Tibetan/Dzongkha: ཨ སུ པྲེ (dice)

Antonomase

Member
Français - France
Hello folks,

Long story short: I wonder what the symbols on this dice mean. Now, there is some background context behind this question which could help you and/or get you interested.

symbol.jpgSYMBOL2.JPGSYMBOL-DICD.jpg

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While doing research on board games I came across this set of objects (As1988,11.1 ; As1988,11.2), of the British Museum collection, which has been acquired in Bhutan.

I was intrigued by the dice which is colour coded. Since the scroll itself is colour coded as well, I thought maybe the colours where part of the gameplay, but it could also be decorative considering there are symbols carved on the dice's faces.

My first assumption is that the symbols are digits, because this is a dice, but I am having trouble comparing them with Dzongkha and Tibetan numerals (I even tried Bengali and Hindi... because why not). The shapes are just too unfamiliar to me who doesn't know anything other than the Latin alphabet, and the angularity of the carved symbols makes it even more difficult for me to find similarities. I have tried Google images and TinEye reverse image search engines with cleaned up version of the faces as inputs (see thumbnails above), but there is no match.

I have looked up "Sa-lam rnam-bzhag", which is in the object's description, I found this borad game on the Liverpool's national museum entitled "Rebirth diceboard painting Sa lam rnam bzhag", which is close enough (This one originates from Tibet) and this explanation of the gameplay on the university of Virginia knowledge base. Now, although the name of the game differs noticeably (sa lam bgrod ma) and no picture is provided, its description resembles the one provided by the Liverpool museum, so I am making the assumption this is the same game.

Here is an extract of the explanation that got me very excited: "A die with the six syllables printed on it is used in the game. Depending on the syllable which shows on the die, people move their tokens either upward to enlightenment or downward to the lowest realms of existential status". I find it very cool that the symbols could be something other than digits, but I am not satisfied, now I need to know what the symbols on the very dice I have originally found mean.

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Thank you in advance. I am not expecting a ton of answers obviously, this is very niche, but any contribution is most welcome!
 
  • Circunflejo

    Senior Member
    Castellano de Castilla
    The first one (or a very similar one) seems to be letter a of the Tibetan alphabet (and of the Dzongkhan one too) and it can be found in Tibetan dice (see Structural Analysis of the Tibetan MO Divination System for a picture and a great explanation) where the meaning becomes more profund as it seems to relate with a(h); one of the syllables of the Manjushri mantra. Some more info about the mantra can be found in Wikipedia but it's not better than the previous link.

    The latter one seems to be the sa of the Tibetan alphabet with the subfix for letter u to make it su. It can be found on mantras too like the Vajrasattva mantra.
     
    Last edited:

    Antonomase

    Member
    Français - France
    Thank you Circunflejo, this is all very interesting.

    It seems the photograph of the British Museum's dice is mirrored or something. There is another view of it on which the symbols have a different orientation.

    Excuse my English, it may not be very consistent. I an French and I haven't made my mind about which standard to follow yet. American English is ubiquitous but it's full of Z and I find it so completely terribly ugly. Plus, England is closer to France, and since France is such a great country, everything next to it gets bonus points ;)
     

    Circunflejo

    Senior Member
    Castellano de Castilla
    It seems the photograph of the British Museum's dice is mirrored or something. There is another view of it on which the symbols have a different orientation.
    They should offer 4 different pictures per symbol to cover all the 4 possible orientations but with the various pictures offered by them you can make in your mind the missing ones and look for them if you can't find results with the ones offered.

    since France is such a great country, everything next to it gets bonus points ;)
    I never thought that the fact that I'm Spanish would give to my answer any bonus point but it's good to know.
     

    Antonomase

    Member
    Français - France
    I shouldn't have used the word "orientation", what I meant is that you couldn't get the faces orientations of the second picture by manipulating physically the dice as shown in the first picture. You can convince yourself of this by opening the second picture in an image editing application, although you can also do it with your mind: if you do a counterclockwise 90° rotation to have the blue face face upwards, then the pointy end of the symbol will be pointing right instead of left and the dark green face will be on the left side of the dice instead of the right side. You will need to apply a mirror transformation to the image in order to have the dice, and the faces, oriented correctly, which is not a "legal" transformation.

    So, one of these two images is not true to the physical object, and when I look at this image from the article you have linked, it appears to me that the first photograph is the one which has been mirrored.

    When I am back home I will try the image reverse search engines again, but with the symbols of the second photograph. Maybe this time there will be a match and we will know what the other symbols are.
     

    Circunflejo

    Senior Member
    Castellano de Castilla
    I shouldn't have used the word "orientation", what I meant is that you couldn't get the faces orientations of the second picture by manipulating physically the dice as shown in the first picture.
    That seems to make sense but we lack of info to confirm it. We are assuming that each face of the dice is different but there could be two identical faces opposed one to the other (i.e.: without touching one with the other). Although looking carefully at the dice, I see the same red faded areas of the red face in all the available pictures and the same is true for the faded areas of the rest of faces showed so it's almost sure that you are right because it would be too much of a coincidence that both faces had exactly the same red faded areas (if having two identical faces opposed one to the other wasn't awkward enough).
     

    Antonomase

    Member
    Français - France
    Haha, you are correct, this is an example of a confirmation bias kicking in, and I pride myself on being quite vigilant about it :)) I have planned to email the museum anyways because there aren't a lot of infos about the objects on the website. I will update this thread if I get an interesting answer. or if the search engine thingy returns something interesting.
     

    Dib

    Senior Member
    Bengali (India)
    It seems the photograph of the British Museum's dice is mirrored or something. There is another view of it on which the symbols have a different orientation.
    Image 1 shows the letters mirrored. Images 2& 3 have them in the normal orientation. The script is Tibetan. The syllables written in Wylie transcription are:
    Green: pre
    Blue: a
    Red: su

    I do not know any Tibetan to speak of. So, I don't know what they are supposed to mean.
     

    Dib

    Senior Member
    Bengali (India)
    You are welcome. I'm also curious to find out an explanation of the die faces, and what this die is used for.
     
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