Kapala – The Human Skull Cup of the Gods

The kapala is a sacred sculpted cup made from the top of a human skull frequently offered by Hindu and Buddhist worshipers to their fierce deities.

A legacy of the ancient tradition of human sacrifice, the kapala is nowadays perceived as a dark but fascinating form of sculpture. Tibetan kapalas, in particular, feature impressive bas-relief artworks depicting religious figures and scenes, and are often adorned with semi-precious stones and silver-work. The elaborate carvings were handmade and the skull was soaked in water to soften the bone.

In Tibet, skull cups are used at Buddhist altars to offer wrathful divinities either wine, which symbolizes blood, or dough cakes shaped as human eyes or ears. Through the force of tantric visualization based on meditation and deep philosophical study,  a sort of transubstantiation will occur and the wine will be transformed into the Wisdom Nectar, a liquid form of the enlightened mind of one or all the deities in the Celestial Palace of the Mandala. This is just one of the many uses of the kapala in Tibetan ritual culture.

Some modern-day kapalas are still shaped like the top of a human skull, but they are made of brass and while they are adorned with artistic motifs, they aren’t nearly as fascinating as  genuine human skull cups.









Sources: Tribal Art Asia, Bizzarro Bazar, 3Worlds

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Feedback (4 Comments)

  • LLP Posted on February 23, 2011

    Buddhism does not and has never required anyone to sacrifice such things. A core precept is not to take a life of a living creature, so offerings made from a skull to “fierce deities” is simply not true. Please do some research before posting such information.

  • Spooky Posted on February 23, 2011

    @LLP: although I don’t know that much about Buddhism, I have done some research about the kapala, and every source I checked had more or less the same information regarding this skull cup being used to appease wrathful/fierce deities. The offerings aren’t made from human skull, they are wine and dough placed in the kapala.

  • Gr3g D3 Posted on October 30, 2011

    @LLP hate to burst your bubble but Tibetan Buddhism has been using the Kapala to appease wrathful deities for a very long time. So do other religious and philosophical systems. In Buddhism the idea of demons are very different then the A typical understandings and ideals of how they have come to be seen in much of society today.

  • Grace Harrison Posted on December 10, 2011

    I have a Ritual Kapala for sale and the price is negotiable.