THE OPENING OF CONSECRATED TIBETAN BRONZES WITH INTERIOR CONTENTS: SCHOLARLY, CONSERVATION, AND ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS
CHANDRA L. REEDY
ALMOST ALL copper-based statues produced in the Himalayan regions of northwest India, Tibet, and Nepal over the past 1,500 years or more were made for religious purposes. The majority of the surviving metal statues from Tibet are Buddhist; a few statues have also survived from the Bon-pö traditions, the shamanistic indigenous religious practices of Tibet. Consecration ceremonies were and still are performed on all statues from these traditions prior to their use.
About half of the extant Tibetan bronzes are solid metal, and half are a relatively thin layer of metal cast around a clay core. Frequently, some of the clay core, especially from the area in the center of the torso, is removed after casting to leave a hollow area into which sacred objects are inserted during the consecration ceremony.
After a background discussion concerning the purposes and components of a consecration ceremony, this article reports the results of research regarding the opening of consecrated statues for study of their interior contents. It discusses which statues have been opened, what items have been found as interior contents, what knowledge has been obtained through studies of the contents, what effects opening the statues might have on the state of preservation of the contents, what Tibetan Buddhist practitioners think about the opening of consecrated statues in a museum context, and whether or not museum staff should continue to open Tibetan statues for interior content studies.