Buddhist ceremonial ladles, Tibetan, 18th-19th century.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
These ladles, ('Gangzar-Luogzar'), were used in funeral ceremonies. When a Tibetan dies, a lama recites prayers from the Tibetan Book of the Dead for 24 hours, to help the soul towards rebirth. After three days, the body is blesed and taken to the burial site. Tibetans have traditionally buried their dead through cremation, sky burials and water burials. Wood is scarce, so cremations were reserved for people of stature, lamas and monks. Sky burials involved chopping up the body, crushing the bones and letting vultures devour the remains. Poor people who could not afford cremation or sky burial were dropped into the river. Tibetans are encouraged to witnes these rituals and to confront death openly.