Travel Guide

Gawu-Tibetans’ Amulet

“Gawu” is a Tibetan transliteration referring to the box with Buddha in it. Inside of the box usually kept a small statue of Buddha, silk relics printed with scripture, Buddha’s relics, pills prayed by eminent monks, or hair or clothes fragments of Living Buddha etc. acting as an amulet or reducing the karma and growing in practice. Generally speaking, there are three kinds of material in making Gawu including gold, silver and copper, of which the material of silver is the most common but with varied shapes as well as different sizes. The square shape is often used in Tibetan men while women always use the round shape hanging around their necks. 

On one hand, Tibetans wear Gawu protective and on the other hand Gawu plays an important role of decoration. In addition to that function, Gawu is a reminder for the love of Tibetan men and women as well. Sending Gawu between couples in love means to bless their lover safe, happy and lucky. Opening an old Gawu is as to entering a person’s heart that contains his or her own secrets inside. Gawu was evolved from niche for Buddha but now it has become an essential ornament for Tibetan women, regarding it as an amulet. Tibetan women especially love dress up with Gawu and other accessories, appearing more charming. However, from the original start, these ornaments is one kind of devotion to Buddha in the very beginning and later became more sophisticated, being a kind of decoration and an amulet at the same time.

Tibetan Gawu is the only miniature temple in the world and also a carry-on temple of Tibetans meanwhile. Gawu is filled with all the embodiments of Buddhism, Dharma and monks, tiny wishes in the heart together with expectations for the future and next life. When we go out, we only remember to bring mobile phones and wallets with us. Nevertheless, Tibetans always think about carrying on Gawu, beads and prayer wheel. These Tibetans who found the support of their hearts and have engraved with the Buddhist belief on their bones and integrated it into their blood are much happier living between the world and their dreams than us. Tibetan people who are accustomed to a wandering and nomadic life always walk in mountains and rivers and habitat with plants, hence their life are usually on the line living in the endless wilderness. In this vast and hazy universe, Tibetans’ heart and soul are in more need of spiritual care. As a result, there emerged the Tibetan traditional custom to wear Gawu as a talisman. Out of respect for Buddha, some people regard wearing Buddha directly as disrespect to deities since the Buddha in direct contact with the skin belonging to unhallowed Buddha. That’s why Tibetans will apply a box to load up the Buddha in order to reduce sin.

Gawu, a carry-on niche and treasure loaded with Buddhist sutras, figures of the Buddha as well as blessed Buddhist articles, is often hung around Tibetan people’s neck, front of chest or below the armpit enriched with coral or beeswax. But do not hang it to any parts of your body below the waist, which will be deemed as disrespect to deities. In Tibet, a wide variety kinds of Gawu can be seen with each of them is incomparably beautiful. Ranging from the heavy bronze Gawu of Tubo Dynasty to the gorgeous but light silver Gawu of modern Nepal, the smallest Gawu is only of the size as a penny coin while the largest one is reaching up to twenty or thirty cm large. The material of making Gawu varied a lot in great abundance. The history that Tibetans start putting on Gawu can date back to fifth century ago when Tubo Dynasty occupied Central Asia and Buddhism sprang up in Tibet. During the intervening millennium, the styles of Gawu have always been altering with the development of the time. Different appreciation of the beauty of each time dictated the production process and materials of Gawu, changed from the initial simplicity and plain to the later luxury, the primitiveness and crudeness of prairie to the delicacy of palaces. With the passage of time, Gawu has changed over and over again in its appearance but only the spiritual values that it bears never change.

There is a kind of special gold Gawu with small shape but exquisite manufacture which was protectively functioned as baldric by the old Tibetan aristocracy. Inside of it contained precious amulet wrapped with yellow cloth and printed by eminent monks, having been blessed by deities. However, this sort of Gawu cannot be owned by any ordinary people for it is a treasure worthy of collecting in the Gawu collections. In Lhasa, there are a few collections of this kind of Gawu in the Norbulingka Palace and the Potala Palace as well and have not been seen among the people.