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S UNDA Y , NOV E MB E R 0 5 , 2 0 0 6
Mani Stones in Many Scripts
Mani stones are stones that are carved with the famous Sanskrit mantra oૹ ma૽i padme hĭૹ, which is known periphrastically
as the "six-syllable mantra" (liùzì zhÕnyán 六字真言 in Chinese and yi ge drug pa in Tibetan). The origins of the mantra are
obscure, but it is normally associated with the bodhisattva Avalokite!vara (Tibetan spyan ras gzigs "Chenrezig"), particularly his
four-armed manifestation, Shadakshari ("Lord of the Six Syllables"); although it has been suggested that it was originally an
invocation to a female consort of Avalokite!vara called Manipadma (see this Early Tibet post for a discussion of the limited
association of six-syllable mantra with Avalokite!vara in early Tibet).
It is not known when the mantra came into use, but it must have been long before the earliest recorded mentions of it in the late
10th and early 11th centuries. By the time of the rise of the Mongol empire in the 13th century the use of this mantra was already
widespread, and had attracted the attention of European visitors to China, such as William of Rubruck, who has this to say about
Buddhist practice in the account of his travels to the East between 1253 and 1255 :
All the priests shave their heads, and are dressed in saffron color, and they observe chastity from the time they shave their
heads, and they live in congregations of one or two hundred. On the days when they go into the temple, they place two
benches, and they sit in the region of the choir but opposite the choir, with books in their hands, which they sometimes put
down on these benches; and they keep their heads uncovered as long as they are in the temple, reading in silence and
keeping silence. And when I went into one of their temples at Caracarum, and found them thus seated, I tried every means
of inducing them to talk, but was unable to do so. Wherever they go they have in their hands a string of one or two
hundred beads, like our rosaries, and they always repeat these words, on mani baccam, which is, "God, thou knowest,"
as one of them interpreted it to me, and they expect as many rewards from God as they remember God in saying this.
In Tibet the six-syllable mantra is to be found everywhere, on prayer flags and on prayer wheels, but most spectacularly carved
onto the rocks and stones that decorate the landscape. The picture below is a mani stone in Tibetan script from the Russian Far
East (courtesy of Vladimir Belyaev) :
The inscription here is terminated with the seed syllable hr! (as is often the case with Tibetan inscriptions) :
The main formula is often painted over in colour, as on these examples on the Kunzum Pass above the Spiti Valley in India
(photograph courtesy of Konstantin Shemyak) :
Note that each syllable of the formula is painted in its own particular colour (and that the "d" of pad has the same colour as the
rest of the syllable, even when it is stacked onto the following syllable me) :
¬ : white
¤ : green
- : yellow
-- : light blue
¤ : red
_ : dark blue
Here is my attempt to display the six syllables in their six colours as text. I have had to write pad and me separately (as they less
commonly are), as I don't think it is possible to colour the individual components of a single dme glyph in different colours.
¬ ¤ - -- ¤ _
Although Tibetan script mani stones are most frequently encountered, the mani formula may also be engraved using the Ranjana
or Rañja or Lantsa script (lan tsha, lan dza or la nya tsha in Tibetan). This a woodblock print showing how the six-syllable
mantra is written in the Lantsa script :
Nik Douglas, Tibetan Tantric Charms & Amulets (Dover Publications, 1978) No.29.
And here is an example from the British Museum of a stone with the Mani formula written five times in the Lantsa script :
Closely related to Lantsa is the Vivarta or Wartu script (Tibetan war tu or war tu la). The inscription beneath the image of
Shadakshari (the four-armed manifestation of Avalokite!vara) on this stone is in the Wartu script (note how the form of the
syllable oૹ differs markedly from Lantsa but is very similar to oૹ in the Siddham script) :
John Lowry, Tibetan Art (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1973) plate 49.
Whilst mani stones in Tibetan, Lantsa or Wartu scripts are most common, the mani formula may also be written in a variety of
other scripts, and I thought it would be interesting to collect examples of the six-syllable mantra in as many scripts as possible, a
sort of I can eat glass project for Buddhist epigraphers.
The best example of a multi-script mani stone that I know of is the one shown below, which was found at Mogaoku 莫高窟 (i.e.
the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas) at Dunhuang in the 1940s (click on the picture to link to a higher resolution picture from a
marvellous exhibition of documents relating to the scripts and languages of the ancient nationalities of China at the National
Library of China) :
This monument was erected during the Yuan dynasty, in the 8th year of the Zhizheng period [1348], by Sulaiman 速來蠻, who
was the Prince of Xining 西寧王 from 1329 to his death in 1351. The inscription includes the six-syllable mantra written in six
different scripts (is the number of scripts chosen a coincidence?) :
Lantsa (梵文) [1st row] oૹ ma ૽i pa dme hĭૹ
Tibetan [2nd row] : oૹ ma ૽i pad me hĭૹ ¬¤---¤_
Uighur (回鹘文) [far left] : oom mani badmi xung
'Phags-pa (八思巴文) [left] : om ma ni pad me hung
Tangut (西夏文) [right] : ·a mja nji pja mjij xo
Chinese [far right] : Ɛn má ní bà mí hďng 唵嘛叭 吽
For anyone who thought that there was nothing more to add to Unicode, it is a sobering thought that three of these six scripts are
as yet unencoded (although Tangut is now in the process of being encoded) and one ('Phags-pa) was only just introduced in
Unicode 5.0 a couple of months ago, and so it is currently not possible to represent the text of this important monument in
Another extinct and as yet unencoded script that the mani formula has been written in is Jurchen (女真文). The illustration
below (apologies for the poor quality) is from an early Ming dynasty stone monument commemorating the founding of the
Yongning Temple 永寕寺 in the 11th year of the Yongle period [1413] in the district of Nurgan (奴兒干), located in what is now
part of Russia (the actual monument is in the Vladivostok Museum).
Jin Guangping 金光平 and Jin Qizong 金啓孮, Nüzhen Yuyan Wenzi Yanjiu 女真語言文字研究 (Beijing: Wenwu Chubaneshe,
The main text is inscribed in Chinese on the front and in Mongolian and Jurchen on the back, but on both sides of the monument
the six-syllable mantra is engraved in the following four scripts :
Tibetan [top left] : oૹ ma ૽i pad me hĭૹ ¬¤---¤_
Jurchen [bottom left] am ma ni ba mi xu
Chinese [top right] : Ɛn má ní bà mí hďng 唵嘛叭 吽
Mongolian [bottom right] : oom ma ni bad mi qung ''¯ ¯~ ¯ª ¯~¯ ¯ª '¯¯
The Six-Syllable Mantra in Various Scripts
Script Image Transliteration Unicode
oૹ ma ૽i padme
oૹ ma ૽i pad me
oૹ ma ૽i pa dme

