It comes as no surprise that Tibetan skull tattoos are a popular subject when it comes to Asian themed tattoo art. The intricacy and details found on these skulls are overwhelming, and while the carvings and decor add an element of mystique and power, they symbolize something so much more.
Often called Kapal (a Sanskrit term which translates to skull or begging bowl), these decorative skulls are used as part of rituals in both Hindu and Buddhist Tantra. There are usually two types of Kapal, one which is a complete skull and another which is separated at half skull. The skulls were typically retrieved from sky burial sites, an ancient Tibetan burial custom in which the bodies of the deceased are dismembered and scatted in fields. Though it sounds disturbing, the ritual has deeper meaning as the pieces are scattered to “give aim to the birds.”
It is a ritual that has a great religious meaning of the ascent of the soul to be reincarnated into another circle of life. Once collected, the skulls would be specially prepared and elaborately anointed and consecrated before use. It would then be decorated with carvings, jewels of silverwork before being used as a ritual implement. In Tibetan monasteries, the kapala was used to hold dough cakes or wine, used symbolically as flesh and blood offerings to wrathful deities of Hindu India and Buddhist Tibet.
Ornate in presentation, these historic relics are now the center stone for many elaborate tattoo pieces. They offer a visual appeal which is backed by deep roots, and now with a deeper understanding of their origins you are sure to appreciate them even more.
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