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    Tibetan Wood & Polychrome Phurba

    North-Eastern Tibet
    19th century

    length: 30.8cm, width: approximately 6.8cm, weight: 217g

    Available Enquire


    UK art market

    This tantric ritual vajra dagger known as a phurba (also spelt purba and phurpa) is of carved wood. It retains its original 19th century painted decoration – including blue, green, red, cream and gold paint.

    It is of typical form with three sides – three heads on the handle and three sides to the blade.

    The (blue) blade emerges from the mouth of a makara. Each of the three sides of the blade is decorated with a pair of green, entwined snakes or nagas. Two of thre three blade sides have been inscribed in gold paint with lantsa or some related script.

    The mid-section is carved with two symbolic knots (one in red, the other green). The handle is carved with three faces of a wrathful deity, possibly Mahakala – one blue, one red and one cream.

    Purbas were used to ritually assault the enemy. Uusually, phurbas – which started out as ritual instruments – became centre of a cult all of its own in Tibet.

    Similar examples are illustrated in Reynolds (1999, p. 167), Pal (2003, p. 172), and Shanghai Museum (2001, p. 124-125).

    The example here is in very good condition. Paint losses are minimal and the age is readily apparent.


    Henss, M., Buddhist Ritual Art of Tibet: A Handbook on Ceremonial Objects and Ritual Furnishings in the Tibetan Temple, Arnoldsche, 2020.

    Pal, P., Art from the Himalayas & China: Asian Art at the Norton Simon Museum, Yale University Press, 2003.

    Reynolds, V. et al, From the Sacred Realm: Treasures of Tibetan Art from the Newark Museum, Prestel, 1999.

    Shanghai Museum, Treasures from Snow Mountains: Gems of Tibetan Cultural Relics, Shanghai Museum, 2001.

    Thurman, R., & D. Weldon, Sacred Symbols: The Ritual Art of Tibet, Sotheby’s/Rossi & Rossi, 1999.

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