Himalayan Art Resources

Ritual Object: Prayer Wheel

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The Prayer Wheel, sometimes referred to as a 'mani korlo' or mani wheel, is primarily a phenomena of the Buddhist Himalayas, Nepal, Ladakh and Tibet along with regions influenced by Tibetan Buddhism. Mention is made of the Prayer Wheel in the Mani Kabum, an apocryphal Tibetan text dated to the 11th to 13th century. The hand held prayer wheel appears to a very late creation in Tibetan Buddhist culture. The most popular of the mantras contained is the Mani Mantra, the sound essence of the deity Avalokiteshvara.

A common narrative for the origins of the prayer wheel credit Shakyamuni Buddha for teaching a system of religious practice that would allow the very lazy and uneducated Naga Spirits to acquire some small amount of merit by turning in a clockwise direction a cylinder of mantras, dharanis and auspicious verses.

"The prayer wheel, a popular device in Tibet and across the Himalayas, was originally intended for the Naga world, where the serpent-like creatures were too lazy to engage in meritorious acts. A coil of mantras (mind-protecting spells associated with an enlightened deity), often hundreds of thousands, printed from woodblocks on long sheets of paper, are rolled and placed within the cylinder. An individual spins the wheel, using the lead weight on the end of the chain to accelerate and sustain the spinning. Prayer wheels come in all sizes, some hand-held; others designed for tabletop or other stationary use." (Text courtesy of the Rubin Museum of Art, 2005. Jeff Watt).

Jeff Watt [updated 2-2019]