The skull cup is fashioned from the oval upper section of a human
cranium, and serves as an offering, eating or liabation bowl for a large
number of Vajrayana deities. It is held in the left hand of
yoginis, siddhas, dakinis, yidams and
protective deities. It contains such substances as: divine nectar
(Skt. amrita), vital nectar (semen), alcohol, ritual cakes or tormas,
fresh blood, marrow, intestines, fat, as well as the brains, heart and
lungs of demonic enemies who are personified as maras ans rudras.
The qualities attributed to the differing sources of human bone utilized
for skull-cups follows a similar sequence to the thighbone trumpet, with
the skull of a Brahmin, r a victim of murder or execution being
considered the most effective medium for wrathful practices. The
skull of a child who died during the onset of puberty also has great
potency as does the "misbegotten skull" (Tib. nal-thod) of a 7-8 year
old child born from an incestuous union. A skull full f "charm
blood" (Tib. thun-khrag) is a specific attribute of the wrathful goddess
Shri Devi in her form as the "Glorious Army-averting Queen".
The skullcup is usually held in the left "wisdom" hand and held in
front of the deity's heart where it may be paired with such right hand
'method' implements such as the vajra or curved knife. Many
wrathful protective and yidam deities hold a curved knife above a skull
cup in front of their hearts symbolizing the union of their method and
wisdom. The curved knife serves as the "method" weapon that severs
the life and vital organs of demonic enemies and the skull cup is the
"wisdom" vessel in which the blood and organs are collected as the
deity's life source.
staff (Skt. khatvanga), hand drum (Skt. dhamaru) and skull cup (Skt.
kapala) are the three main attributes of the the Hindu kapalika yoginis
and these three symbols were absorbed into the tantric Buddhist siddha
lineages as representations of the body, speech and mind of the deity.
The khatvanga represents the body or consort, the damaru represents
speech, and the kapala represents the mind.