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22. Jade handled Sino-Tibetan Dagger with Buddhist iconography, 19th c.

( ID: cc1271 )

Overall dimensions: 35 cm

Blade length: 21 cm

Weight: .5lb

Price on request

A Chinese-made dagger for the Tibetan market, this object is decorated with Buddhist symbols and features a pale green jade handle of cylindrical elliptical form. The jade handle is delicately carved with a lip near the ricasso of the blade, which sits atop the scabbard. The silver scabbard is decorated with the eight auspicious Buddhist symbols gilded to highlight themselves from the lighter silver of the scabbard.

The eight symbols include the Right coiled White Conch (sankha) symbolizing the deep and melodious sound of the Dharma teachings; the Precious Umbrella (chattra) symbolizing the preservation of life from the ills of life in the temporal sphere; the Victory Banner (dhvaja) symbolizing the victory of the activities of one’s own and others’ body, speech, and mind over obstacles and negativities; the Golden Fish (suvarnamatsya) symbolizing the auspiciousness of all living beings in a state of fearlessness; the Dharma Wheel (dharmachakra) symbolizing the auspiciousness of the turning of the precious wheel of Buddha’s doctrine; the Auspicious Drawing or the Endless Knot (shrivasta) symbolizing the mutual dependence of religious doctrine and secular affairs; the Lotus Flower (padma) symbolizing the complete purification of the defilements of the body, speech, and mind; and the Vase of Treasure (kalasha) symbolizing an endlessness of life and prosperity.

These eight symbols, termed the Astamangala in Sanskrit, are derived from traditional Indian symbology and are especially popular on various decorative and ritual objects in Himalayan Buddhism, especially Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan. The presence of these symbols, therefore, likely indicates that its intended market would likely have been Tibet.

The provenance of this dagger is most interesting as it was collected by Lt. Col. James Guthrie while he was stationed in Tibet as a medical doctor. Of the more than 20 officers of the Indian Medical Service who served in Tibet during 1904-1950, when British Indian diplomats were stationed in that Himalayan state, James Guthrie was perhaps the most successful both in gaining the goodwill of the Tibetans and in advancing the reputation of medicine there. A Scotsman, Guthrie served in various military hospitals in India before his posting to Gyantse in southern Tibet in 1934. Guthrie preferred the more remote imperial postings and in 1945, he was posted to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa as Medical Officer to the British mission. With his wife, who had nursing experience, he remained there until 1949, enjoying the variety of medical challenges and displaying an ability to accommodate Tibetan cultural beliefs within the practice of medicine (McKay 2006).


Lt. Col. James Guthrie, OBE

References: McKay, A. (2005) ‘It seems he is an Enthusiast about Tibet’: Lieutenant-Colonel James Guthrie, OBE (1906–71).Journal of Medical Biography Aug;13(3):128-35.


Photo #1 of 22. Jade handled Sino-Tibetan Dagger with Buddhist iconography, 19th c.
Photo #2 of 22. Jade handled Sino-Tibetan Dagger with Buddhist iconography, 19th c.