Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Tilopa Ornament

Tilopa (988 - 1069) is said to have worn this bone amulet throughout his lifetime, and it is reckoned as one of the sacred treasures of Ripa Bharma Monastery, in Kham. It went outside the country once I know of, to Hong Kong, in October 2006 (a lot of action in Hong Kong, in 2006), but I do not know what has become of it since.

UPDATED: On bone and ivory carving in India, generally, see here. I do not think this is late 10th or mid 11th century. Some people have written to say that this is a dragon, but what I think we really have is a makara. Maybe Tilopa was a Capricorn.

Here is a makara on a khukuri scabbard, date unknown, from Nepal. The nose is the distinctive feature.

UPDATED X2: What fun. "The Tilopa Ornament" sounds like a Ludlum title, doesn't it? Maybe we will go with the Naropa Ultimatum, followed by the Marpa Sanction next.

I actually spent all day playing around with this, speculating on the possibility Tilopa was born between roughly January 15 to February 15, 988 C.E. (sidereal zodiac). I propose this based strictly on the evidence of the amulet, lacking any other sources at the moment, and I may be way off base. I don't have any accurate calendars before 1447 C.E., so I can't do much more. Still, you know, the things you learn on the way to learning something else are always so pleasant.

I see motifs similar to this, from Bodhgaya, dated to around 70 B.C.E to 70 C.E. at plate 14,  G. Elliot Smith, "The Evolution of the Dragon," here, which we note is "after Cunningham (Archaeological Survey of India, Vol. Ill, 1873, Plates IX and XXIX)."

If I drag this thing out any farther, it will turn into the Tilopa Ornament Blog Post In Honor of Dan Martin, except that I cannot improve honor to him who is already honored.


Maybe the makara isn't what we are seeing after all. Quite possibly, we are seeing a Greek ketos. Here is a ketos, on the war elephant's saddle blanket, come to us from Central Asia:

The stone palette, below, representative of Greco-Buddhist art, comes to us from Ghandara -- and we all know what that means. This depicts a man with a cup riding a ketos:

Why should this interest us? Apart from the Ghandara connection, these stone palettes are actually cosmetics trays, thus here we have the ketos motif associated with a woman's use. Did a woman give Tilopa his bone ornament?

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6 reader comments:

Dan said...

I think it might be the gryphon on the aegis of Athena. She was the first product of Parthenon-style birth (Parthenogenesis), axed from her Keraunos-wielding father's head after he had swallowed her pregnant mother (he had thought it was going to be a boy). It all sounds just too Vajrayana to be true, doesn't it? Just speculating (viz playing with mirrors), which is so much fun I really recommend it to those following other more respectable, if limiting, disciplines.

Anonymous said...

The comparison with the Nepali art raises an old question of mine that arose / remained after travelling to Nepal and seeing a famous Vajrayogini shrine there taken over by Hindus (complete with area for animal sacrifice). This raised the question for me about how much Tibetan Buddhism was influenced by Nepalese Hinduism / Buddhism. The Buddhist temples in Kathmandu valley of the Nepalese are very different from the Tibetan Buddhist temples, yet contain the same vein of images, etc. Has anyone ever done a study of this? Has anyone ever done a study on how Nepalese Buddhism interacted with Tibetan Buddhism in the past centuries? How can such deities as Vajrayogini be both Hindu and Buddhist at the same time as reflected in Nepal?

Anonymous said...

Maybe it was a gift from one of his gurus, like maybe Indrabhuti?

Anonymous said...

Maybe Dharima gave it to him!

TENPA said...

I would certainly like to believe Dharima gave this to him, and it does make sense. However, I am under injunction to not recall, not imagine, not think, not examine, and not control the matter.

Samten De Wet said...

The Tilopa pendant has just been at the Kagyu Monlam in Bodh Gaya - picture published on Facebook. . .