The Oriental Museum’s Himalayan and Central Asian collections are dominated by the Tibetan collection, which is strongly focused on Buddhist religious material. Buddhism was introduced into the area in the 7th or 8th century CE, and then spread into Mongolia and other central Asian areas.
The Oriental Museum’s Tibetan collection includes an outstanding collection of thangkas. These painted or embroidered hangings are used in both temples and homes as a teaching tool and as a focus for meditation. The Buddhist collection also includes other ritual implements, furniture, musical instruments, prayer wheels, talismans, textiles, ritual and domestic vessels, and woodblock prints.
The Museum’s collection also includes Buddhist material from Nepal and Bhutanese items gifted by Her Majesty Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck, Queen Mother of Bhutan.
Complementing this is an important collection of Gandharan sculpture. Gandharan art is characterised by a unique style that merges South Asian religion with classical art which arrived in the region along the Silk Route and with the invasion of Alexander the Great around 327 BCE. In 2018, a selection of almost 30 key pieces from this collection were loaned to a major exhibition on the origins of Buddhism hosted by the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. This was created in collaboration with Durham University’s UNESCO Chair in Archaeological Ethics and Practice in Cultural Heritage.
Central Asia and Russia are represented by textiles and rugs from Afghanistan, a small but growing collection of Mongolian material including textiles, prints and homewares and Russian folk art once owned by the artist Kirill Sokolov. An important piece from this region is a beautifully made jade cup produced in Central Asia recently re-dated to the late 14th or early 15th century.
Tibetan thangka decorated with the figure of Garuda, the king of birds
Cloisonné Tibetan Buddhist horn, 19th century
Jade wine cup from Central Asia
Tibetan Buddhist prayer wheel, 20th century
Schist stone Bodhisattva head from Gandhara, 100-399 CE