Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Vajrabhairava (Buddhist Deity) - with consort

རྡོ་རྗེ་འཇིགས་འབྱེད། 金刚大威德(佛教本尊)
(item no. 2455)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1700 - 1799
Lineages Gelug and Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment, Black Background on Cotton
Collection Private
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 Gelug Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

At the top center is Vajradhara with Tsongkapa and Lobzang Jampal Gyatso, the 8th Dalai Lama (1758-1804 [46 yrs]) seated to the left. On the right side are Lobzang Yeshe, the 3rd Panchen, and Gendun Gyatso the 2nd Dalai Lama.

Descending on the left side are: Akshobhyavjra Guhyasamaja, Shadbhuja Mahakala, White Shadbhuja, Chaturmukha Mahakala and Shri Devi Magzor Gyalmo.

Descending on the right side are Chakrasamvara, Panjara Mahakala, Chaturbhuja Mahakala, 'Outer' Yama Dharmaraja, Begtse Chen and Vaishravana Riding a Lion. At the bottom center is Ochen Barma accompanied by three attendant figures.

Vajrabhairava is a wrathful form of Manjushri and functions as a meditational deity of the Anuttarayoga Classification in Tantric Buddhism. Vajrabhairava is NOT a protector deity and is NOT included in any Buddhist classifications of protectors. As a principal meditational deity Vajrabhairava, belongs to the Vajrabhairava and Yamari class of tantras and specifically arises from the Vajrabhairava Root Tantra (Tib.: jig je tsa gyu). The Vajrabhairava and Yamari Tantras belong to the method (father) classification of Anuttaryoga Tantra.

The practice of Vajrabhairava is common to the three main Sarma Schools of Tibetan Buddhism: Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug. Among the Sakya it is counted as one of the four main tantric deities along with Hevajra, Guhyasamaja and Chakrasamvara (Tib.: gyu de shi). Amongst the various Kagyu Schools the Drigungpa are strong upholders of the practice. In the Gelug School Vajrabhairava is the principal meditational deity taught for Anuttarayoga practice along with the meditational deities Akshobhyavajra Guhyasamaja and Chakrasamvara. There are numerous forms and styles of practice from the very complex with numerous deities to the very concise with a single Heruka form - one face and two arms. From amongst the many different lineages and teachings of Vajrabhairava to enter Tibet it is said that the main ones were those of Rwa Lotsawa and Mal Lotsawa.

Wrathful deities of all types are typically painted onto a black background. This tradition began in the last half of the 1st millenium and the literature is found in both the Twenty-five and Fifty Chapter Mahakala Tantras. Each tantra has a seperate chapter on the creation of a painting of Mahakala for personal ritual use. This Tantric painting tradition was later expanded to include all wrathful figures if the artist or donor so chose to do. In the 19th century many Tibetan artists now paint all forms of deities, peaceful or wrathful, or historical figues, on a black background regardless of earlier tradition and Tantric understanding.

Jeff Watt [8-1998]

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Buddhist Deity: Vajrabhairava Main Page
Painting: Vajrabhairava (Blackground)
Buddhist Deity: Ochen Barma
Collection: Bonhams NY, March 2018
Collection: Sotheby's New York. September 2022 (Painting)
Collection of Anna Maria Rossi & Fabio Rossi