This rare Tibetan ritual object represents the ever-turning Wheel of the Buddhist Law. The silver-gilt (vermeil) wheel—consisting of eight spokes that signify the Eightfold Noble Path of Buddha’s teachings—is surrounded by a silver halo of flaming jewel motifs and supported by a gilded foliate stem rising from a silver lotus flower pedestal.
The wheel is derived from the early Indian symbol of sovereignty adapted as principal emblem of the concept of Buddha as universal monarch (chakravartin) and representing the dharmachakra (wheel of dharma) denoting the Buddha’s teachings. Shakyamuni’s first sermon after his enlightenment at Bodhgaya took place in the Deer Park at Sarnath, where he taught the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Noble Path. The teachings became known as ‘the first turning of the wheel of dharma’ and were attended by Buddhas’s disciples (śrāvaka) and deer from the park, giving rise to the symbols that represent the episode of two attentive deer flanking a chakra wheel. Further discourses at Rajghir and Shravasti are known as the second and third turnings of the wheel.
A very similar Tibetan parcel-gilt silver example is in the Museum der Kulturen Basel (fig. 1), and a Tibetan silver multi-spoked dharmachakra in the collection of Newark Museum was famously photographed in 1981 with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (fig. 2).
1 After Gerd-Wolfgang Essen & Tsering Tashi Thingo, Die Götter des Himalaya, München, 1989, pp. 59-60, cat. no. 1-27
2 Photo: Stephen C. Germany, after Valrae Reynolds and Amy Heller, Catalogue of The Newark Museum Tibetan Collection, New Jersey, 1983, Vol. I, p. 66, fig. 50