TYPE: Chinese silk embroidered peacock banner

CIRCA: 1800’s

Fine elegant silk embroidered banner made of finely woven silk threads, and wafer-thin silver encased silk threads. Although it was woven in China in the later part of the Qing Dynasty (i.e. in the 1800’s) it was then used in a Tibetan monastery, probably hung behind or near a very high lama, or Tulku / Rinpoche, as peacocks are very symbolic in the Buddhist religion. (See detailed description re the peacocks symbolism below.)

The super-fine embroidery and expert blending of the artistically beautiful colours are obviously the work of a master-crafts-person / artist, as on close inspection this is nothing short of an expertly woven and visually stunning piece! The two close-up photos – either end of the second line  with an enclosed border – show just one square inch of both the silver encased couched-stitched threads, and the super-fine silk embroidery; while the enclosed bordered photo at right on the third line shows just one square inch around the peacocks eye. Even the two tiny birds at the top are superbly embroidered and individually uniquely different. (All these attributes point to nothing short of superb craftsmanship!) The back is lined with naturally blue dyed cotton cloth, typical of many Tibetan pieces, even carpets, while the blue top strip is also of the same blue cotton material.

This is the very first time it has been on the market since it was originally purchased circa 1970 from a Tibetan living as a refugee in Kathmandu, Nepal, as it has been in the one collectors hands ever since.

PEACOCK SYMBOLISM. Because peacocks display their feathers by opening their tails, in Buddhism they are associated with openness and purity, and their feathers are even used in Buddhist purification rituals. With its tail of 100 eyes, the peacock is also associated with the female Bodhisattva Mahamayuri (a Sanskrit word meaning “great peahen / peacock”). As Mahamayuri she is also known as the ‘Queen of the Secret Sciences’ and the ‘Godmother of Buddha’, and is believed to have the power to protect devotees from poisoning, either physical or spiritual. Mahamayuri is also the name of one of the five protective goddesses in Buddhism.

Peacocks can also eat poisonous plants, which symbolizes that they have the ability to thrive in the face of suffering, unlike we mere humans. In Buddhism, her demeanour is in contrast to the wrathful attitudes of the male personifications of the Wisdom Kings. (A Wisdom King is a type of wrathful deity in East Asian Buddhism.) The female counterparts of Wisdom Kings are known as Wisdom Queens. Hence Mahamayuri (Vidyarajni) is a Bodhisattva and female Wisdom King in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism.

But the symbolism doesn’t stop, or start there: besides Tibetan Buddhism, other religions also venerate peacocks and hold them in high regard and are part of their ancient lore. For instance; in Hinduism peacocks are considered highly sacred and associated with a number of important deities. Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, prosperity, and beauty, is symbolized by a peacock while Lord Krishna is often depicted wearing peacock feathers in his hair. In Christian lore, it is said that peacocks represent renewal and resurrection because they regrow their feathers every year. Tombs and thrones from early Christian and Byzantine cultures often featured peacocks as a reminder of Christ’s resurrection and the soul’s ability to live on after the body’s death. And the ancient Greeks learned about peacocks through the conquests of Alexander the Great and quickly adopted the bird into their mythology. Peacocks were said to pull the chariot of Hera, the queen of the gods and Zeus’ wife. And because of the many ‘eyes’ on their tail feathers they became a symbol of all-seeing wisdom and knowledge.

As can be seen then, the peacock is a truly symbolic, venerated and widely ‘adopted’ bird!

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