Friday Inspired: Portable Shrines


For this week’s Friday Inspired, we have Payal Wadhwa who’s been exploring the allure of portable shrines.

“It’s a fascination that began almost a decade ago, when I was living in Italy and surrounded by some rather devout families in my neighbourhood. A small village of Roman Catholics, I was often invited to dinners and coffees and proudly introduced to their mantelpiece shrines.

I’ve been enamoured since.
In my agnostic blur of existence, I’ve stumbled across portable shrines in the following years that have drawn me in, to the stories and scripts within these palm sized dioramas that admittedly are magnificent and almost universal in their structure, ideas and usage.

I recently attended an Indian oral storytelling seminar that re-introduced me to the world of the Kaavad, portable shrines that are now slowly evolving as a medium for communicating more stories than those religious.

Tales of morality with contemporary characters are slowly taking over the mantel gods and goddesses, once occupied to appeal to children and younger people that keepers of these shrines entertained. With tales from the Panchatantra and the Arabian Nights making it to the surfaces once sacred and guarded, what happens to these objects as humanity evolves, religions dissolve or become stauncher, and morality and faith become increasingly questionable shall be an interesting narrative to follow.

Here are some images of the most fascinating shrines I’ve seen in person or trawled the internet for. The fascination to find new ones continues, as I was recently presented with a part of the Dalai Lama’s temporary shrine. It makes for a thing of absolute enchantment, and well, a less sceptic of me.”

Box with Stones from the Holy Land, 6th-7th Century, Early Christian
Vatican Museums
1- box-of-stones-from-holy-lands1-1024x733

Portable Buddhist Shrine from Tibet, 19th Century AD
British Museum
a. closed
b open

2-British Museum Shrine

2b - BM Shrine

Portable shrine (this a much larger version) from Egypt, Ptolemaic Dynasty, 305-30 BCE
Freer Sackler Smithsonian Museums of Asian Art

Small black lacquer portable shrine (zushi) with a painted wood demon,19th Century

A portable shrine in the form of a tabernacle from Nottingham, 15th Century
Burrell Collection, Glasgow Museums

Miniature altar (portable shrine), probably from Northern Netherlands, 1500-20
Victoria and Albert Museum

Portable Buddhist Shrine with Two Removable Standing Bodhisattvas, a Lotus Base for a Seated Buddha Image (now missing), a Repoussé Panel Depicting the Buddha Amitabha (Amit’abul), and Repoussé Panels on the Doors Representing Guardian Figures, 14th Century
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum

Portable Mani Shrine (Tashi Gomang) of Copper Palace of Padmasambhava Bhutan,18th–19th Century
Private Collection (exhibited during Legends and Myths in Himalayan Art, Rubin Museum of Art, NY)

Recitations from a 50 year old Kaavad
Courtesy Payal Wadhwa, Image & Word: Workshop on Storytelling, New Delhi April 2013

The Kaavad Souvenir – Built by Dwarka Prasad
Courtesy Alexandra Moskovchuk, Image & Word: Workshop on Storytelling, New Delhi April 2013

And if you are looking to make your own mikoshi, you can start with this.


Payal Wadhwa runs a multidisciplinary studio in London called Inspire Conspire Retire. The studio designs for museums, exhibitions, books, cafes, hotels, events, film and stage. They also build strong brands and tell meaningful stories for those they work with. Payal moonlights as a performance maker.

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