January 20 - June 8, 2018

Tsakli performed an important role in the training of Buddhist monks and lay persons. Because the Buddhist pantheon is large and confusing, Tsakli served the necessary function of flashcards as aids to memorization. Monks trained for many years in order to understand the iconography necessary to create tsakli and the larger, more widely known, Thankas.

Tsakli are displayed by a lama to his students during the course of the monk’s education. While chanting mantra, or a repeated phrase from a palm frond book, the monks would learn specific families of Buddhist deities.

Another of the important use of tsakli was in the preparation of entering the bardo, or the state of being during the forty or so days between death and rebirth. The tsakli helped the newly dead recognize the four protectors of the bardo as well as the five wisdom dakinis who would each make an appearance on one of the first five days of the bardo. During a funeral service a tsakli of the dead person is also displayed. Tsakli used in conjunction with a mandala served as a map who's who guide to the bardo.

The tsakli's small size and amazing iconographical detail necessitates that the class be small and intimate. Imagine also that the interior of the huge monasteries were dimly lit by lamps fueled with clarified dri (female yak) butter.

To experience the tsakli it is important to move in close, take your time, and discover the details and iconography of Vajayrana Buddhism.

Saddle Blankets
Tibetan saddle rugs were generally used, if not made, in sets, one (makden) placed under the wooden saddle and one (maksho) on top.  One or two thick felt pads (gadzar) were put on the horse’s back first, followed by a piece of tanned leather (taden).  Over this went the larger of the rugs, which might be oval, oblong with two notched corners, rectangular, or butterfly-shaped.

The bottom element, regardless of its shape, consists of two pieces joined in the center after weaving.  Narrow strips of felt or thick woolen cloth are sewn to the edges and covered with red broad-cloth, thin felt, or flannel.  A piece of felt, covered with cotton or woolen material, is sometimes added to the central seam.  Bottom saddle rugs are typically backed with cloth as well.  Oval and notched examples often have one or two holes in each side panel for girth straps.

Top saddle rugs are nearly always rectangular, as oval tops are used only with bottoms of the same shape, which are rare.  They are similarly edged and backed and may have two looped straps on the reverse to secure them to the saddle.

Bottom saddle rugs are of four types.  The oval format, found also in Chinese and Mongolian riding carpets, may well be the oldest, as Tibetans say it is.  Oval rugs are no longer made, and the structure and designs of most examples are consistent with the rugs of the early to mid-nineteenth century.  Of all the shapes, this one is least common.

Bottom saddle rugs of the rectangular type are seldom made any more, yet many examples seem to be of twentieth century manufacture.  As the pile sections of these rugs are relatively short, they do not have holes for girth straps.  Rectangular rugs were apparently used on smaller horses ridden by women and children and were the kind typically used with wooden saddles for riding yaks.

Still produced today, notched (and butterfly-shaped) riding gear is by far the most common.  Two types of notched saddle rugs occur, their pile panels of different lengths.  The longer variety tends to have more detailed and finely executed designs.  Both the short and the long types may have straight sides or taper slightly toward the center. As they do oval rugs, Tibetans call notched examples “Tibetan style,” and they are likely to be of equally early origin.

The distinctive butterfly shape is modeled on saddle cloths used by the British cavalry in India.  Although the rugs’ appearance in Tibet has been linked to the arrival of the Younghusband Expedition (1903-04), Tibetans call them “Indian,” suggesting the format was copied from riding gear seen in use there.  Whether or not this kind of saddle rug predates the entry of cavalry into Tibet, it was certainly not produced before the end of the 1800s.  The style became very popular and was the only one used with Western saddles introduced to Tibet in the twentieth century.


Four Protectors of the Bardo
Tibet, Mid/Late 19th c.
Mineral pigment on paper
Gift to the Amarillo Museum of Art
by V. J. Jordan, Jr.




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