This is a drawing of a Nepalese phurba, pronounced, more or less, poor-bah. Phurbas are often called ritual daggers but this metaphor is inaccurate. They are pointy, yes, but phurbas are not meant to be daggers. They are supposedly descended from tent pegs. When a priest, lama, or shaman begins any kind of religious ceremony, he, or she in the case of shamans, must pin down the wild, uncontrollable spiritual forces whirling around the location like an evil wind. The phurba does this. Some phurbas still retain the obvious little notch that a real tent-peg has, where the cord attaches. This is often stylized into a nose or beak of a creature, in many cases the mythical Makara, a sort of elephant-dragon. Phurbas can be Buddhist, Bon, Animist, even Hindu. Subtle differences in symbolism allow the connoisseur to tell. Wooden folk phurbas like this one are usually made by the user, I am told. No two are truly alike. I think this one is probably a Tamang animist phurba. In modern Kathmandu, where this was bought, there is also always the possibility that it's just fake and was made for sale. Nonetheless, even fake phurbas are intriguing little works of folk art. I particularly like the droll human-faced critter on top, about which I know precisely jack.

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