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Prayer wheel


Length: 28.000 cm
Diameter: 11.000 cm

Schmitt-Meade Collection
Gift of Johannes Nikolaus Schmitt and Mareta Meade

Asia OA 1992.12-14.19

Room 33: Asia

    Prayer wheel

    From Tibet
    19th century AD

    Used to repeat prayers on pilgrimage

    This prayer-wheel has a large silver drum with a weight on a chain attached on a long wooden handle. The Eight Auspicious Symbols of Tibetan Buddhism are used to decorate the silver case: the lotus, conch, knot, vase, parasols, wheels, fishes and banner. Mantras (prayers) in the lan 'tsha script complete the design.

    A prayer wheel is a device for repeating the mantras, which are written on the outside and contained inside the drum on slips of paper. The drum rotates clockwise on the wooden handle, the weight on the chain helping it to spin. Rotating the drum, according to traditional understanding, automatically repeats the prayer, which is almost always 'Om Mani Padme Hum'.

    The same mantras are written on mani stones which are left in the Tibetan countryside as offerings. Similarly, prayers are written on flags that flutter in the wind at stupas. Large prayer-drums in Buddhist temples also have prayers written upon them. They are spun clockwise by hand. Clockwise motion is auspicious and considered to bring good fortune in both Buddhism and Hinduism. Pilgrims go clockwise around an image, a temple or a sacred site. One of the greatest pilgrimages in Tibet is to walk around the holy mountain of Kailash in the far west of the region. Pilgrims will often carry a prayer-wheel such as this as they walk.

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


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