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Magnificent Ornaments and Religious Objects from the Himalayas and Mongolia

The Art Museum at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) presents the exhibition “Jewels of Transcendence: Himalayan and Mongolian Treasures” from 30 September 2018 to 24 February 2019. The exhibition showcases more than 400 beautiful and vibrant ornaments and religious objects from the Himalayan and the Mongolian regions during the 13th to the 20th century, which are part of the Mengdiexuan Collection and the Cheng Xun Tang Collection in Hong Kong. Members of the public are welcome to visit the exhibition. Admission is free.

Neither the vast Mongolian desert nor the snow-capped Tibetan mountains have ever existed in total isolation. Ever since the mid-13th century, Tibet and Mongolia have had meaningful exchanges, be that through military campaigns, political relations, or cultural and religious interchange. Before the 20th century, Tibetans and Mongolians in China were united through the “Tibetan Buddhist Society”. Tibetan lamas served as mentors and masters, the providers of faith and culture, while the Mongolian disciples served as followers, sponsors, and proud defenders. The former embodying mercy, the latter, representing power, created a symbiotic relationship that not only allowed the two nationalities to co-exist, but to thrive as one.

The expansive Himalayan region, also known as the “roof of the world”, is home to a diverse array of peoples. Tibetans, Nepalese, Bhutanese, Gurkhas, and Ladakhs are not only bound together by their common geographic landscape but also by a continuity of religious beliefs. They frequently communicated through an intricate web of political, military, religious and commercial exchanges. Beginning in the 18th century, for example, Newari artisans from the Kathmandu Valley produced objects for their neighboring Lhasa and Shigatse aristocracy and they also traveled near and far, opening workshops in these places.

The artisanship of these two regions is bound together by the affinity for gold, silver, turquoise, and coral, their close attention to detail in their head, neck, and waist ornaments, and the extensive use of filigree, inlay and other delicate metal craftsmanship. The Himalayan art of this time is marked by an inseparable bond between religious and daily life. The ornaments from this region, with their strong Tibetan Buddhist and Hindu elements, captured the unity of man and the divine. Ornaments spoke for the soul and showed outward devotion to the divine. Your eyes will be dazzled by their splendor, but by reaching beyond the object and into the minds of the sand and snow dwelling peoples, a deep understanding of the past can be achieved.

To tie in with the exhibition, the Art Museum has published an appreciation guide and a catalogue in 3 volumes on the collections of Cheng Xun Tang and Mengdiexuan and Proceedings. The former two volumes fall into the sections of the Himalayas and Mongolia and feature 600 pieces (sets) of collections, each taken from Cheng Xun Tang and Mengdiexuan. For facilitating the understanding of arts in The Himalayas and Mongolia, 5 articles are published in the Proceedings. Glossaries on the common decorative motif and old photos of Tibet from the Newark Museum are also available. In addition, the Art Museum has also organised a keynote speech and a seminar, inviting experts from the US, mainland China and Hong Kong to share their study and research on the craftsmanship of the ornaments and comparison of ornamental style in the regions of the Himalayas and Mongolia.

The opening ceremony for the exhibition was held on 29 September. The officiating guests included Mr. and Mrs. Christopher MOK, owners of Cheng Xun Tang; Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth CHU, owners of Mengdiexuan; Prof. FOK Tai-fai, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Vice President, CUHK; Prof. HO Che-wah, Acting Director of the Institute of Chinese Studies, CUHK; Prof. YIU Chun-chong, Josh, Director of the Art Museum, CUHK and Prof. XU Xiaodong, Associate Director of the Art Museum and Curator, CUHK.

Details of the exhibitions are as follows:

Date: 30 September 2018 – 24 February 2019 Venue: Gallery II & III, Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong Opening Hours: Mondays to Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Sundays and Public Holidays: 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Closed on Thursdays (except Public Holidays) Enquiry: 3943-7416

Exhibition Highlights


Gold and gilt copper tayo necklace with precious stone inlay

尼泊爾,19 - 20 世紀

高 32.4 厘米,寬 16.5 厘米,厚 4.5 厘米


毗濕奴頭戴五葉金冠,四臂各持輪寶、佛經、頂飾三寶之金剛橛、蓮花,身披 摩伽羅飄帶和腰帶,以九頭蛇「那伽」為華蓋,象徵能量、新生和豐產。帶鱗 片的金蛇尾圍攏成毗濕奴的背光。此條項鏈為庫瑪麗即塔萊珠女神在人間的幼 女化身所佩戴。

Vishnu, the second most important deity in the trinity of Hindu gods, rests above this ornate tayo. The placement of this revered god on such accessory would have given the wearer protection against evil spirits. In his four hands, Vishnu holds a quartet of attributes: a manuscript (Sutra), a ritual knife (Phurba) with a triple gem (Triratna), a lotus flower (Padma) and a discus (Chakra). The deity is adorned with gold, seen in his long earrings, three necklaces, ritual celestial scarf of trumpeting makaras, and his belt. Further protecting Vishnu is the canopy of cobra hoods, formed by the Nāgās who hover over the god with their scaly gold tails. Kumari, the child dancers who embodied gods, would have worn this necklace during ceremonies in which they were deemed “Living Goddesses.”


Knife set with gilt silver scabbard and flint striker with coral and turquoise inlay

蒙古,19 世紀末至 20 世紀初 刀長 55.3 厘米,圖海長 21.5 厘米,火鐮長 14 厘米


金屬表面採用纍絲技法,編結出繁複且層疊相交的捲草圖案。綴以不同形制的 珊瑚、松石,紅綠相間,色彩反差強烈。火鐮刃部飾錯金雙龍紋。

This Mongolian knife set is exemplary of the rich detail and virtuosity that went into the portable, everyday objects of the nomadic tribe. The filigree surface is woven into multiple layers, and the blade of the striker is decorated with double-dragon patterns in gold inlay. An elegantly complex system of foliate scrollwork is adorned with coral and turquoise, creating a striking contrast of reds and greens.