oૹ ma ૽i pa dme

oૹ ma ૽i pa dme

om ma ni pad me

Ɛn má ní bà mí
唵嘛叭 吽
唵嘛叭 吽
Jurchen am ma ni ba mi xu
·a mja nji pja mjij

oom mani badmi

oom ma ni bad mi
''¯ ¯~ ¯ª ¯~¯ ¯ª '¯¯
uwaૹ maa ni
badme huuૹ
·¯¯~ ¯~ ~ ¯ª ¯~¯¯' ·'¯¯
The mantra is normally written with padme as one word, but it may be written as two words (pad me), as in the 1348 and 1413
inscriptions shown above. In modern Lhasa Tibetan the mantra is pronounced om mani peme hung.
Here are some links to a few more images of Tibetan mani stones (just a few of the many you can find with the help of Google
Image Search) :
Prayer-stone from a Tibetan mountain-pass (Ladakh) at the British Museum
Mani stone from Nepal
Mani stone in Nepal
Mani stone in Tibet
Coloured mani stone
Mani stone in Ladakh with Tibetan and Lantsa inscription
A pile of mani stones
Mani stones in Zanskar
Lantsa, Wartu and Siddham
Lantsa (Ranjana), Wartu (Vivarta) and Siddham (Chinese x!tán 悉曇 or 悉檀) are three closely related scripts, and from a
character encoding point of view they could be considered to be variant styles of the same basic script.
The 'Phags-pa text in the 1348 Mogaoku inscription follows the Tibetan spelling convention of using a dependant vowel sign to
write om, but Mongolian and Chinese 'Phags-pa texts use an independant letter o. For example, in the 1345 'Phags-pa
inscriptions at Juyongguan 居庸關 the mantric syllable oૹ in the invocation oૹ bhrĭૹ [bhrĭૹ bhrĭૹ] (from the Sanskrit Phags-
pa inscription on the west wall) and the invocation om sva sti (from the start of the Mongolian Phags-pa inscription on the east
wall) is written with an independant letter rather than with a dependant vowel sign, but whereas the Sanskrit text (on the left)
uses a candrabindu letter, the Mongolian text (on the right) represents the final nasal with a simple letter m :

