Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Mahakala (Buddhist Protector) - Chaturbhuja (Four-hands)

མ་ཧཱ་ཀཱ་ལ། ནག་པོ་ཆེན་པོ། 玛哈嘎拉
(item no. 100)
Origin Location Western Tibet
Date Range 1300 - 1399
Lineages Uncertain
Size 40.64x36.83cm (16x14.50in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# P1994.24.1
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Wrathful

Gender: Male

Summary: This form of Mahakala can be either a protector deity (dharmapala) or a meditational deity (ishtadevata).

Interpretation / Description

Chaturbhuja Mahakala (Tibetan: gon po chag shi pa. English: the Great Lord with Four Hands): wrathful protector of Buddhism.

Sanskrit: Chaturbhuja Tibetan: Chag shi pa

Fiercely wrathful, black in colour, he has one face with three round red eyes and a gaping red mouth, a yellow beard and yellow upward flowing hair. The buddha Akshobhya sits at the crown of the head. The main pair of hands is placed at the heart holding in the right a curved knife and a blood filled white skullcup in the left. In the second pair, the right upraised holds a vajra handled sword. The left held to the side holds a katvanga staff with a trident tip. Adorned with a crown of five white skulls, earrings, necklaces, bracelets and the like, the lower body is wrapped in a tiger skin skirt with the right leg pendant and the left drawn up. Atop a multi-coloured lotus blossom, he sits completely surrounded by a ring of red flames - the fires of pristine awareness.

"From a red-black mandala of fire,
Above a lotus, sun, moon and corpse,
With one face and four hands, seated in a relaxed posture:
Homage to the Great Black One." (Nyingma liturgical verse).

Arranged in horizontal rows are various symbols and special offerings. The top row is composed of banners and canopies. The 2nd row comprises mythical creatures such as snow lions and dragons, and the 3rd prized black horses. The middle rows are made up of wild and ferocious animals, black birds at the outside - the messengers of the protector, and savage men. Black yaks, mules and dogs occupy the 3 lower rows. Along the bottom are arranged the special weapons, garments and standards of Mahakala.

As a wrathful form of enlightenment, a wisdom deity and buddha, he appears as a protector for Vajrayana Buddhism. There are many forms of this particular Mahakala in both Nyingma and Sarma traditions. The pandita and mahasiddha Nagarjuna originally popularized the practice. In the Sarma Schools Chaturbhuja is strongly related to the Chakrasamvara cycle of Tantras.

Jeff Watt 8-99

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