Buddha’s Word: The Life of Books in Tibet and Beyond

Buddha’s Word: The Life of Books in Tibet and Beyond
Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge
Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3DZ, England
Wednesday 28 May 2014 – Saturday 17 January 2015

Fragments of rare twelfth-century illuminated Tibetan texts from Keu Lhakang Temple
Scattered fragments of rare twelfth-century illuminated Tibetan texts from Keu Lhakang Temple, Central Tibet – before being digitised, restored and re-ordered.
Photograph by Psang Wangdu, 2002

Buddha’s Word is the first museum exhibition of Tibetan material in Cambridge. It is also the first time in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology’s history that its Buddhist collections will be showcased in an exhibition.

Many of the artefacts, prints and manuscripts in the exhibition have never been on public display before. Exhibits include some of the oldest illuminated Buddhist manuscripts from the first decades of the eleventh century as well as specimens of skilfully illuminated wooden covers; a quartet of scroll paintings brought back from the infamous Younghusband Expedition; and a gift from the 13th Dalai Lama.

Gilt wood carving, red and black pigment
Gilt wood carving, red and black pigment
Length 72.8cm
Tibet. 15th century
Collected by Sir Herbert and Lady Mabel Holmwood (c. 1888-1916)
1942.2 B

The exhibition charts some of the incredible journeys that the words of the Buddha have taken: crossing mountains and oceans and taking different material forms in different places. This is the story of the transformation of Buddha’s words, from palmleaf, to paper, to digital dharma. It focuses on books, not just as objects of learning and study, but as relics of the Buddha, and sacred objects in their own right.

Guhyasamajatantra Illunminated manuscript
The practice of the Two Stages of the Guhyasamajatantra
Illunminated manuscript. Gold and silver on black-indigo paper
362 folios; 58cm x 22cm
Tibet. 18th-19th centuries
Purchased in Kathmandu by Dr Daniel Wright, 1876
Cambridge University Library MA Add. 1666

You will never look at a book in the same way again.

Chank or conch trumpet
Chank trumpet. The chank or conch is sacred in Buddhist and Hindu traditions. Blown at the beginning of rituals, its sound is said to symbolise the sacred syllable Om, which is the sound of the beginning of creation. Turbinella pyrum shell, gold and bronze. Length 27cm Nepal. Donated by Lady Schuster 1947.792

Developed in partnership with the Mongolia and Inner Asia Research Unit and with support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Frederick Williamson Memorial Fund, Buddha’s Word brings together collections and research from three of the University of Cambridge Museums – the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences and the Fitzwilliam Museum – as well as the University Library and Emmanuel and Pembroke Colleges.

Take a look at some other Art posts.

Categories: Art, Book reviews, Encyclopedia, History, News & events, Tibetan, Tibetan Buddhism

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