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5236

Young Buddhist Monk Acolyte
Item No. 5236

19th Century, Buddhist, China
Lacquer over Wood
29" x 1" x 1"
( 73.66 x 2.54 x 2.54 cm)
(H x W x D)

This carving represents an acolyte, which is a young Buddhist monk studying for the priesthood. Such figures were traditionally placed on shrines accompanying images of the Buddha or Bodhisattvas. Their hands are traditionally clasped in front of them at the chest level in a position of prayer and worship (anjali) and their demeanor is one of reverence and respect. Since they are young boys, their hair is generally portrayed as a shaved tuft on the top of their heads. He stands on a plain circular plinth with feet slightly apart and slightly angled on his stand so that he leans closer into the image he accompanies. He is garbed in a traditional monk s robe open at the neck with an under tunic tied at the waist and long sleeves.

This image has a closed aperture in the back. Many wood carved Buddhist images have a cavity carved into their back, which was then sealed with a wooden slab called a bung.  This cavity was central to an eye opening  ceremony, which was held to imbue each completed carving with its own life force. The cavity was filled with ritual objects, which varied in geographic areas. The most common concept was that chi or a life-force must be injected into the image. Often a live cricket, was placed in the cavity before it was sealed. A slip of paper describing the deity and naming the person who commissioned the carving was written by the priest who performed the eye opening ceremony and inserted into the cavity. Often, messages to ancestors and parts of favored sutras (scriptures) suitable for the deity or loved by the donor were also included. This, together with pieces of cord, cotton and twigs, tied together to represent the entrails were also often placed in the cavity.

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