The mantra is normally transcribed using the Chinese characters :
1. 唵 Ɛn or 嗡 wÕng
2. 嘛 má
3. ní
4. 叭 bÃ, 吧 bà or 唄(呗) bài
5. mí, mí, ( ) mí or 彌(弥) mí
6. 吽 hďng
There are thus a wide range of possible transcriptions of the mani formula in Chinese, including :
唵嘛叭吽 Ɛn má ní bà mí hďng
唵嘛叭 吽 Ɛn má ní bà mí hďng
唵嘛叭彌吽 Ɛn má ní bà mí hďng
唵嘛叭 吽 Ɛn má ní bà mí hďng
唵嘛吧吽 Ɛn má ní bà mí hďng
唵嘛吧彌吽 Ɛn má ní bà mí hďng
唵嘛唄吽 Ɛn má ní bài mí hďng
唵嘛唄彌吽 Ɛn má ní bài mí hďng
唵嘛唄吽 Ɛn má ní bài mí hďng
嗡嘛叭吽 wÕng má ní bà mí hďng
嗡嘛叭彌吽 wÕng má ní bà mí hďng
嗡嘛唄吽 wÕng má ní bài mí hďng
嗡嘛唄彌吽 wÕng má ní bài mí hďng
However, the mantra is sometimes written in a somewhat different way, as is the case on this undated bronze plaque devoted to
the goddess Cundi (Chinese Zhunti 凖提) (the inscription on the reverse is in the Lantsa script) :
Here (reading anticlockwise from 11 o'clock) the mantra is written with the characters 唵鉢訥銘吽 Ɛn má ní bď nàmíng hďng,
where 訥銘 nàmíng (written one character above the other) transcribes the dme of padme. Although using na for /d/ may seem
odd, this corresponds to early Chinese Sanskrit transcription practice, as can be seen in this mid fourteenth century book by Tao
Zongyi 陶宗儀, where Sanskrit /d/ is transcribed as nà 捺 :
Shushi Huiyao 書史會要 vol. 8 folio 6b.
A final note on the character 吽 hďng that is used to transcribe hĭૹ. The first five characters of the mani formula in Chinese (唵
嘛叭吽) are each written using a mouth radical on the left to indicate that the element on the right is being borrowed as a
phonetic approximation, but the last character is written with a mouth radical on the left and the character for an ox (níu 牛) on
the right, which is not in this case a phonetic. The Tang dynasty monk Huilin 慧琳 (737-820) explains the character 吽 hďng
thus : "It is like the sound of an ox bellowing, or perhaps an angry tiger; the sound comes from deep within the throat" (如牛吼
The six characters of the mantra in the 1413 inscription are all easily identifiable.
Character* Reading** Nüzhenwen Cidian Grube 1896
Nüzhen Yiyu 女真譯語
Phonetic Gloss

am p.293 #474 安

ma p.10 #370 馬

ni p.287 #560 你

ba p.56 #419 巴

mi p.175 #641 迷, 密

xu p.111 #385 忽, 戶, 琥, 瑚
* Characters are displayed using Jason Glavy's Jurchen font. If you do not have this font installed you will see Chinese characters
** The readings are the phonetic reconstructions of Jin Guangping 金光平 and Jin Qizong 金啓孮 in Jin Qizong 金啓孮,
Nüzhenwen Cidian 女真文詞典. Beijing: Wenwu Chubanshe, 1984.
The Tangut characters for the first five syllables of the mantra in the 1348 inscription are easily identifiable, but the sixth
character is not to be found in Li Fanwen's Tangut-Chinese dictionary, and I was originally unable to identify it. However, now
that I have been given a copy of Wenhai Yanjiu 文海研究 I have been able identify the character in the inscription as a variant
form of the Tangut character specifically used for transliterating Sanskrit hĭૹ. Notice how the four-stroke element on the right
side has been simplified to 干 in the 1348 inscription.
Character* Reading** Xia-Han Zidian Mojikyo

