Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Mahakala (Buddhist Protector) - Chaturmukha (Four-Faced)

མ་ཧཱ་ཀཱ་ལ། ནག་པོ་ཆེན་པོ། 玛哈嘎拉
(item no. 100638)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1800 - 1899
Lineages Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Publication: A Tale of Thangkas
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Wrathful

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Mahakala, Chaturmukha (Four-faced Great Black One) associated with the Guhyasamaja Tantra along with the Twenty-five and Fifty Chapter Mahakala Tantras.

At the top left is Vajradhara Buddha. At the top right is a teacher wearing monastic robes (unidentified). Various retinue figures are at the lower sides and front foreground.

According to the Sakya Tradition this form of Mahakala with four faces and four arms is rarely depicted in art and virtually never shown to those who are uninitiated. The early Sakya Teachers devised a simplified form of the deity to be depicted on paintings as a place card-holder for the true image and form which was considered too secret and dangerous to display publicly. The simplified form is that of what has come to be known as Brahmanarupa Mahakala. (See below for a short history).

"Shri Vajra Chaturmukha Mahakala, the main face and the stacked face are both black, the two on the right and left are dark green. With four arms, the first two right and left hold a curved knife and blood filled skullcup to the heart. The lower right [holds] a sword. The lower left holds upraised a bone garland [of beads]. The brown hair bristles upwards; there are three eyes, bared fangs, lower lip distended, a crown of five dried skulls, a necklace of fifty fresh [heads], a Brahmin's cord, bone and snake ornaments. [He] stands in a manner with the right leg bent and the left straight; having an appearance of magnificent wrathfulness. On the right is black Dombini, left green Chandali, front red Rakshasi, behind yellow Singhali." (by Ngorchen Konchog Lhundrup (1497-1557). Lamdre Collection, vol.18, folios 375-398. sGrub Thabs Kun bTus, vol.10., fol. 400-422. Gyu De Kun Tus, vol.18, fol.128-150).

Indian Lineage: Vajradhara, Nagarjuna, Balimtapa, Buddhajnana, Marmedze Zangpo, Shrideva, Drime Bepa, Ratnavajra, Ratnakirti, Risula Dakini, Nyen Lotsawa, Lama Nam Ka'upa, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, etc.

Taranata in his text called an Ocean of Meditational Deities (Yidam Gyatso) describes Chaturmukha Mahakala as having Five types: 1. Approximation, 2. Accomplishment, 3. Performing Activities, 4. the Four Families, or Four Activities, and 5. Demon Faces. The technical descriptions of the various forms of Chaturmukha vary between the text of Taranata and the Rinjung Lhantab text of the 4th Panchen Lama.

Jeff Watt [1-2012]

Related Items
Thematic Sets
Mahakala: Chaturmukha (Four-faced) Main Page
Publication: A Tale of Thangkas