A prayer box






Late 19th or early 20th century


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


Gold, turquoise, corals


Length 70 mm; width 71 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. They 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 gold box from Nepal is quite rare and unusual, since it consists of two sections, and each of them has its own separate lid. On the obverse side of the top lid, there is an image of Garuda (Tibetan: Khyung), the mythical king of birds, and on the obverse side of the bottom lid there is a symbol of the crossed vajra or vishvavajra (Tibetan: rdo rje rgya gram). Inside the upper section, there is the image of Manjushri (Tibetan: Jampel), the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, and inside the lower section, there is the image of Avalokiteshvara (Tibetan: Chenrezig; Nepalese: Seto Machindranath), the Bodhisattva of Compassion. In addition, the symbol of the Kalachakra mantra is inside on both lids.