Tibetan Art from the Newark Museum, Prestel, 1999.
private collection, UK.
Inventory no.: 4428