Ritual items: A form of Buddhist symbol

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2016-03-10 13:51:22

In the early centuries of Buddhism, Buddhist art consisting of images illustrating the teachings and symbolized Buddhism.  Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, lived around the sixth century BCE but no Buddhist artifacts were identified before the third century BCE. The scriptures mention Buddha occasionally used symbols such as Wheel of life, Lotus flower and Stupa to propagate his teachings.  The first archaeological evidence of artifacts consisted mainly of ornamental stone carving, dating back to third century BCE from the time of the Emperor Asoka, who converted to Buddhism and influenced its popularity in India and beyond. Hence, majority of the early symbols are associated to ancient India and also can be found in Hinduism, possibly with a variation meaning.

As Buddhism spread, the culture of the people who followed it enriched Buddhist symbolism. A pantheon of deities and divinities appeared, along with a vast collection of symbolic items such as vajra, mandala, bell, etc. Buddhism in Tibet immensely contributed in developing the rich symbolic tradition. The Eight Favourable Symbols, known in Sanskrit as Ashtamangala (ashta means eight and mangala means favourable) are the central symbols of Tibetan Buddhism, usually printed on prayer flags and incorporated in thangkas, mandalas and other form of ritual arts.

Rites and rituals have been a significant aspect of Buddhism and reflect its practical side. Not only restricted to monasteries and temples, they are performed in different places, from an elaborate memorial ceremony that brings healing to grief or simply to express ones deep aspirations and feelings to spirituality. Most of the ceremonial rituals require various ritual items such as dorje, phurba dagger, musical bell, conch shell, prayer malas, etc. which are important during the practice, these ritual implements can also be noticed in the images of deities employing them. It is believed that each of these objects hold a symbolic meaning and is imbued with magical power and potency.

Vajra, also known as dorje (its Tibetan equivalent) means indestructible hardness and brilliance. The form of vajra is depicted as a scepter or a weapon and appears in images of deities resembling the symbol of thunderbolt and lightning. Vajra is one of the commonly used ritual items for the Buddhist ceremonies, when used in rituals they are often paired with the bell. The role of the vajra and bell differs according to the rituals practiced. The vajra is said to be used for visualization or evocation of deities whereas the bell is said to be used to request protection. Phurpa, also referred as magical dagger, is a ritual object used to ward off evil spirits and destroy obstacles. Conch shell (shankha), used as a horn is blown at the beginning or at the end of a ceremony, symbolizing the deep, far reaching and melodious sound of the teachings. Many statues of Buddha have conch figure neck, this represented that the voice of the Buddha had a melodious tone and his teaching travelled far across.

Likely, the other ritual items have their own significance and unique purpose in the rituals. Ritual items play a vital part while performing a ceremony and have become a Buddhist symbol. Many of the Buddhist items such as singing bowls, prayer wheels, musical items and other Buddhist arts are incorporated with Buddhist symbols. Buddhistitems.com is an online retail store which supplies various Tibetan ritual items and other authentic Buddhist items. Buddhist symbols are not only considered a form of ritual identity but also as a charm which disarms all the harm and conquers evil spirits.


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