Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Vajrabhairava (Buddhist Deity) - Solitary (Ekavira)

རྡོ་རྗེ་འཇིགས་འབྱེད། 金刚大威德(佛教本尊)
(item no. 295)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1800 - 1899
Lineages Sakya and Drigung (Kagyu)
Size 77.47x53.34cm (30.50x21in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment, Fine Gold Line, Black Background on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# F1997.17.5
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Animal-Feature

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Vajra Bhairava Ekavira (The Solitary Hero Vajra Terror); the bodhisattva Manjushri appearing as a tutelary deity in wrathful form.

Vajra Bhairava is black with 9 faces, 34 hands and 16 legs. The main face is that of a buffalo, with a red face above and the slightly fierce face of Manjushri placed on top; flames swirl about the tips of the two horns. The three faces to the right and three faces to the left are stacked one above the other along each side. Each face has three large glaring eyes, bared fangs and a wrathful expression. The yellow hair curls upward like billowing clouds. The first pair of hands hold a curved knife and skullcup at the heart. The remaining hands, all with long white finger nails, hold a variety of objects with the last pair located towards the upper back holding the fresh outstretched hide of an elephant. Each face is adorned with a crown of five skulls, a snake necklace and a garland of fifty heads. The right legs are bent pressing down on 8 creatures arranged in a row above the 4 great gods. The left legs are extended straight and press upon 8 birds arranged in a row above 4 more gods. Atop a gold sun disc and blossoming lotus, with the red tipped phallus engorged, he stands in the middle of the flames of pristine awareness surrounded by a cloud of wafting smoke. Placed before the lotus throne is a skullcup, various wishing jewels and precious objects of offering.

At the top center is the peaceful bodhisattva of wisdom, Arya Manjushri, the quiescent Vajra Bhairava, yellow in colour with one face and two hands holding aloft a sword of wisdom and a book upon a lotus blossom and attended by two goddesses holding parasols. To the left is Vaishravana, guardian of the North, holding a banner and mongoose; riding a snow lion. To the right is the wealth deity yellow Jambhala holding a bijapuraka fruit in the right hand and a mongoose in the left, adorned with a garland of flowers and resting the right foot on a conch shell filled with wishing jewels.

At the bottom center is the special protector for the Vajra Bhairava cycle of practice, Yama Dharmaraja, black, with one face and two hands holding a stick and lasso; embraced by the consort Chamundi, holding a trident and skullcup. Mounted atop a buffalo, they are surrounded by the flames of wisdom fire. Along both sides of the central figure are a total of 10 worldly gods, Brahma, Indra, Vishnu, Shiva and the like, each holding their own characteristic objects and riding their own particular mount.

As a tutelary deity Vajra Bhairava, also known as Yamantaka, belongs to the Bhairava and Yamari class of tantras and specifically arises from the Vajra Bhairava Root Tantra (Tibetan: Jig je tsa gyu). All of those belong to the method (father) classification of Anuttaryoga Tantra. The practice of Bhairava is common to the three Sarma Schools: Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug. Among the Sakya it is counted as one of the four main tantric deities along with Hevajra, Guhyasamaja and Chakrasamvara (Tibetan: gyu de shi). Amongst the various Kagyu Schools the Drikungpa are strong upholders of the practice. There are numerous forms and styles of practice from the very complex with numerous deities to the very concise with a single Heruka form. From the amongst the many lineages to enter Tibet the main ones were those of Jowo Atisha, Rwa Lotsawa, Mal Lotsawa and the like.

Mal Lineage: the lord of Refuge Vajradhara, Arya Manjushri, Acharya Buddha Jnana, Dipamkara Zangpo, Brahmin Shridhara, the pandita and mahasiddha Naropa, Minyam Dorje Khol, the Nepali of Yerang - Bharo Chagdum, Mal Lotsawa Lodro Dragpa, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158), etc.

The style of painting is black scroll (Tib.: nag thang) - gold outline on a black background with a minimal use of coloured pigments for detailing the figures. This style is reserved for wrathful tutelary deities and protectors.

Jeff Watt 7-98

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Tradition: Drigung Kagyu Main Page