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Ritual Flaying Knife (Kartrika)

A work made of gilt iron.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of gilt iron.


17th/18th century



About this artwork

The flaying knife (kartrika) is one of the most prominent weapons used by Tantric Buddhism’s angry deities, both male and female, especially the Mahakala and the Vajrayogini class of deities. They typically brandish a flaying knife in one hand and a skullcup (kapala) in the other. The blade, which is surmounted by the flayed mantle of a stylized lion, terminates in a sharp point or curved hook, and combines the flaying implements of a cutting-knife and scraping blade with the piercing activity of a dagger or pulling-hook. The handle usually consists of a half vajra, or thunderbolt, as here, and is a quintessential symbol of Vajrayana Buddhism. In visual images and in the literature, the kartrika is used as a blade to skin the hides of demons, animals, and humans. Conceptually, its purpose is to cut up disbelievers, and to kill ignorance.


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Arts of Asia


Ritual Flaying Knife (Kartrika)






Gilt iron


18.4 × 17.8 × 6.4 cm (7 1/4 × 7 × 2 1/2 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Marilynn B. Alsdorf

Reference Number


IIIF Manifest  The International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) represents a set of open standards that enables rich access to digital media from libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions around the world.

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Extended information about this artwork

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