Stone Carving

Yushu, Qinghai
Producer: Dawa Drolma
Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
[Catalog No. CFV11273; © 2017 Smithsonian Institution]

Surrounding the Gyanak Mani temple on the Tibetan Plateau in southern Qinghai Province are an estimated two billion mani stones carved with prayers and often painted with bright colors. In this video, Samten Dhondup from Semtse village demonstrates and explains the process for carving and painting the mani stones, which come in many forms and varieties. Some are carved and painted colorfully; others have only simple indentations. They may have sutras and running scriptures of longer texts, or they may contain just one sacred word. Others may have an intricate image. They may be lined up along pathways or a mountain pass, placed in small piles or large stacks. They may be scattered next to a shrine or at the head of a creek. Traditionally, prayer stone carvings are done as a form of religious practice to accumulate positive merit through spreading prayers. Practitioners include monks, nuns, nomads, and villagers. Although mani stones are traditionally handcrafted with hammers and sharp chisels, electric tools may also be used.

Questions for Discussion

  • What can you observe about daily life on the Tibetan Plateau from the video?
  • What are the steps in the stone carving and decoration process? What tools are the artisans using?
  • Many of the mani stones are inscribed with Buddhist sutras. What are sutras, and why are they important in Buddhism?