Place of Origin: Tibet
Date: 15th-16th Century
The fifth Dalai Lama, writing in 1643, said that armour was first bought to Tibet from a district in Kham (smar khams) during the reign of the semi legendary ancient king Trigum Tsenpo (gri gum btsan po). We now have a recognisable Tibetan tradition of lamellar plate armour and helmets that this helmet conforms to.
Of sixteen iron plates, it is a more complex arrangement than those with eight lames that are more commonly seen. Eight outer plates overlap eight inner plates in an over-under pattern, all secured with leather laces. The outer plates have a strong medial ridge, and have two cusps with a single point each side. The bowl is surmounted by a socket, secured around its border by laces, and an integral two level pagoda shaped plume holder.
The brim of the helmet is fitted with a thick cylindrical band of yak hair, dyed in vibrant colours of red, yellow and black, it is a wonderfully preserved piece of accoutrement that once again gives us an example of spiritual and religious representation in Tibetan design and manufacture. The six coloured segments take the spiralling form of a ‘dharamchakra’, the wheel of spiritual change. In this case there are six segments (three colours repeated twice) in a yin-yang pattern, this symbolises a wheel of enjoyment (Tib. Dga’ ‘khyil) representing the trinity of Buddha, dharma and sangha, and the overcoming of the three poisons of ignorance, desire and aversion.
Another Tibetan helmet of sixteen plates, as part of a matching armour set, is kept at the British Museum, London, and illustrated by LaRocca (2006), see cat.no.3, p.59.