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Torma box C200-22 The harbinger of spring and enlightenment

antique Tibetan torma box hand painted with a magical landscape
side view of antique Tibetan torma box with cuckoos hand painted
left side
top view of antique Tibetan torma box with a magical landscape
antique Tibetan torma box hand painted with cuckoo birds
right side

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The central theme on this Tibetan antique torma box is the harbinger of spring with a rare painting of cuckoo birds. Taken with the overall paintings on the box this torma box could have been used by a lama to make the torma blessing used to bless the birth of a child. The front is a wonderful scene of mountains, waterfalls, streams, mare's-tail clouds along with Cintamani and other icons floating around; all making a magical wonderland. Both sides have cuckoo birds, the Tibetan recognized harbinger of spring and also of enlightenment, flying around with a Champaka blossom and a rock cliff just to remind us to read the scriptures.The top is another magical scene of mountains, rock cliffs, lotus buds, a Champaka blossom and bael fruit. The hardware is brass, with bat handles in the flying down position in keeping with the prescribed iconography; the copper cladding is a mid 20th century addition. This trunk comes with a brush-signed Certificate of Authenticity, and images of the lama that blessed this torma box along with a pdf of the iconography.

Material: juniper and oil pine
Dimensions: H= 10 " W= 15.9 " D= 7.9 "
Age: circa 1900


Price $485.00 Plus crating and shipping = WEST COAST $88 ~ MTN $97 ~ MIDWEST = $102 ~ EAST COAST= $113. Contact David for a quote to other destinations.


The front of the torma box is a rather magical wonder-scape of snow peaked mountains, waterfalls, streams, various forms of Cintamani floating amongst the mare's-tail cumulus clouds with a pair of elephant tusks, rock cliffs, and a semi-circle of water-borne plants, possibly the lotus that have yet to start to bud. It evokes a beautiful almost other-world scene. The elephant tusks, always emblematic of Chakravartin's Precious Elephant is the only icon with a textural meaning. Elephants in Tibetan Buddhist symbology are always the albino elephant which is reputed to be the hardest elephant to tame and train. The elephant is one of four divisions of the Indian military system; the others are the horse, chariots and infantry. Battle elephants were specifically trained to obtain perfect obedience and to withstand the ravages of the battlefield. It is difficult to maintain composure and direction when chaos and violence is surrounding you. Only a well trained mind absent of fear can accomplish this. The elephant in battle was the unstoppable remover of obstacles. Wild elephants were noted for their symbolic activities of uprooting, tearing, crashing and bellowing. The trained elephant, as the most powerful of creatures, represents endurance, self-control, patience and gentleness, and the power of Buddha.

Both sides have cuckoos, which traditionally are the harbingers of spring. A deeper meaning, which may not be intended here is they are a harbinger of enlightenment in conjunction with a six verse Vajra text commonly titled "Cuckoo of Awareness." This is an early Dzogchen vajra text that is considered the harbinger of enlightenment. Dzogchen is an esoteric Buddhist practice that forsakes any methodological practice, instead the focus is on spontaneity. One of Padmasambhava's 25 disciples that he brought with him to Lhasa was a Dzogchen master. Padmasambhava himself may well have been a Dzogchen master as they are associated with what many perceive as magical arts and also the mahasiddhic line of practice. Padmasambhava is said to have hidden many termas as he felt that the practitioners of Buddhism at that time in Tibet were not ready to receive these teachings and knowledge. Termas are what one could consider sacred revelations of esoteric knowledge.

The top is another magical scene of rock cliffs, lotus and Champaka buds in a other-world setting. Everything points to a spring like setting with everything getting ready to blossom and this works well with the cuckoos on the side. Getting into a bit of conjecture, the box looks to be one in which the lama may have stored torma molds and the mixtures for making blessings marking the birth of a child. Only the rock cliffs on the front have kusha grass growing out of them, and not in the usual manner, which may make them a reference to the scriptures, all of the other rock formations are absent the kusha grass and this is quite rare.

The bat handles on the side are in the flying down position, however they were made to be in the flying up position. This down position correctly corresponds with Tibetan Buddhist iconography and symbolism. Bats habitat caves and are in the hanging down position when resting in the cave; caves were often used by gurus to facilitate meditation because they are dark, secluded, quiet and peaceful. Bats thus are a reminder of meditation and the seclusion facilitating earnest meditation.  Bat guano is also gathered from the caves and used as fertilizer, and of course the bats defecate when upside-down. The lay population close to caves that are inhabited by bats and used by gurus for meditation are allowed to gather the guano for use as fertilizer and also to sell for cash to other communities. Hence the bat in the upside down position does deliver a form of prosperity.  The word for bat in Chinese is fu, which is pronounced exactly the same as the word for prosperity, fu. The Chinese symbols are different even though the pronunciation is exactly the same: when the Chinese symbol for prosperity is turned upside down it means that prosperity has been delivered.

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