Tibetischer Buchdeckel

Bayerische Staatsbibliothek


Tibetan book culture started in the second half of the seventh century. From the eleventh century wooden book covers (Tibetan: glegs shing) were used. These covers were diffused in the area of influence of Tibetan writing culture in the Himalaya (Tibet, Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan) as well as in Mongolia influenced by Tibetan Buddhism.

The elongated shape of the cover matches the classic Indian form of books, which would have served as model for the Tibetan book. The narrow sheets, which are written or printed on both sides, are between two wooden covers. The artistic decoration, in particular the artful carving of the inner covers, has no Indian model. It fully flourished in Tibetan art. They were probably influenced by the carvings of Nepalese Newars from the valley of Kathmandu who worked in Tibet.

Cod.tibet. 1005 originated in the thirteenth/fourteenth century and was acquired in 2012 by the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Bavarian State Library) in the antiquarian book trade. It is a gilded upper book cover. The carving is on the inside. To avoid damaging, the cover is executed concavely.

In the centre, the four-armed Prajñāpāramitā is seated on a lions’ throne as personification of the highest virtue of the Bodhisattvas in their aspiration for redemption. She towers over all other creatures. The right hand of her main pair of arms is raised in a teaching gesture, while the left reposes on her lap in a posture of meditation. The posterior right hand holds a Buddhst ritual object, the left a book with Buddha’s lectures. On either side of the main figure, sit five crowned Buddhas respectively.

Creatures surround the three-part throne on all sides. In the base stand between the two lions two demons, between the columns are two elephants and hybrid creatures with riders, uppermost (below a canopy) a birdlike creature with human features is flanked by two snakes with human bodies and, finally, below (perched on the horizontal string of pearls) are two maritime monsters.

The two fields with two small Buddhas each, are supported by two columns respectively. Between these are the “Seven Treasures of the Pantocrator”. Above the secondary figures and between two strings of pearls are the “Eight Symbols of Felicity” of Buddhism. In the centre of the scrollwork at the lower rim, three jewels are depicted, which stand for the “Three Treasures” of Buddhism: Buddha, Dharma (Buddhist teachings) and Saṅgha (the community of practising Buddhists).