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HOME : Asian Art : Art of Tibet : Pair of Tibetan Kirtimukha (Face of Glory) Figures
Pair of Tibetan Kirtimukha (Face of Glory) Figures - PH.0184
Origin: Tibet
Circa: 17 th Century AD to 18 th Century AD

Collection: Asian Art
Style: Tibetan Style
Medium: Bronze

Location: Great Britain
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The Kirtimukha, meaning the face of glory, fame or majesty, is the name of a swallowing fierce monster face with huge fangs, and gaping mouth, very common in the iconography of Hindu temple architecture and Buddhist architecture in whole Asia. As guardian of doorways this ancient symbol is found across the China, Tibet, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. The Kirtimukha has its origin in a Shaivite legend. Born out of Shiva's wrath, a horrific demon attacked and tried to rush to devour the monster Rahu, the demonic friend of king Jalandahara, who challenged Shiva. The terrified Rahu, begged for mercy, and Shiva eventually accepted his repentance. Ravenously hungry and deprived of its prey, the hideous demon turned upon itself, and devoured its own body until only the head remained. Pleased with this manifestation of his supreme power, Shiva named him Kirtimukha, the 'Face of Glory', and bade him to remain for all eternity as a guardian to the threshold of his door. The Kirtimukha is often used as a motif surmounting the pinnacle of a temple or the image of a deity, especially in South Indian architecture. It serves primarily as an apotropaic demon-mask, a gruesome, awe-inspiring guardian of the threshold.

The Kirtimukha image is popular in Nepalese and Tibetan art. In Tibetan Buddhist temple, Kirtimukha sculpted serpent-devouring and two horned form frequently crowns doorway or shrine arches, and appears as a heraldic device on armor, helmets, shields and weapons in some cases. This pair of delicate bronze figures depicts the features of the Tibetan Kirtimukha during the 17-18th century. In these elegantly cast pieces, attention to fine detail is evident throughout the face. The figure has demonically horned face without a lower jaw, and a pair of hands that hold the serpent in its mouth. The flaming hair topped by a tiara adorned three skulls and other sophisticated decorations. This pair of Kirtimukha figures seems to have adorned the temple doors as handles or knockers, often festooned with scarves.

(Reference : Robert Beer. The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols. Chicago: Serindia Publications, 2003; Gautama V. Vajracharya. “Kirtimukha, the Serpentine Motif, and Garuda: The Story of a Lion That Turned into a Big Bird.” Artibus Asiae 74:2 (January 2014): 311-336; Heinrich Zimmer. Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilisation. ed. Joseph Campbell. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1946.) - MK
- (PH.0184)


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