List of Curios No 277:
Per Barmiak Lama on 7th December 1915. Tibetan book cover. 34" long by 13 3/4" broad. Obtained from the Tsen-chok-ling Monastery, near Dong-tse. "The central figure is the Lord of the Priests of Medicine, with the two (Sem-pa) lit. "the two of courageous mind") one on each side of him. Round him are the six supporters of the throne" (see 21), but slight variations are made sometimes in these figures, if the lama who orders the book cover so desires. To the right (looking at the cover) the large figure is "green Dröl-ma" with the supporters of her chair; to the left the large figure is Gye-wa Cha-pa, the coming Buddha. These two have fewer attendants round their chair than the Lord of the Medicine Priests, because the latter ranks as one of the past Buddhas. Drölma, though a goddess, ranks only as an attendant on the present Buddha, Gautama; while Gye-wa Cham-pa, not being yet a Buddha, also ranks lower than the medicine lord. Gye-wa Champa's hands are held with the forefinger and thumb of each joined to represent the hub of a wheel and the three other figures extended to represent spokes. This position of the hands symbolises his turning the wheel of religion and indicates that when the religion of Gautama sinks, Gye-wa Cham-pa will succeed him. This bookcover also seems to be several hundred years old.
Curator's note: Originally numbered 50.31.97. This was collected from Tsenchokling Monastery, close to Dontse, a place that Bell visited regularly during his annual inspection tours of southern Tibet. The Phala family, a long-time supporter of Bell lived in the area and it is likely that Bell either collected it during one of these trips or it was collected for him / or presented to him by the Palha family.
Bell made a feature of his Tibetan manuscript covers in his Residency in Gangtok, Sikkim. He appears to have employed a local carpenter to bracket several of the bookcovers together to form a surround for his fireplace. From here he displayed a large number of items in his collection that can now be found in the National Museums Liverpool collection. It is unclear whether or not the fireplace was in working order, but if fires were lit, it would explain the lack of gilt on the bookcovers.
Written by Emma Martin