Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Mahakala (Buddhist Protector) - Shadbhuja (Six-hands, Shangpa)

མ་ཧཱ་ཀཱ་ལ། ནག་པོ་ཆེན་པོ། 玛哈嘎拉
(item no. 794)
Origin Location Eastern Tibet
Date Range 1800 - 1899
Lineages Shangpa Kagyu
Size 54.61x33.02cm (21.50x13in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# P1998.32.1
Painting School Palpung / Situ
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Wrathful

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Shadbhuja Mahakala (Tibetan: pal ye she gyi gon po nyur du dze pa chag drug pa, English: the Swift Acting Lord of Pristine Awareness with Six Hands): emanation of Avalokiteshvara and the special protector of the Shangpa Kagyu School.

"The Lord of Pristine Awareness has six hands and a body dark blue in colour. The first two hold a curved knife and skullcup, the middle two a human skull mala and trident, the lowest two a damaru drum and lasso. Adorned with a tiger skin, garland of heads, bones and snakes, and small bells on the hands and feet. Standing in a manner with the two legs together pressing down on Ganapati. With three eyes, bared fangs, eyebrows, beard and hair flowing upward with Akshobhya as a crown. Anointed with a sindhura drop on the forehead. Supported behind by a sandalwood tree, dwelling in the middle of a blazing mass of fire. On the [lower] left is Shri Devi, riding a mule, holding a stick and bag of disease. In front is yaksha Kshetrapala, reddish black, holding a curved knife and skullcup, riding a crazy black bear. At the right is Jinamitra, dark red, holding a hand drum and wheel. Behind [and above] is Takkiraja, black, holding a razor and blood filled skullcup. At the left is the lord of maras, Trakshe, holding a banner, and a skullcup to the heart, riding a black daemon horse with white hooves. He wears a long black silk cloak and boots. Outside of that sport the seventy-five great lords and an ocean of oath-bound ones together with retinue." (Jonang Taranatha, 1575-1634).

At the top center is the buddha of the Eastern Direction and Lord of the Vajra Family, Akshobhya, blue in colour with the right hand extended over the knee in the earth witness mudra and the left placed in the lap in the posture of meditation. Adorned with a gold crown, earrings and silks of various colours, he sits in vajra posture. At the left is the main tutelary deity of the Shangpa School, Chakrsamvara. In heruka form he has one face and two hands holding a vajra and bell embracing the consort Vajrayogini, red in colour, holding upraised a curved knife. Standing on a sun disc and lotus, they are surrounded by the flames of wisdom fire. At the bottom left is the wealth deity White Shadbhuja Mahakala, with one face and six hands holding various objects; standing in the same manner as the principal figure.

Shadbhuja Mahakala arises from the Eight-Chapter Mahakala Tantra belonging to the Kriya classification. The interlocutor or sponsor of the tantra was Hayagriva. There are numerous other forms of Shadbhuja, the most popular being the wealth deity White Mahakala practiced in all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Variations in appearance are found in the different traditions principally the leg postures of Mahakala, the Gelugpa preferring the more wrathful posture with the legs apart. The Tsarpa lineage of Sakya prefers Shri Devi with four hands so as not to confuse her with Magzor Gyalmo the younger sister or servant that has two hands. The colours and hand objects of the remaining retinue also vary according to individual traditions. A further 75 deities, in Tibetan called lords (mgon po) make up the outer retinue and this enumeration hinging on the word 'mgon po' the common name used in reference to Mahakala, has led to the mistaken Western notion that there are 75 forms of Mahakala in Tibetan Buddhism. Iconographically there may be fewer forms but textually there are thousands, tens of thousands, a myriad of potential possibilities.

Lineage: Vajradhara, Jnana Dakini, shri Shavaripa, lord Maitripa, mahasiddha Rahulagupta, Khedrup Khyungpo Naljor (founder of the Shangpa Kagyu School, 11th century), Nyam Med Rinchen Tsondru, Bonton Kyergangpa (famous terton of the Hayagriva cycle of practice), etc.

Jeff Watt 5-99

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Mahakala: Shadbhuja [Shangpa] Page (Six-hands)
Mahakala: Shadbhuja, Six-armed (All Traditions) Main Page
Mahakala: Shadbhuja (Legs Straight)
Buddhist Protectors: Enlightened
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery VIII
Buddhist Protector: Mahakala Main Page
Tradition: Shangpa Kagyu Main Page
Buddhist Deity: Avalokiteshvara (Non-standard Forms)
Buddhist Deity: Lokeshvara (Related Deities)
Mahakala (Kagyu)