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Antiques PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

Tibetan Rugs and Ritual Utensils on View at the Metropolitan Museum

Rugs and Ritual in Tibetan Buddhism, an installation dedicated to ritual practice in Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, explores the role of the ritual objects that were employed by its practitioners in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. Exhibition open now through March 27, 2011.

Comprising 30 tantric ritual rugs and utensils—including knives, vessel, fire-offering ladles, ritual staff, daggers, offering table—the installation illustrates an esoteric Buddhism that flourished in Tibet from its beginnings in the eighth century through to the 20th century. While many of the objects on view—depicting gruesome images such as exposed brains in skull cups and flayed human skins—may be shocking to those unfamiliar with the meaning and purpose of Tibetan religious art, the deployment of these objects celebrates the power of detachment from the corporeal body that advanced Buddhist practitioners strive to attain. The installation features Tibetan rugs and ritual utensils from the collection of Anthony d’Offay, London, together with New York-based loans and works from the Museum’s own collection.

Vajrayana (‘Diamond Vehicle’) refers to the advanced school of Mahayana Buddhism practiced in Tibet. Vajrayana has, at its core, the pursuit of higher spiritual awareness and ultimate enlightenment through the study and mastery of ritual activities, whose purpose is to remove obstacles on this path. Those obstacles—ignorance, greed and delusion—hindering spiritual advancement are characterized as the “three poisons”; much of the ritual enactment is devoted to quelling the negative passions. Works on view includes a personified ritual dagger, Phurba Emanation of Padmasambhava as Guru Dragmar, which was used to slay these passions in an exorcism-type performance.

The installation includes colorful rugs and a rich assortment of ritual paraphernalia. Highlights are two large cloth paintings of the late 16th century depicting wrathful protective deities—such fearsome imagery was displayed in a Tibetan monastery’s chapel dedicated to the wrathful protective deities, in a room reserved for tantric initiation rites. Mahakala—an emanation of transcendental Buddha Akshobhya, and the principal destroyer of the corporeal bonds tying human to material and physical existence—is represented in both tangka paintings and sculptures, along with an extraordinary sculpture of a wild ascetic, probably a mahasidda, one of the advanced yogic practitioners revered in Tibetan Buddhism. He drinks from a skull cup, celebrating his detachment from bodily concerns.

Rugs and Ritual in Tibetan Buddhism is organized by John Guy, Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art in the Metropolitan Museum’s Department of Asian Art.

In conjunction with the installation, gallery talks led by John Guy will be offered on November 3, December 13, and January 26. He will also narrate a podcast episode related to the installation that will be available online at

Image: Ascetic Master, probably a Mahasiddha Tibet, 17th century. Brass with pigment. H. 4 3/4 in. (12.1 cm); W. 3 in. (7.6 cm); D. 2 1/4 in. (5.7 cm) Purchase, Florence and Herbert Irving Gift and funds from various donors, 2004.

The installation is featured on the Museum’s website at

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