These symbols adapt to all fantasies of expression. They may be fashioned into jewels, sculpted in wood, printed on paper or parchment, or even reproduced in simple decorations on everyday objects and ritual instruments. They are found at public and private meetings, at major ceremonies, or when welcoming high-ranking dignitaries. Ascribed the reputation of bringing luck when applied to tents and the thresholds of houses, they appear at the entrance to monasteries and prayer rooms, but are also inscribed on mountainsides and on roadside rocks. On feast days, they are depicted in white or red powder on the paths taken by the guests or processions. They sometimes adorn stupa, and the finest khata display them, subtly woven into the silk.
The precious umbrella, chatra or rinchen dug, is the sign of royal dignity and offers protection from all evils. The two golden fish, matsya or ser-gyi-na, the insignia of the Indian master of the universe, here express spiritual liberation. They stand for the beings saved from the ocean of suffering of earthly existence. The treasure vase or bowl, kalasha, or bumpa, contains spiritual jewels, and can serve as a receptacle for lustral water, considered to be the nectar of immortality. The lotus flower, padma or pema, symbolizes original purity. It is found in various colors and forms, and is a privileged attribute of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
The white conch shell, sankha or dungkar, which is even more revered if its spiral winds rightward, signifies the word that proclaims the glory of the Enlightened Ones, and sometimes bears the name of victory trumpet. The endless knot, srivasta or palbeu, is a token of love or eternity, representing infinite life. The great banner, dhvaja gyaltsen, is in fact a wound flag, testifying to the power of Buddhist teaching or the victory of the Good Law. And the golden wheel, chakra or khorlo, is naturally the wheel of teaching (Dharma), to be practiced assiduously to attain Enlightenment. It represents the unity of all things and remains the quintessential symbol of Buddhist doctrine.
In Tibetan tradition, it is not uncommon to associate the eight auspicious emblems with the seven jewels, saptaratna or rinchen nadun, which are attributes of the chakravartin, or ruler of the world. This mythical personage is impartial and fair, magnanimous and literate, and, like all legendary princes, the protector of widows and orphans. These exceptional qualities are, quite logically, also ascribed to the Buddha.
This indispensable suite to the glory of the universal monarch naturally includes the wheel, chakra or khorlo; the precious jewel, ratna or norbu, which grants all wishes, and which is also one of the names given by the faithful to the Dalai Lama; the magnificent queen, rani or tsunm; the best civil minister, mantrim or lonpo, a peerless administrator without whom there cannot be a great king; the best white elephant, hati or longpo, whose strength is invaluable at the hour of combat; the fastest horse, ashva or tamchog, who works miracles at festive tournaments and leading troops into battle; and the best of military commanders, senapati or magpon rinchen, to preserve the empire. An eighth emblematic personage is sometimes added to these seven royal insignias: the best great treasurer, khyimdag, who holds the purse strings in complete justice and ensures the well-being of the sovereign’s subjects.
The eight auspicious symbols and the seven jewels, which are extremely popular and widespread, may appear alone or in groups, or even in a random order, as dictated by the needs of the moment. At special events, such as weddings, the eight auspicious emblems are united into a single composition, called tag gye punzog, rich in all the meanings which they convey.
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