Bronze finial, Khakkhara
This example of a khakkhara is from Central or East Java. Above the handle is a lotus leaf from which spring eight fantastical rhinoceros. In the mouths of each is a small metal ball which jingles when the staff is shaken. They support another flat shaped bell, again with a ball inside. Above this are four Buddhas sitting in meditation around a four-sided stupa.
The symbolism incorporated in this object is complicated and I can only speculate according to my contemporary knowledge as there is no written record but I think that the four Buddhas are Amoghasiddhi in the North, Aksobhya in the East, Ratnasambhava in the South and, Amitabha in the West. Within the stupa is the principle Buddha Vairocana, not depicted by a figure but invisible representing ultimate enlightenment.
The eight rhinoceros represent the eight directions of the compass.
The Buddha's instructions for monks to carry a khakkhara can be found in the Sarvastivada vinaya, but the earliest written account of khakkhara we owe to the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Yi Jing who traveled between China, Indonesia and India in the years 661 to 695.
There is an illustration of the type of khakkhara that we have in the 12th century sandstone panel held by the Boston Museum of Fine Art which shows a scene from the Ramayana in which Ravana, disguised as an itinerant priest attempts to seduce Sita.
A khakkhara is a staff that wandering monks were instructed to carry, striking the ground with each step making a sound to scare off small creatures like spiders and snakes that might tread on. It also served to ward off dangerous animals such as tigers or venomous snakes.
The ringing of the staff may also alert donors within earshot of the monk's presence, as monks traditionally remain silent while collecting alms.
In some traditions such as the Shaolin the khakkhara was used as a weapon.
Other uses are as a rhythmical device for chants or dance performance
The bodhisattva Ksitigarbha is usually depicted with a khakkhara in his right hand with which he uses as a weapon to force open the gates of hell, lightening the darkness with the wish-fulfilling jewel in his left hand.
Ksitigarba with his khakkhara. Image from buddhaweekly.com
The basic design of a khakkhara is a wooden staff topped by a metal finial. The design usually seen in China, Korea and Japan have one or more metal loops, with smaller metal rings bound by each loop Various numbers of loops and rings are employed, with each number being assigned symbolic significance on the basis of a variety of Buddhist numerical formulas. Historical examples include staffs with one, two, or four loops and four, six, or twelve rings on each loop.
Bronze finials with metal loops were also known in Java and an example of the Chinese style design exists in the museum in Berlin, but in Java an adaptation was made as in the example that we have.
Finial of a khakkhara, East Java, 12th-13th century AD.
Ethnogical Museum, Berlin.
There is an example of a khakkhara very similar to ours in the Linden Museum, Stuttgart.
Finial with bells, Linden Museum, said to be c.11th cent. 19cm tall.
Exhibited in The Sculpture of Indonesia, National Museum of Art, Washington 1990