A prayer box






Late 19th or early 20th century


Forging, chasing, soldering, filigree, gilding, carving, gem-setting


Silver, spinels, topazes, corals, lapis lazuli, turquoise, glass


Length 86 mm; width 78 mm

COMMENT. This item is a Buddhist prayer box called gau (or gao), which is used as an amulet container, reliquary and adornment. It is designed to store and carry sacred objects such as amulets, relics, images of deities, scrolls with prayer texts or sacral symbols, as well as precious stones, herbs or other objects and substances that are believed to have protective power. Scrolls for gaus are prepared and blessed by Buddhist priests. Prayer boxes are used in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia, as well as in some regions of India, such as Ladakh and Sikkim. Gaus are metal boxes with hinged lids, which differ in shape and decoration depending on the place of manufacture or taste of the artisan, but they are all relatively small in size and comfortable to wear. The gau is usually worn around the neck either as an individual pendant or as part of a necklace, but always as close to the heart as possible. Prayer boxes are made mainly of silver, less often of copper or gold. The decoration may be quite simple, but more often it is too intricate. Traditionally, it includes various precious and semiprecious stones, among which turquoise and coral are the most popular. The presented silver box comes from Nepal. There is a monster mask with bulging eyes, wide open mouth and large sharp fangs on the obverse side of the lid. The mask is widely known by the Sanskrit name "kirtimukha" (literally "face of glory"), but also there are other names (Tibetan: tsi pa ṭa; Nepalese: chepu). There is the image of Avalokiteshvara (Tibetan: Chenrezig; Nepalese: Seto Machindranath), the Bodhisattva of Compassion, inside the box.