Pair of gold damascened iron forearm guards with Manchu inscription

漢地或西藏,18 - 19 世紀 高 33 厘米,寬 15 厘米


表面鋄金。中間開光鑄滿文 huturi jalafun,意即「福壽」。前端飾「榮耀之臉」, 眼睛瞳孔鋄銀,頭帶一對角,眉間有「慧眼」,額頂日、月圖案。此對臂甲裝飾 藏族瑞獸和滿文吉祥字,極具裝飾性,或由武官在節慶禮儀場合佩戴,見證清 宮廷與西藏的交流。

This pair of Tibetan forearm guards is damascened with gold. The Manchu characters for "huturi jalafun," which in English mean "fortune and longevity" is placed on top of the underlying gold detailing that makes up the object’s background. A "Face of Glory" is depicted on both front ends with silver damascened eyes, a horned head, an "eye of wisdom" between the eyebrows. Patterns of the sun and the moon are seen over the forehead. Officers probably wore these forearm guards during festivals or ritual ceremonies. The forearm guards were likely made by the Royal Workshop of the Qing Court to be bestowed onto Tibetan nobles, thus highlighting the communication between the Qing court and Tibet.


Gilt silver headdress of Khalka married women

蒙古,20 世紀 通長 42.2 厘米


由盔飾、鬢角垂飾及髮夾共 11 個部件組成。纍絲捲草鑲嵌珊瑚、紅寶石、翡翠、 芙蓉石、石榴石、碧璽及玉等寶石,整體富麗堂皇。

This headdress consists of 11 distinct parts. Among them are cap decorations, dangling temple ornaments, and hair clips. The headdress in its entirety is decorated with filigree foliate scrollwork and inlaid with pieces of coral, rubies, emeralds, rose quartzes, garnets, tourmalines, and jade, which serve to radiate an aura of extravagance and splendor.


Gilt silver filigree amulet box (gau) with precious stone inlay

喜馬拉雅山區,19 世紀末至 20 世紀初 盒:長 10.1 厘米,寬 10.3 厘米,厚 2.2 厘米


此件嘎烏盒為聚居在喜馬拉雅高山地帶的夏爾巴(Sherpa)婦女佩戴,展示出當 地金工的最高水平。形制取自金剛杵。中心淚滴形的松石上托一顆切割紅寶石, 象徵蓮花苞,下端伸展出纍絲裝飾的卷草葉,鋪滿蓋面,外沿刻蓮瓣。

This gau box was once worn by a Sherpa woman who lived in the Himalayan mountain region. Its intricate detail and rich materials demonstrate the highest level of local craftsmanship. Its shape imitates that of a Vajra. At the center, a carefully-cut ruby lies above a teardrop-shaped turquoise, symbolizing the bud of a lotus flower. Filigree foliate scrollwork stretches from underneath and covers the entire surface, surrounded at the edge by patterns of lotus petals.


Gilt copper votive panel with pantheon in filigree and precious-stone inlay

尼泊爾,18 世紀下半葉 長 75 厘米,寬 63.5 厘米


掛屏外圈對稱裝飾蓮花、蝴蝶、「榮耀之臉」及龍。掛屏中心為兩層宮闕。上 層居中為釋迦摩尼佛,兩側各一四臂脅侍。下層居中為阿彌陀佛,兩側為坐於 蛇上的那伽神。下方為一列人行進於山間。左右兩側立着 18 世紀戰袍的持弓勇 士,居中為二華服男子一騎馬、一騎象相對,似是加德滿都谷地城邦首領會晤。 勇士與馬之間為毗濕奴化身克里希纳神。宮闕兩側為二手持花枝象徵豐產之女 神,據傳她們可使樹開花結果。其上居左者為毗濕奴,右側梵天。宮闕頂部為 二菩薩及飛天。

This votive panel has a wide border that is symmetrically decorated with four lotus blossoms, four kirtimukha, two flying dragons, and butterflies. In the center of the plaque is a two-level palace that houses six deities. On the upper level, Śākyamuni Buddha is in the center, flanked by two four-armed gods. Scholars believe these deities to be Avalokiteśvara on the left, inset with turquoise, and Prajnaparamita on the right, inset with coral. The lower level features Amitābha in the central register flanked by two Nāgaraja who are both seated upon snakes.

At the bottom of the image is a mountainous landscape with a group of linearly arranged individuals. The two outer most figures are dressed in 18th-century military costume, and each holds a musket. At the center of the group are two regal figures who face one another, also dressed in 18th-century robes and crowns. The figure on the left has dark blue skin and rides an elephant atop a howdah. The red king on the right rides a horse. A dark blue form of Krishna (an Avatar of the Hindu god Viṣṇu) is between the horse and soldier. A red form of Avalokiteśvara stands between the elephant and soldier. This scene likely represents the meeting of two rulers of opposing city-states within the Kathmandu Valley.

On either side of the palace are two white Salabhanjika ladies in their typical crossed legged postures as they grasp the branches of a blossoming tree. Legend has it that these fertility spirits can make a tree flower and fruit grow simply by kicking it. Above them are two standing, four-armed deities. On the left in dark blue lapis lazuli is Viṣṇu holding his signature attributes, a discus, a mace, a conch shell and a lotus. On the right of the panel is likely an unusual form of the creator-god Brahmā, made in turquoise holding a book. Two white Bodhisattvas appear as if they are standing on the roof of the palace. In the sky above them, fly two red-skinned male Vidhadharas.

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