Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Vajrabhairava (Buddhist Deity) - with consort

རྡོ་རྗེ་འཇིགས་འབྱེད། 金刚大威德(佛教本尊)
(item no. 137)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1800 - 1899
Lineages Gelug
Size 111.76x76.20cm (44x30in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Shelley & Donald Rubin
Catalogue # acc.# P1995.14.1
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Animal-Feature

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Vajrabhairava (Tibetan: dor je jig je. English: Vajra Terror) with the consort Vajra Vetali surrounded by the main protectors of the Gelugpa School.

Vajrabhairava, in the center, is terrifying and wrathful, dark blue in colour with 9 faces, 34 hands and 16 legs. The main face is that of a buffalo, with a red face above and the slightly angry yellow face of Manjushri placed on top. The three right faces are yellow, dark blue and red and the three left are black, white and smoky. Each face has three large round eyes, bared white fangs and frightful expressions; dark yellow hair flows upward; adorned with bone ornaments and a necklace of fifty heads. The first pair of hands hold a curved knife and skullcup embracing the consort. The remaining hands hold a variety of objects. Vajra Vetali has one face and two hands, blue in colour with orange hair pressed against the back; holding a skullcup in the left hand. The right legs of Bhairava are bent pressing down on various animals and gods. The left legs are extended straight and press upon various birds and gods; standing above an orange sun disc and multi-coloured lotus completely surrounded by the orange flames of pristine awareness.

At the top center is a Vajradhara, the primordial buddha, blue in colour, with one face and two hands holding a vajra and bell to the heart. On each side is a brown skinned Indian yogi with the appearance of a mahasiddha; possibly Saraha and Rahula. To the lower left is Arya Nagarjuna, wearing monastic robes, with small snakes adorning the green aureole of the head. To the lower right is an Indian teacher wearing monastic robes and a pandita hat with the hands in the teaching gesture.

At the upper left corner is the tutelary deity of Guhyasamaja, blue, with three faces and six hands embracing the consort; in a seated posture. At the right corner is Chakrasamvara, blue, with four faces and twelve hands, embracing the consort, red Yogini; in a standing posture. These two figures along with Vajra Bhairava in the center of the painting represent the three most important tutelary deities (Skt.: ishtadevata) of the Gelugpa School.

To the left side of the faces of Bhairava is a small white Maitreya figure, seated in western style, with the hands in the teaching gesture. To the right is the dakini Simhamukha, blue, with a lion face and two hands.

On the left side below Guhyasamaja is Vajrapani Bhutadamara, blue, with one face and four hands. Below that is Panjarnata Mahakala, black, with one face and two hands. Below that is White Shadbhuja Mahakala with one face and six hands. Below that is outer Yama Dharmaraja, black, with a buffalo head and two hands, accompanied by the consort Chamundi; riding a buffalo. Below that is inner Yama Dharmaraja, black, with one wrathful face and two hands. Immediately to the right is secret Yama Dharmaraja, red, with one buffalo face and two hands holding a wishing jewel in the right and a skullcup to the heart with the left; standing above a red buffalo surrounded by the flames of wisdom.

On the left side below Chakrasamvara is the seated Chaturbhuja Mahakala, black, with one face and four hands. Below that is Chaturmukha Mahakala, black, with four faces and four hands, holding a curved knife and skullcup with the first pair and a sword and spear with the second pair; standing above a corpse. Below that is the Brahman Form Mahakala, brown skinned, with one face and two hands; with the appearance of an Indian yogi. Below that is the female protector Palden Magzor Gyalmo, black, with one face and two hands riding a mule. Below that is Begtse Chen, red, with one face and two hands. Immediately to the left is Vaishravana, the direction guardian of the North, orange in colour, with one face and two hands. Directly below the central figure is Shadbhuja Mahakala, black, with one face and six hands; with five offering skullcups arranged in front. This last form of Mahakala, Shadbhuja, along with Vaishravana and outer Yama Dharmaraja are the three main protectors of the Gelugpa School.

As a tutelary deity Vajra Bhairava, also known as Yamantaka, belongs to the Yamari class of tantras and specifically arises from the Bhairava Root Tantra (Tibetan: Jig je tsa gyu) and is classified as method (father) Anuttaryoga Tantra. The practice of Bhairava is common to the three Sarma Schools: Sakya, Kagyu and Gelugpa. There are numerous forms and styles of practice from the very complex with numerous deities to the very concise with a single Heruka form. The main lineages to enter Tibet were those of Jowo Atisha, Rwa Lotsawa, Mal Lotsawa and the like.

This form of Bhairava with the central faces placed 3 vertically and 3 faces to each side arranged horizontally is unique to the Gelugpa School and true to a visionary experience of Lord Tsongkapa the founder.

Jeff Watt 8-98

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Tradition: Gelug Art History & Iconography
Tradition: Gelug Deity Paintings
Buddhist Deity: Vajrabhairava Main Page
Iconography: Iconographic Programs
Collection of Shelley & Donald Rubin
Buddhist Deity: Vajrabhairava & Gelug Protectors Composition
Subject: Generic Figures