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Tea Blog Carnival – my favorite teaware, the Buddha Hand Teapot

May 01, 2010

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This is my contribution to the first in a series of tea blog carnivals sponsored by the Association of Tea Bloggers, the theme of which is, “What is your favorite piece of teaware, and why?”

While it was a bit of a challenge to choose just one item of tea ware among so many that have special importance to me, I settled pretty firmly on the Yixing teapot that I generally refer to as the “Buddha Hand Teapot.” Acquired several years ago, this teapot is an unusual, wonderful piece of teaware, unlike any others I have seen before or since. The position of the hand is quite graceful, and appears to me to have a close affinity to the Buddhist hand gestures known as Mudras (although I have so far been unable to find a specific one that matches it).

It would be highly unlikely for any craftsperson – especially a Chinese ceramicist – to sculpt a teapot in the form of a hand with a monkey head as its lid without those elements bearing any symbolism. However, I have so for been unable to identify any information that correlates to the particulars of the hand position and I don’t know of any obvious explanation for the monkey. Buddhist iconography is extensive and complex, however. I don’t think I’m looking in the wrong place; it’s more likely that I just haven’t gone far enough with the search.

I know nothing definitive about the teapot’s history before it was shipped to me from China. Its style, form, and material identify it clearly as an item of Chinese artisanship, but curiously it has no actual marks or seals anywhere on it, which is very unusual for a hand-made Chinese teapot. I don’t know how old it is, but it has the appearance of an object that has been around for at least a few decades. It already had some sheen from use when I got it.

In using the teapot again for the purpose of taking the photos for this post, I was reminded that in spite of its wonderful appearance, it is not terribly easy to use. It is a little larger than most gongfu pots, and the fingers, being hollow, fill with tea and become quite hot. Since the pot must be picked up by the fingers, pouring the tea can be tricky. In the end, the challenge of using it takes nothing away from the beauty of its appearance in use, and it is shown off to its best advantage when wet with water and tea.

While I would like to be able to find out more about who made this teapot, when they made it, and what it means, I can still appreciate it as a mystery and use it with a nod of appreciation to the unidentified Chinese craftsman who formed it so beautifully from a lump of clay.

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