The Journey

Ritual Scepter in the Form of a Thunderbolt

  • 54
  • Eastern Tibet
  • 18th–19th century
  • Gilt copper alloy inlaid with gemstones
  • H. 6 x W. 1 3/4 in. (15.2 x 4.5 cm)
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Indian Art Special Purpose Fund, M.81.4

The vajra, sometimes translated as "thunderbolt," is used in Vajrayana (Esoteric) Buddhist rituals to symbolize what Buddhists refer to as the diamond-hard absolute. The closed prongs at either end of the shaft are in the form of the crocodile-jawed makara water monster, encircling a shaft that is often interpreted as a tongue. The central orb is balanced by two eight-petaled lotuses. In ritual contexts, vajras are often used for protection and numerous other purposes. Toward the closing rituals for Tibetan sand mandalas, for example, a vajra is used to divide the sand before it is transferred into a vessel and emptied into a body of water. When used in rituals by monks and lamas at sacred sites, the power of sacred tools such as the vajra increases.

PHOTO CREDIT: © 2009 Museum Associates/ Los Angeles County Museum of Art

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