Himalayan Art Resources

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

མ་ཧཱ་ཀཱ་ལ། ནག་པོ་ཆེན་པོ། 玛哈嘎拉
(item no. 170)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1500 - 1599
Lineages Nyingma and Buddhist
Size 71.76x52.07cm (28.25x20.50in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment, Fine Gold Line on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# F1997.11.1
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: nag po chen po chag shi pa. English: the Great Black One With Four Hands).

Sanskrit: Chaturbhuja Tibetan: Chag shi pa

With one face and four hands, dark blue in colour, Mahakala glares ferociously with three large round eyes, bared fangs and orange hair flowing upward. The first pair of hands hold a fresh heart and the left a skullcup - held to the heart embracing the consort. The second right hand holds upraised a sword and in the left a katvanga staff with a trident point. Ferocious in appearance the consort holds a skullcup in the left hand. Both are adorned with a tiara of skulls, bone and jewel ornaments, garlands of heads and green silk scarves. The Lord wears a tiger skin as a lower garment and the consort a girdle of finely strung bone ornaments. In a relaxed posture they are seated above a multi-coloured lotus, sun and red corpse seat surrounded by the flames of pristine awareness interspersed with the emanations of black dogs, birds and garudas.

To the left are two wrathful deities with one face and two hands, dark blue in colour, riding black ravens. The top figure has a raven face and the lower figure stands in a sea of blood. To the right is a lion faced figure with two hands, blue in colour, riding on a mule in a sea of blood. Below that is Rahula, dark in colour, with nine faces and two hands, the lower body in the shape of a snake.

At the top center and arranged to each side are the lineage gurus of the Four Handed Mahakala. In the center is Buddha Samantabhadra blue in colour. At the left is white Vajrasattva. To the right is red Vajradharma and again to the right is Guru Padmasambhava.

At the bottom right and left are two more wrathful attendant deities to each side, all with one face and two hands. On the left they ride a white horse and a red stag. On the right the figures are blue black in colour riding a snow lion and horse. At the bottom center a lama sits on a throne while accepting the ritual implements for performing the offering service to Mahakala. Arranged on the table in front of the central figure is the ritual offering of a large red 'torma,' stylized food, with a skullcup at each side.

"From a mandala of red-black fire above a lotus, sun, moon and corpse, with one face and four hands, seated in a relaxed posture; to the Great Black One I pay homage." (Nyingma liturgical verse).

Mahakala is a wrathful form of enlightenment, a wisdom deity, appearing as a protector for Vajrayana Buddhism. This particular form is Nyingmapa and has many 'Kama' (Oral Lineage) and 'Terma' (Revealed Treasure) traditions of practice.

Jeff Watt 7-98

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