Photographs from De long en large Ladakh by Jean Mansion - Édition Findakly. Copyright Lise Mansion
Several years ago, a theory was advanced concerning the nature of the iconography on the handles of Nepalese buckets. It prorposed that the handle is a rendering of an acephalous lizard and that the graphic representation of the reptile on the bucket would serve to scare away flies and mosquitoes, which would cause the milk to turn when they fell into it. There appears to us to be little documentation to support this idea, and we believe it to be erroneous. Anyone who finds themselves under assault from mosquitoes and flies knows perfectly well that moving one’s head around and beating one’s arms does not do much to deter the insects. I had also contacted the national association of milk producers at the time to ask what effect they thought mosquitoes and flies in milk might have on its turning. Amused, my interlocutor replied ironically that a mixture of half milk and half flies and mosquitoes macerating together for eight days would very likely result in bad milk.
On a more serious note though, when one looks at the buckets, like those illustrated on pages 122 and 123 of the Ghurras de la ferme au musée - Nepal (Ghurras from the Farm to the Museum – Nepal) catalog, one sees very clearly that they were manufactured with wickerwork handles so that they could be easily held in hand, and that the wickerwork designs on them were reproduced in sculpture. The lateral windings are moreover obviously representations of cordage and not lizards’ feet. Anyone with a doubt about this would do well to consult the Encyclopædia Universalis.
The problem with this type of absurd assertion is that one sees it repeated regularly, and especially in auction catalogs.
As Saint Ignatius of Loyola said: “A grave error propagated by many soon becomes a truth that all share”.