The Koelz Collection of Himalayan Art

Amulet Boxes (Ga'u)


Ga'u comprise a class of objects from reliquary boxes to amulets. The Tibetans make a distinction between rten (amulets) and ga'u (reliquary boxes), based on the kind of contents placed in each container. A rten usually contains a rolled paper of invocation while a ga'u contains depictions of Buddhist deities in the form of a metal image or a stamped clay plaque provided by a lama (Clarke 2001:46). However, Koelz never made this distinction because he observed that both objects were worn for safekeeping against the dangers of travel, and by women as articles of jewelry. In addition to being a source of protection, the ga'u is also the symbolic seat of the Buddha, a case in which an image of the Buddha was carried when not placed on the altar.

Men's and women's ga'u differ in their stylistic depictions, size, and shape. Men's ga'u are typically shrine-shaped oblong boxes with flat base on which they can stand. There is an opening at the center of the box for viewing the sacred image inside. The surface of the cover is embellished with Buddhist motifs, usually by embossing. A common design on the cover of the men's ga'u is the eight auspicious emblems (Clarke 2001:54). The ga'u is typically suspended from the neck. For women, the ga'u doubles as jewelry and tends to be more ornate with elaborate filigree work and decorated with precious and semi-precious stones, such as turquoise. There is a greater range of shapes as well, in contrast to the men's ga'u. For men and women alike, the ga'u also serve as an indicator of social standing, with the quality and characteristic of workmanship marking the owner's status and wealth.

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