Topped with lotus buds and ringed with lotus petals—symbols of untainted purity—other decorative motifs appearing on many Tibetan teapots and beer pitchers include makara spouts and dragon handles. A makara is a mythical animal that is a hybrid of a crocodile and an elephant. Popular throughout many parts of Asia, the lotus, makara and dragon are symbols of celestial, life-giving waters and thus are particularly appropriate for drinking vessels.
Some teapots include the Chinese character shou, indicating longevity. Others display a kirtimukha ‘face-of-glory’ (another celestial beneficent motif) or the eight auspicious symbols: the parasol, two fish, lotus, endless knot, wheel, victory-banner, conch shell and vase.
Popular Tibetan drinks include barley beer (chang), sweet milk tea (gSol ja), butter tea (bod ja) and—in Mongolia especially—fermented mare’s milk (airag). Butter tea must be drunk warm. Cup-covers both keep in warmth and provide an excuse for luxurious ornamentation. One staple of the Tibetan diet is barley flour (tsampa) which each individual mixes in their own cup with the butter tea to form tasty dough ball—literally the bread and butter of Tibet.
Many Tibetan teapots and pitchers are created by hammering sheets of metal into the desired forms. Known as repoussé, this technique can produce very smooth surfaces as well as raised relief and pierced openwork.
Some pitchers are made by hammering softer metals, such as gold and silver, into harder metals like iron. One name for this inlaid metal procedure is damascene—named for the city of Damascus, which was once renowned for this technique.
Wood-carvers shaped some vessels by turning a lathe to hollow out wooden cups and pitchers from wood burls. Metal-workers then decorated these turned wooden pieces with metal appliqués.
Banner Images (left to right):
Beer Pitcher with Eight Auspicious Symbols, Shou Longevity, Character, Makara Spout, Dragon Handle and Lotus Finial East Tibet, ca. 1900, Iron, silver, gold, Purchase 1920 Dr. Albert L. Shelton Collection 20.1340
Teapot with Makara Spout, Dragon Handle and Lotus Finial, Batang, East Tibet, 18th century, Silver repoussé, Purchase 1920 Dr. Albert L. Shelton Collection 20.337a,b
Teapot with Endless Knots and Lotus Finial, Northeast Tibet, late 19th-early 20th century, Wood burl, brass, copper, Purchase 1948 Robert Roy Service Collection 48.9a,b