A phurba ritual dagger






Late 19th or early 20th century


Casting, chasing, patination


Bronze, iron


Length 265 mm

The ritual dagger with a massive handle is entirely cast from copper. The pommel is formed as a three-faced head of a deity and is crowned with a small head of a horse. The base of the handle has the shape of the head of a water monster called makara, which holds in its open mouth a short blade with three slightly convex edges.

COMMENT. Phurba (Tibetan: pur-ba, alternative transliterations: phurpa, phurbu or phurpu) is a trihedral ritual dagger that has magical meaning and is traditionally used in Buddhist rituals, esoteric and shamanistic rites. The Sanskrit equivalent of the Tibetan term is kilaya. Both terms are associated with the word "stake" (or "peg"), which indicates the origin of one of the most important ritual attributes of Tibetan Buddhism from a household item that was previously indispensable in the life of nomadic highlanders. Most often, phurba is made from brass, bronze, meteoric or terrestrial iron, less often from copper, and sometimes even from wood. In the "classical" design, phurba consists of a rather short trihedral blade and a hilt in the form of a vajra (Tibetan: rdo rje), which symbolizes toughness and indestructibility. However, the blade and especially the handle may vary in shape. The presented example has a pommel formed as a three-faced head of the Buddhist deity Vajrakilaya (Tibetan: rdo rje pur-ba, Dorje Phurba). One face of the deity is joyful, the other is peaceful, and the third is distorted by anger. The pommel is crowned with the horse's head of another Buddhist deity named Hayagriva (Tibetan: rta mgrin, Tamdin), who is one of the defenders of Buddhist teachings called dharmapals. Buddhists believe that phurba attracts demonic forces, and a trihedral blade destroys them. Phurba is considered a powerful ritual attribute, a strong anti-demonic talisman, although in reality not all daggers are the same. Their purpose can vary from treatment of diseases to weather control. It is generally accepted that the larger the dagger, the more magical power it possesses. In Tibetan monasteries, huge "mother" phurbas are still kept, which, according to legends and beliefs, have unprecedented power.