The origin of the charm container-pendant in Tibet can be traced to the often inhospitable environment. Violent natural phenomena, such as seasonal floods, hail, wind, and sandstorms, affect the success of the crops upon which the people's very existence depends. An ancient, animistic Tibetan iconography shared by most people in this region provides them with a means of coping with such natural disasters. Elemental in this system is the belief that the physical elements in the environment possess power attributed to the presence of natural spirits, some benevolent (trinchhem-po) and others malignant (sem ngem-po). They infest the air, water, earth and stones, and evade or control malevolent forces, the former must be propitiated, and magical protection is secured against the latter.
The ga'u combines in itself form and function. It can be of copper (zans), brass (ra-gan), or bronze (kar-ba), and combinations of these. Most generally they are made of silver (nga), which is used for the visible front, and the back half is usually copper, brass, or sheet iron (cha).
Because it functions as a container to hold and protect various charms placed within, a ga'u consists of two basic parts that fit together, so that access to its inner space is possible. At the bottom of the ga'u can often be found a double-ended, facet-pointed appending form that symbolizes the diamond thunderbolt (dorje).
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