Brass Tantric yantra

From Nepal, Probably 17th-18th century AD

The Tantric versions of Indian religions often use a particular sound (mantra) or diagram (yantra and mandala) in rituals to invoke a deity. A mantra is a short verse or even a single syllable. When chanted it is thought to be intrinsically powerful and have a particular connection with an individual god or goddess. The most common is the syllable 'Om', which appears at the beginning of prayers and religious texts.

A yantra is a visual equivalent of a mantra, composed of several symbolic geometric forms such as interlocking triangles, lotus petals, dots, and circles. Yantras are, for the most part, used in Hindu ritual; the somewhat different mandala is used in Buddhist activity. This yantra shows a distinctly Nepalese mixture of Hindu and Buddhist ideas. The central figure right on top of the yantra is a dancing dakini ('skywalker') on top of a funeral pyre encased in a downward pointing triangle.

Dakinis and their male counterparts, dakas, were originally fierce semi-divine figures associated with the Hindu goddess Kali and with the Tantric adepts of Buddhism. They subsequently grew into greater prominence in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, which also explains their popularity in Nepalese Tantric art. They are said to appear before practitioners to assist, teach, inspire or admonish them in their meditations.

Here the dakini is associated with skulls and flames and the other repeating motifs of dogs and vultures, indicating that this is the environment of a cremation ground, a setting closely associated with both the god Shiva and the goddess Kali. There are other motifs in the lower register such as a river, which symbolically transports you to the other world, vajras (thunderbolts), which are the weapons of supreme knowledge that remove the darkness of ignorance, and stupas, symbolic of the transcendent tranquility and goal of nirvana.

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More information

Bibliography

P. Pal, The art of Nepal (Berkeley, Los Angeles County Museum of Art in association with University of California Press, 1985)

Dimensions

Diameter: 20.000 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1992.12-14.25

RRI11781

The Schmidtt Meade Gift

Location

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