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Carved horns such as this were used to dispense seeds during Tibetan monastic offering rituals. The horn was used to hold seeds – typically mustard seeds which grow in the lower reaches of the Himalayas – for offering into a fire as part of purifying and exorcising fire-offering rituals. The horn was shaken to release the seeds into the fire which was typically contained within a prescribed triangular fire-offering brazier, whilst the practitioner recited cleansing and exorcising mantras.
The tip of the horn has been carved as a makara with an elongated snout with a curled tip. Beneath the snout is an aperture which permits the emission of the seeds. This has been stopped with a small wooden plug which both controlled the seed flow and looks like a small tongue.
The remainder of the horn is finely carved with a central amphibian creature – perhaps a tortoise – whose shell or belly is decorated with a roundel of lantsa script; a scorpion; a stupa; a double vajra; and a Garuda, rendered in a very Tibetan format, with a naga or snake draping from its beak.
The base of the horn is elaborately carved with four serpents or naga with their tails entwined.
Few extant ritual seed horns are as elaborately carved as this example, and fewer still are carved with lantsa script. A related example in the Guimet Museum in Paris is illustrated in Beguin (1990, p. 164.)
The horn is in fine condition. It has a darkened colour and plenty of surface wear.
Beer, R., The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs,Serindia, 2004.
Beguin, G., Art Esoterique de l’Himalaya: La Donation Lionel Fournier, Musee National des Arts Asiatiques Guimet/Reunion des Musees Nationaux, 1990.
Thurman, R., & D. Weldon, Sacred Symbols: The Ritual Art of Tibet, Sotheby’s/Rossi & Rossi, 1999.