University of Manchester social anthropology student Martin White visited the Museum this week to conduct research on a very special and rare object in the Living Cultures collection. The object is a phur-pa, often refered to as a magical or spirit dagger, from Tibet. It was donated by the collector Arnold Forrester Warden in 1964. Warden was fascinated by Asian cultures and collected vast quantities of Buddhist artefacts.
The bronze phur-pa has a three-sided or tripartite blade which is supported by a beautifully ornate handle or hilt. The blade is meant to represent the fire of wisdom and its three sides the virtues of charity, chastity and patience. The handle consists of a number of heads with the first being a demon gripping the blade in its mouth. Above this is a human head, then a skull and at the end, or the pommel, is the head of a deity with three faces and a crown of flames. This deity is known as the wrathful Vajrakīla or Vajrakilaya and his three faces express joy, peace and anger. He is capable of removing obstacles and negativity.
In Tibet the phur-pa is wielded by Buddhist magicians and lamas, or teachers of philosophy, and used during various religious ceremonies including blessings, curing disease and even exorcism. During exorcism ceremonies the phur-pa has the power to remove, restrain and ultimately eradicate demons.
Stephen Terence Welsh
Curator of Living Cultures