"a #0774 570774

mja #3369 573369

nji #4884 574884

pja #3425 573425

mjij #0201 570201

xo #2224 572224
* Characters are displayed using the Mojikyo M202 font. If you do not have this font installed you will see Chinese characters
**The readings are the phonetic reconstructions given in Li Fanwen 李範文, Xia-Han Zidian 夏漢字典 [A Tangut-Chinese
Dictionary] (Beijing: Zhongguo Shehui Kexue Chubanshe, 1997).
The first and last characters in the mantra are defined in the mid 12th century monoglot Tangut Rhyming dictionary, The Sea of
Characters 文海. The original Tangut text and Chinese translation as given in Wenhai Yanjiu 文海研究 (Zhongguo Shehui Kexue
Chubanshe, 1983) by Shi Jinbo 史金波 et al. is shown below :£

There is also a bronze mirror with the image of a Buddha surrounded by the the mani formula in Tangut script. I haven't got a
good picture of it, but you can buy a replica of it from 夏特产网 (you can also buy a set of replica Tangut coins if you want).
Meanwhile here is a copy of the inscription of the mirror given in the 1935 edition of Yin Tong 音同 "Homophones".
痔捫蜉攅魚卜痔罩卜 ·a mja nji pja mjij xo, ·a ·a xo
唵嘛叭 吽唵阿吽 Ɛn má ní bà mí hďng, Ɛn à hďng
My transcription of the Uighur text of the 1348 inscription is tentative.
The Mongolian text on the 1413 Yongning Temple monument is far from clear, and my transcription is tentative only. However,
there are clear similarities to the Uighur version of the mantra with respect to spelling.
In more recent Mongolian texts the six-syllable mantra is spelled very differently from the 1413 inscription, and makes use of a
special candrabindu sign. I haven't got an image of a Mongolian script mani stone yet, but in the meantime I have included an
entry in the table for how I think the mantra should be written in standard Mongolian script (cf. the representation of the six-
syllable mantra on a bronze incense burner in front of the Gandan Monastery in Ulaanbaatar shown on page 8 of Oliver Corff's
MonTEX, A Quick Guide).
I can think of several more scripts (Manchu, Khitan, Soyombo, Siddham, Kharoshthi, Tocharian, Orkhon ...) that may have been
used to write Buddhist mantras, so feel free to send me examples of mani stones in other scripts and I will update this page.

