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. 1039)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1500 - 1599
Lineages Gelug
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# P2001.11.4
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Wrathful

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Shadbhuja Mahakala (Tibetan: pal nyur dze ye she kyi gon po chag drug pa. English: the Swift Acting Lord of Pristine Awareness with Six Hands). The wrathful manifestation of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara after having taken on the form of Mahakala - the principal protector of the Shangpa Kagyu and Gelugpa Schools.

Fiercely wrathful, blue-black in colour, with one face and six hands, he has glaring eyes, a gaping mouth and upward flowing yellow hair. The first pair of hands hold to the heart a curved knife and skullcup, the upper pair a skull mala and trident, and the lower pair a damaru drum and lasso. Adorned with a crown of five skulls, gold and jewel ornaments, snakes and a garland of fresh heads, he wears an upper garment of an elephant hide and a tiger skin below. With the right leg bent and left straight atop the prone figure of white Ganesh, a sun disc and multi-coloured lotus seat he is surrounded by the flames of pristine awareness.

At the top left is the small figure of Avalokiteshvara Padmapani, white in colour, holding the stems of two lotus flowers blossoming at each ear. In the corner is Heruka Vajrabhairava, blue in colour, with the head of a buffalo, holding a curved flaying knife and skullcup. At the top right is the female meditational deity Vajravarahi, red, standing in a dancing posture. In the corner is the primordial Buddha Vajradhara, blue in colour, peaceful in appearance.

At the sides and bottom center below are five principal attendants - the inner retinue to the Lord. Takkiraja is black and holds a damaru in the right hand, the left extended outward holds a lasso; standing in a dancing posture. The Lord of Maras, Trakshe, black in colour holds a banner in the right hand and a skullcup to the heart with the left. Wearing a black flowing cloak, he rides a black daemon horse. Jinamitra is dark red, holding a hand drum aloft with the right and a skullcup to the heart in the left; standing in a dancing manner. Shri Devi Remati, 'Mistress of the Desire Realm' with one face and two hands, she rides a black mule. At the bottom center is the yaksha Kshetrapala, black, holding a curved knife in the right hand and a skullcup in the left, riding atop a crazy black bear. At the right is Shri Devi Mahakali, black, with one face and two hands holding aloft a vajra handled sword in the right and a skullcup to the heart with the left, atop a light brown mule riding in a sea of blood.

Starting at the bottom left is Panjarnata Mahakala followed by Chaturbhuja Mahakala, Kshetrapala (mentioned above), Yama Dharmarajaand Sadhu Mahakala at the far right.

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 the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Generally, a number of variations in the appearance of Shadbhuja and retinue are found in the different tantric traditions principally limited to the leg postures of Mahakala, the number of arms of Shri Devi and the colours and hand objects of the remaining retinue figures. A further 75 deities, in Tibetan called lords (Tib.: 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 references to thousands, tens of thousands, a myriad of potential possibilities.

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

Jeff Watt 4-99

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Mahakala: Shadbhuja [Shangpa] Page (Six-hands)
Mahakala: Shadbhuja (Early Paintings) Page
Buddhist Protectors: Enlightened
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 9
Buddhist Protector: Mahakala Main Page
Mahakala (Gelug)
Subject: Over-conservation & Restoration Page