Rossi & Rossi, London
European Private Collection, acquired in 1991
Nathalie Bazin, commissaire, Rituels tibétains. Visions secrètes du Vème Dalaï Lama (1617-1682), Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2002, pp. 153-154, cat. no. 119
Michael Henss, Buddhist Ritual Art of Tibet, Stuttgart, 2020, p. 179, fig. 206
“Rituels Tibétains: Visions secrètes du Vème Dalaï Lama,” Musée national des Arts asiatiques-Guimet, Paris, November 5-February 24, 2003
This finely-made kila (Tib. phurba) consists of three ferocious heads, a lotus petal and ‘endless knot’ (shrivatsa) grip, a triple-faceted blade edged with flames issuing from the jaws of a makara, naga writhing up and down the blades and in and out of the makara’s mouth, and a fiery triangular stand. Skulls for the crown, teeth, and earrings would have been made in bone or ivory and applied separately.
In Tibetan Buddhist ritual the kila is used to trap and destroy demons of the mind, the obstructions on the path to enlightenment. The mystical power of the implement, embodied in the fierce heads and grip, is invoked to subdue negativity and malicious influences that are trapped and destroyed by the blade. A kila is wielded by an adept in an individual act of exorcism, while a set of ten kila are employed during ceremony to prepare hallowed ground, such as for the construction of a mandala or a monastery foundation. The stand is conceived as a flaming iron receptacle to trap a demon during ritual, as illustrated in the Fifth Dalai Lama’s Gold Manuscript.
Compare a black wood kila and triangular stand now in The Metropolitan Museum of Art,[3 and below] a similar example from the Douglas Barrett collection on loan to the Ashmolean Museum, and another in the Robert Burawoy Collection.
Black wood inlaid with bone or ivory was popular in Tibet during the Yuan (and possibly the early Ming) period and used for kilas such as this and for statues of deities whose iconographic color is black, particularly Mahakala. The robust modelling of the kilas in this style group, particularly the distinctive hair curls and wide eyes with lids that flatten along the upper edge, bring to mind the Fournier limestone Mahakala in the Musée Guimet dated 1292. The group of black wood kilas, including this example, may be attributed to the inspired artistic movement of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries engendered by the Yuan court’s patronage of the Sakya order of Tibetan Buddhism and their team of Nepalese artists, led initially by the Newar master Anige (1244-1306).
1 See Martin Brauen, The Mandala: Sacred Circle in Tibetan Buddhism, Serindia, 1997, pl. 25, recording H. H. the Dalai Lama during an exorcism ritual
2 Bazin, op. cit., p. 24, fig. 4
3 See Robert A. F. Thurman and David Weldon, Sacred Symbols: The Ritual Art of Tibet, Sotheby’s and Rossi & Rossi exhibition catalogue, New York, 1999, pp. 146-147, no. 67
4 Gilles Béguin, Dieux et démons de l’Himâlaya, Paris, 1977, p. 261, pl. 317
5 Bazin, op. cit., p. 155, cat. no. 120
6 For a circa 14th-century bone-inlaid black wood Panjarnata Mahakala see Sotheby’s, New York, March 25, 1999, no. 5, and for the Tibetan or Chinese black wood Mahakala in the Fournier Collection, see Gilles Béguin, Art ésoterique de l’Himâlaya: Catalogue de la donation Lionel Fournier, Paris, 1990, p. 65, cat. no. 27, dated to the 15th century