皀皌 皇癿皑癿皊

, 西夏文,
chris said...
The six syllables of the mantra are:
[OM] [MA] [NI] [PAD] [ME] [HUM]
And the mantra can be written in Tibetan script either as ^ªJ¬¸ª_ or as ^ªJ¬¿_ .
Traditionally each of the syllables has a corresponding colour. (OM white, MA green, NI yellow, PAD light-blue, ME red,
HUM dark-blue)
When written the second way, the DA(¸) in the stack DME(¿ )should still have the same light blue color as the preceding
letter PA (¬), while the subjoined MA and superscribed vowel in the stack should be separately colored red.
It seems none of the creators of the numerous popular OM MANI PADME HUM screen-savers available realize this and
always seem to colour the whole stack DME red.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2006 2:07:00 PM
Andrew said...
Thanks for that. I hadn't really given colour much thought, but perhaps I ought to add a coloured illustration of the mani
formula to the post.
You can see the colouring scheme you describe in this picture of the mani formula on a boulder nearby the Potala Palace
in Lhasa.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2006 4:39:00 PM
Andrew West said...
I have now updated the post to show a coloured mani stone. The big problem is how to colour padme correctly using
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2006 8:54:00 PM
bsittler said...
at least in safari it is possible to correctly color ^ªJ¬¿_ in HTML: <font face="tibetan machine unicode, tibetan machine
uni"><font color="#777777">^ </font><font color="#7ff726">ª</font><font color="#f8fb2e">J</font><font
color="#3aa5fa">¬¸</font><font color="#e7261a">_ </font><span color="#0022f8">_ </font></font>
TUESDAY, MAY 08, 2007 9:50:00 AM
Peter said...
Thank you very much for very interesting research.
I wanted to ask about Tibetan writing of the mantra. You didn't say anything about difference in writing final h#! with
SNA LDAN (anun$sika)(_ ) and RJES SU NGA RO (anusv$ra) (_ ) signs. But we see SNA LDAN on 1348's Monument (莫
高窟造像碑) not RJES SU NGA RO. Which one is correct?
I don't see variant with SNA LDAN in "The Six-Syllable Mantra in Various Scripts" final table also. Why so?
SATURDAY, JUNE 09, 2007 11:34:00 PM
Andrew West said...
That's a very good question. I don't know which way of writing h#! is correct. I think that h#! with SNA LDAN (¸¸_ ) is
more common in printed texts, but that maybe h#! with RJES SU NGA RO (¸¸_ ) is often used in carved versions of the
mantra in order to make it more impressive.
I have updated the table to show both variants.
SUNDAY, JUNE 10, 2007 12:53:00 AM
Andrew West said...
If you have Google Earth try going to 32°54'33.37"N, 97° 2'48.78"E and rotate 180° (or click here, view larger map
and select Satellite view) to see the world's largest example of the Mani formula (180 metres across).
SUNDAY, JUNE 10, 2007 1:26:00 AM
Tim May said...
It's tangential to the main subject of the post, but I have a question about the seed syllable hr%" in Tibetan Unicode: You
have _¸, with U+0F14 TIBETAN MARK GTER TSHEG. I'm wondering if it shouldn't be _-, with U+0F7F TIBETAN SIGN
RNAM BCAD (visarga)? Or can both characters be used for different ways of writing the same thing, like SNA LDAN &
RJES SU NGA RO above? (My font has a horizontal mark between the circles in U+0F14 but not U+0F7F, & I have seen it
written both ways.) Alternatively, is it perhaps sometimes written hr% & only incidentally happens to be followed by a
U+0F14 which resembles U+0F7F?
MONDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2007 4:05:00 PM
Andrew West said...
Hmm, I'm not sure. I assume that I used U+0F14 because on the inscription there is clearly a line between the two circles.
But now I think about it I don't know whether this is a glyph variant of U+0F7F that just looks like U+0F14 or whether it
really is U+0F14 -- which is frequently used at the end of mantras.
I'll have to think some more about it (and look for some more examples), but hopefully someone who is more
knowledgable about Tibetan will be able to give us the answer.
MONDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2007 6:35:00 PM
Baturu said...
Hi, in your blog, you used Mongolian U+1024 (u) for Sanskrit u, and U+1024 U+1838 U+1820 (uwa) for Sanskrit o. Are
you sure? Because U+1023 and U+1024 look the same. U+1025 and U+1026 look the same too. The stand-alone Sanskrit
u looks like 皺皇 without the long tail. It seems that only U+1026 has this form. Thank you very much.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2008 4:42:00 AM
Konstantin S said...
Thank you very much for this post. I was puzzled by the meaning of this engraving in the Spiti valley (Himachal Pradesh,
India); you are welcome to use pictures of large piles of Mani stones on Kunzum Pass here and here. Only from this
article, I got the idea of the meaning of the mantra.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 31, 2008 10:38:00 AM
Andrew West said...
My choice of characters to represent the Mantra in Mongolian is based on page 49 (Figure 9.1) of Mongolian and Manju
for Latex2 by Oliver Corff.
I have now made available on my website some scans from Tongwen Yuntong 同文韻統 which show how to represent
Sanskrit and Tibetan using Mongolian and Manchu scripts.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 09, 2008 12:37:00 AM
Andrew West said...
Your pictures are very nice, so I might well borrow one of them.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 09, 2008 12:40:00 AM
Glossika said...
I have both Wenhai Yanjiu and the Mojikyo fonts and fluent in Chinese. My problem is I don't know how to begin finding
anything in Wenhai Yanjiu (I looked up your numbers and they correspond in the index, but I can't find the character in
the body of the book). And Mojikyo seems ordered haphazardly, how can I find them to get them on a computer?
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2009 12:55:00 PM
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Andrew West said...
Yeah, Mojikyo's really evil, so I won't try to explain how to use it. Probably best to wait a couple more years until Tangut
is in Unicode.
As to looking up characters in WHYJ, you need to look up the four-digit number from the radical/stroke index in the
index at the back of the book, which will give you a list of page references where the character occurs in the form
where 'x' is the page number, 'a' is the 1st or 2nd side of the page, 'b' is the column on the half-page, and 'c' is the head
entry in the column. You can then look up the entry in either the original Tangut, reproduction Tangut or Chinese
translation. But you need to be able to read the Tangut numbers in the margin in order to look up the entry in the Tangut
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2009 12:50:00 PM
Jayarava said...
Nice article and an interesting collection of pics.
You say "It is not known when the mantra came into use". The mantra first appears in a text called the K$ra#$avy#ha
S#tra which Alexander Studholme dates to the 4th century CE in his study of the text (The Origins of O! Ma#%padme
H#!: A Study of the K$ra#$avy#ha S#tra. State University of New York Press, 2002.) So it had to have come into use by
that time.
MONDAY, APRIL 25, 2011 11:52:00 AM

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