34 Kangling Trumpet

34 • A Kangling Trumpet

Tibet, probably 19th century
33 cm long; human bone and yak skin

Made from a human femur bone (in Tibetan kang means ‘leg’ and ling means ‘flute’) these trumpets are an essential part of an ensemble of sacred instruments used to perform the tantric chöd rituals in Tibet. Chöd can literally be translated as ‘cutting through’ worldly temptations for the benefit of internal development, imbuing the practitioner with a higher force.

A kangling is not just a morbid reminder of our mortality within this process; its wailing, eerie sound is said to realign the energies of both player and listener. For the player, the act of blowing through human bone resonates within key channels of the skull; for the listener, the shrill sound drives off evil spirits and summons auspicious ones.

A femur connects the knee and hip joints; it is both the longest and strongest bone in the human body. Various texts and traditions describe the best source from which to make a kangling. Not surprisingly, the bones of a saint or enlightened sage are highly desirable, as are those from a monk or nun with unbroken vows. Those of a Brahmin child, unaffected by worldly impurities, were held in even greater regard and using those of deceased relatives assists in their future lives. Male and female femurs were thought to invoke different qualities, although the female is said to produce a finer sound. This example has developed an exceptionally beautiful patina.

Purchased by Alan Presencer from Eileen Younghusband, daughter of Sir Francis Younghusband and previously in his possession since 1903.