The Kangyur Written with 9 Precious Stones

The Kangyur Written with 9 Precious Stones

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Buddhism was founded over two and a half millennia ago in India by Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha (Sanskrit for ‘awakened one’). Like the practitioners of Hinduism, Buddhists believe in the concept of reincarnation, and the only way to escape this perpetual cycle of rebirth is through the attainment of Enlightenment. Having attained the state of Enlightenment whilst meditating under a Bodhi tree, the Buddha went on to spend the next 45 years of his life teaching many others the way to achieve Enlightenment. These teachings of the Buddha were eventually compiled by his followers. One such compilation is the Tibetan Kangyur.

Prior to the coming of Buddhism, Tibetans practised a form of Shamanism called Bon. From the 6 th to 8 th centuries A.D., Buddhism slowly penetrated this mountainous region. The teachings of the Buddha were translated into Tibetan, but its final compilation was only achieved in the 14 th century. This resulted in the creation of the Tibetan Buddhist Canon , which consisted of the Kangyur, the “translated words (of the Buddha)”, and the Tengyur, the “translated treatises”. Together, these works form one of the three principal canonical collections of Buddhist literature in the world, the other two being the Chinese Canon and the Pali Canon .

As copies were made of the original Kangyur, this text was disseminated throughout Tibet. This common text evolved into two slightly different branches – the ‘eastern’ branch, known as the Tshalpa, and the ‘western’ branch, known as the Thempangma. In the 1650s, a collection of the Thempangma Kangyur was brought to Mongolia from Tibet by the Mongolian monk, Zanabazar. Subsequently, copies of this Kangyur would be made, and as of today, over 10 different Kangyurs are being kept by the National Library of Mongolia in Ulaanbaatar.

One of these copies is the Kangyur written with 9 precious stones, which is the only copy in the world. The ink used in the writing of this Kangyur is literally made from precious stones. 9 types of ‘precious stones’, namely gold, silver, coral, pearl, mother of pearl, turquoise, lapis lazuli, copper and steel, were first made into powder and placed into cups designated for each ‘stone’. Some fresh water from a mountain spring or rain water would then be mixed with special sweet adhesives, goat’s milk, and added to the cups to produce the ink. Then, using a painting brush made of sable fur, the ink would be used to write on processed black paper. In addition to the text, paintings were also added to the Kangyur. These images were painted according to the artistic tradition of Zanabazar, and is said to “immediately give peace of mind and admiration to anybody who looks at it.”

The Kangyur, written with 9 precious stones

The Kangyur, written with 9 precious stones. Photo source .

The images itself are said to correspond to the wall paintings of the Erdenezuu Monastery in Karakorum, Mongolia, in terms of its colour, harmonisation, and description. For instance, ink produced from copper is said to go well with paper of golden colour, while ink produced from silver is said to go well with emerald green paper. In short, this demonstrates the profound knowledge that the Mongolians had about the harmonisation of colours, and perhaps the wealth required to produce such expensive inks as well. As of 2013, the Kangyur written with 9 precious stones was entered into UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.   

What I found most interesting about the Kangyur is the fact that religion has a great influence on the actions of humanity. Although it is undeniable that many have killed and been killed in the name of religion, one should not overlook the fact that religion has also pushed humanity’s artistic capabilities to its limits. While the Kangyur written with 9 precious stones might not bludgeon its beholders immediately with awe like the soaring Gothic cathedrals of Europe, this artistic expression of the divine is really quite impressive when one considers the amount of precious material needed to produce the ink, and the amount of time taken to write the text and paint the images. In short, this is a testament to the artistic capabilities of humanity and the motivational force of religion.

Featured image: 111 volumes of the Kangyur written with 9 precious stones, the National Library of Mongolia Photo source:

By Ḏḥwty


84000, 2011. Facts and figures about Kangyur and Tengyur. [Online]
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[Accessed 8 April 2014].

BBC, 2014. Buddhism. [Online]
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[Accessed 8 April 2014].

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