Portable shrine

From Tibet
19th century AD

A portable Buddhist shrine from the Land of Snows

Buddhist monks were often on the move, travelling between monasteries or on pilgrimage. Many monks carried portable shrines with them when away from the monastery. The doors of this portable wooden shrine open to reveal a number of painted votive plaques. At the centre is the Buddha surrounded by various deities. On his left is the female deity Tara, and on his right are a group of lamas or teachers. Below the main Buddha is the bull-headed Yamantaka Vajra Bhairava with multiple arms and heads.

Yamantaka Vajra Bhairava is the tutelary deity of the Yellow Hat (Gelugpa) school. This has been the dominant school of Tibetan Buddhism since the seventeenth century, the leaders of which are the successive Dalai Lamas. The insides of the doors are painted with representations of offerings symbolizing wealth.

The shrine has metal loops at the sides for easy transport and may have belonged to a monk whose servant strapped it to himself when travelling with his master. The painted clay votive tablets inside this shrine are called tsa-tsa in Tibetan. They are formed by pressing clay into a mould carved with figures and often inscriptions. They are commonly used as offerings by pilgrims at shrines.

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Portable shrine

Shrine closed

  • Shrine open

    Shrine open


More information


W. Zwalf (ed.), Buddhism: art and faith (London, The British Museum Press, 1985)

R. Fisher, Art of Tibet (Thames and Hudson, 1997)


Height: 43.000 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1954.2-22.8


Gift of Mrs H.G. Beasley


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