Todd Lewis Collection

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Contemporary Newar Art

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Given the traditional blessings of disseminating mantras and dhāraṇī–improving the world as well as garnering immense quantities of puṇyafor the devotee–it should not be surprising that mechanical means of increasing the repetitions and scale of broadcasting them were invented. In Tibet, one can find water wheels and windmills that have mantras being turned continuously by the elements; Tibetans also have hand-held wheels, their circular core filled with printed mantras tightly wrapped, sending out blessings in spare moments; and then there are rows of hundreds of mantra wheels located around stūpas, so that devotees can spin each of them during circumambulations.

The Newars adopted this tradition, but almost solely in making and deploying mantra wheels that spin clockwise as right hands reach out and turn them. Inside the wheels are placed tightly-wrapped mantras on paper, wound and secured to fill the interior space, leaving a hollow hub. In the recent past, artisans created these rolls of paper making the mantras with wood-blocks that were inked and repeatedly stamped thousands of times; today, computer printers in some ateliers reproduce the mantras that are wound into the same hollow-centered sphere. Some Newar repoussé artisans specialize in making the metal housing, the twin caps, and then the axles that complete each wheel. Devotees can donate as many cylinders as needed at a given monastery or shrine; a common Newar belief is that the donor shares in the merit earned from a mantra wheel’s future use.

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