Nepal is a country at the crossroads between India and Tibet and thus the forms of worship found there contain elements of Indian Vedic and Tantric Hinduism as well as Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan Bon (animism). The diminutive Nepalese "masks" shown here are small papier mache hangings meant to be placed on walls, especially above or beside doors and windows, to invoke the aid of popular Hindu deities. In the style typical of Tibetan and Nepalese tantric hagiography, they are all wearing elaborate pointed crowns and displaying their open third eyes.
Given the nature of Asian polytheism, these images straddle the fine line between the invocation of gods and goddesses as luck bringers and the somewhat contrary use of devotionary images for protective magical purposes. When i have asked Neplaese vendors about them, i have been told that they are "guardians" or "fierce protectors," and so i assume that they function in much the same way that a crucifix or wall plaque of the Blessed Virgin Mary might in a Catholic home -- as a reminder of the need to pray, and as an apotropaic charm designed to avert misfortune from entering the premises.
The 3 inch x 3 inch mini-mask at the upper left represents Bhairab, the Nepalese version of Bhairava, a fierce, large-eyed, and mustached Indian god. Popular books on Hinduism generally explain Bhairava as a wrathful or protective "minor form" or "local form" of the ascetic-erotic-destructive "great god" Siva, but according to scholars, the worship of Bhairava probably arose independently from that of Siva and may even have predated it. Some Indian sects of saddhus (ascetics) who were once known to favour Bhairava as their tutelary deity have over the centuries gradually replaced the ultra-masculine or even demonic visage of this hairy, wrathful warrior with contemporary imagery of Siva as a benign, slender, youthful, beardless ascetic -- although the saddhus themselves still wear full, flowing facial hair in the manner of Bhairava. In modern India, vernacular images of Bhairava usually feature his large, watchful eyes and masculine mustache, but not the pointed fangs found in this Nepalese icon. These old-style Bhairava statues, stones, and plaques -- sometimes reduced to the mere schematic of two eyes and a mustache -- are often encountered in public spaces as village protectors. They may be set up as pathway icons or placed as boundary markers somewhat after the manner of an ancient Greek Herm. Bhairava masks are hung at doors and windows to guard the premises against natural disasters and intruders, especially burglars. They are also a featured decoration in the households of devotees who wish to worship Siva in his wrathful or fierce form.
The 3 inch x 3 inch mini-mask at the upper right represents a Nepalese goddess, Kurukulla or Red Tara, who is popularly identified by some Indians with the goddess Kali and by others with the goddess Durga in her wrathful or fierce form. There is scarcely enough room on my entire web site to identify and explain the long history of presumed and disputed interlinkages between the Saktiite, Saivite, and Tibetan Buddhist goddesses Durga, Kali, Parvati, Uma, Sati, Tara, Kurukulla, Candi, Ambika, et al, so it must suffice to say that Durga is a very fierce warrior-mother-protector goddess and Parvati is a loving wife-and-mother goddess. Naked, blood-thirsty, wild-haired Kali is seen by some of her devotees as the supreme god-head, by others as a mere battle-born "aspect" of the supreme god-head Durga, and by a third group as the "true form" (or, contrariwise, a "mere aspect") of Parvati or Durga in her/their role as the Shakti (energy) or consort of the supreme god-head Siva. Despite these cosmological inconsistencies, most of the wrathful Indian and Himalayan goddesses have in common an identification with blood sacrifices. In addition, many of their devotees attest to a deeply held belief that these goddesses are motherly and protective to any worshipers who can humbly surrender to them despite their fearful visages. Kurukulla/Kali masks are hung at doors and windows to protect family members. They are also a featured decoration in the households of devotees who wish to worship Durga, Kali, Parvati, Kurukulla, et al in a wrathful or fierce form.
Compared to the theological intricacies associated with the first two masks, the 3 1/2 inch x 3 1/2 inch mini-mask at the bottom is fairly straighforward: It represents Ganesha, the lucky elephant god of India, the son of Siva and a goddess identified variously as Durga or Parvati. The web page on Ganesha gives more details on his iconography and efficacy; his images in the form of posters, statuary, or masks such as this are hung on the walls or placed near doors and windows of homes and shops to invite luck, abundant fortune, paying customers, cheerful visitors, and family happiness. They are also a featured decoration in the households of devotees who wish to worship Ganesha as the opener of the way and the bringer of all good things in life.
Hindu gods and goddesses appear or are described on the following Lucky W Amulet Archive web pages:
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