Human bones are regularly used in the rituals of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, and of all Tibetan customs, none has attracted more attention than the use of human skulls for practical and religious purposes. A whole decorated skull is called a ‘yama’ (which is also the name for the Hindu and Buddhist god of death), while a partial decorated skull is called a ‘kapala’, or a skull cup, which is made out of the upper half of the human skull. Yamas may have been carved to take a curse off a family, or to guide a misled soul onto the right path, while kapalas were used in Tibetan monasteries as offering bowls, symbolically holding dough cakes or wine to represent blood and flesh offerings to the gods. Kapalas are also associated with rituals where the user employs the cup to help reach spiritual enlightnment. Skull cups are tradiationally lined with pewter or tin, decorated with silver, brass and gems, and the bone is ornately carved with Tibetan symbols.
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