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The history of Thokcha in Tibet

The ancient Chinese practice of making tektites into amulets reached Tibet in the early 18th century. A tektite amulet, or what Tibetans call a “wisdom gem”, is a stone shaped like an egg. The stone is cut and hollowed out.

Nonetheless, the first mention of this kind of amulet comes from around 600AD in India, and it’s said that they were worn by those who had achieved enlightenment and were going to pass away. The earliest tektites were black obsidian called Staurolite (pronounced stow-ra-LIGHT, named after its Greek discoverer).
The rapid cooling makes the tektite of volcanic glass. When it is cool enough to be handled, it is picked up and shaped by being beaten repeatedly against a hard surface. Studies show that the first people to do this beating and shaping were the Chinese more than 6000 years ago.

The basic shape is a long, narrow top and a short, stubby bottom. This shape is believed to represent the sacred conch shell. The top is cut into a series of ridges parallel to the long axis of the stone. The bottom of the tektite is bevelled, so it points away from the owners head. This bevelled shape also represents the conch shell, where flares out at one end. The conch shell is essential in Buddhism, symbolising wisdom and compassion.

Several small holes were drilled through the stone, perpendicular to its long axis. This is to hold a half-tiger, half-dragon. It was believed that this creature was formed by the ashes of the saint, Guru Padmasambhava, who created some of the first tektites. It is worth noting that Guru Padmasambhava, who lived in Tibet from 775AD to 835AD, is one of the great saints and teachers of Buddhism who travelled all over China and Tibet, bringing Buddhist teachings to many people.

By the early 20th century, tektites were being used to make Tibetan Thokcha. Tektites are known by several names in Tibet, such as “khang-dum”, “khang-khyim” and “khang-shing”.

A very important ancient Nepal Thokcha is the 35 kg, 29.5 cm wide and 3.2 m long thukalu, carved out of an iron meteorite discovered in Lhok-La in eastern Tibet in 1999.