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This small bone section from Tibet has been intricately carved with a pair of skeleton citipati figures, and then coloured with polychrome and gilding. The citipati are shown interlocked and standing atop a lotus petal base.
Bone often was used in Tibetan as the medium to show tantric deities. Often human bone was used, traditionally collected from charnel grounds.
The citipati are the lords of the funeral pyre and charnel or burial grounds, and are the skeleton companions of Yama, the Lord of Death. And yet, they are intended to be humorous or comic figures in Tibetan sacred dance, despite their gruesome appearance. This accounts for their dynamic dance poses and their smiling countenances.
Citipati are most properly represented as a pair – one is male and the other is female, and most usually (though not always) they are thought to be brother and sister.
The bone section is small and complete. There are no losses to the carving.
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Berger, P., & T. Tse Bartholomew, Mongolia: The Legacy of Chinggis Khan, Thames & Hudson, 1995.
Bromberg, A., et al., The Arts of India, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas: At the Dallas Museum of Art, Yale University Press, 2013.