Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Shri Devi (Buddhist Protector) - Magzor Gyalmo

དཔལ་ལྡན་ལྷ་མོ། 吉祥天母(佛教护法)
(item no. 30994)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1700 - 1799
Lineages Sakya, Jonang (Sakya) and Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment, Black Background on Silk
Collection Private
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Wrathful

Gender: Female

TBRC: W19221

Interpretation / Description

Shri Devi, Magzor Gyalmo (Tibetan: pal den lha mo, mag gyi zor le, gyal mo. English: Glorious Goddess, the Queen who Repels Armies, or the Queen who has the power to turn back armies. Sanskrit: Shri Devi, Yakshi Remati): belonging to the larger class of enlightened protector deities known as Shri Devi.

"... Shri Devi Remati, Queen of the Army Repelling Weapons, riding a mule, blue-black in colour, with one face and two hands, having bared fangs and gnashing down on a human corpse. Possessing three round red eyes, and the forehead furrowed into a frown, brown hair flowing upwards with licks of flame and smoke issuing forth. The right ear is adorned with a poisonous snake and the left with a lion, crowned with five dry human skulls and a necklace of fifty blood dripping wet [heads] strung with intestines. ... having a lower garment of tiger skin, a snake belt and necklace, etc. The right hand holds to the sky a sandalwood stick marked with a vajra. The left holds to the heart a mustard seed and blood filled skullcup. ... At the level of the navel is a sun and at the crown of the head a crescent moon; above the head is a peacock parasol canopy." (Sharchen Champa Kunga Tashi 1558-1603, TBRC P778. Drub Tab Kun Tu vol.9, pp.606-607. TBRC W19221).

The textual source for Magzor Gyalmo is the Dakinyagnijihajvala Tantra, Dege Kanjur, volume 98, pp.223-253. It is found in the Nyingma Tantra section, vol.3. TBRC w22084.

At the top center is Rakta Yamari the wrathful meditational deity form of Manjushri. He is red in colour with one face and two hands. Holding a stick in the upraised right hand and a skullcup in the left he stands atop a red buffalo and human figure. Rakta Yamari is commonly paired with Magzor Gyalmo in paintings because of the relationship between the peaceful forms of Manjushri and Sarasvati.

Also at the top are four Tibetan teachers. They are all monks and wear monastic attire. Three wear hats. The figure on the far left wears a cap reminiscent of a lotus hat similar to Padmasambhava and many Nyingma teachers. The two figures on the right wear a red pandita hat. The figure on the far right has the hat folded and laying flat across the top of the head. All four figures are unidentified and no name inscriptions can be found.

At the bottom center is Shri Devi with four arms riding atop a donkey. She is actually the main form of the deity in the classification of Shri Devi protector deities although there are several forms that have four hands but hold different objects. The form represented here follows closely with the Ngog Choku Dorje lineage which is said to originate with the Indian Mahasiddha Naropa. The characteristics which are identified to this tradition are the attributes in the hands. Most notable is the 'kila' peg in the left hand along with the sword and skullcup in the right. There are eight smaller wrathful attendant figures to the right and left sides of Shri Devi.

It is hard to identify the tradition that the painting belongs to. Typically the Sakya form of the deity has a lion earring on the right side and a snake on the left side. The Gelug tradition reverses this. The painting represented here follows the Gelug tradition although it is fair to say that not all artists follow the more precise details of the textual descriptions. The four teachers at the top rule out the painting as Gelug because of the colour of the hats. It is more probable that the painting was commissioned within one of the smaller traditions or a mixed tradition of possibly Sakya, Jonang, Bulug, Kagyu or even Nyingma.

Magzor Gyalmo is regarded as a wrathful emanation of the peaceful goddess Sarasvati, although popular in both Hinduism and Buddhism, the Buddhist deity is more properly known as Vajra Sarasvati and of a different entity and nature than the Hindu goddess Sarasvati. Within the Buddhist Tantric tradition Vajra Sarasavti is believed to be an enlightened deity while the Hindu form of the goddess is believed to be worldly in nature and not enlightened from a Buddhist point of view.

Amongst the many forms of Shri Devi, the specific form of Magzor Gyalmo, blue-black and wrathful, is recognized by having one face and two hands, holding aloft with the right hand a vajra tipped staff and in the left a skullcup held to the heart. She rides side-saddle atop a mule. Above her head is a large peacock feather parasol. In the Sakya and related Traditions there is a snake ornament for the right ear and a lion for the left. In the Gelug Tradition this is reversed and the lion is an ornament for the right and the snake for the left.

The earliest known painting of Magzor Gyalmo as a central figure, HAR 89944, only dates to the 15th century. Prior to this period the two commonly found forms of Shri Devi were the four armed Dudsolma and Dorje Rabtenma. The four armed form is of Indian Buddhist origin and the Dorje Rabtenma is of Nyingma origin descending according to the lineage from Padamasambhava. It is possible that prior to the 15th century there are no examples of Magzor Gyalmo even as a minor figure in painting compositions.

Teachers of the Zhang, Mu and Sakya Lineages: Vajradhara, [Guhyapati Varapani], Pandita Lawa Marpo, [Pandita Sherab Salwa], Che Jungne Zangpo, Nub Gyalwa Yeshe, Shang Chogdru Sherab Lama, Se Sangha Bhadra, Se Palchen Odpo, Se Shang Dode Tsemo, Shang Dingriwa Nyima Drag, Tenzangwa Rinchen Namgyal, Samlingpa Sanggye Jungwa, Jamyang Khonton Tugje Rinchen, Jangsem Rinchen Gonpo, Choje Nyima Shenyen, Choje Konchog Pal Zangpo, Jetsun Jamyang Gonpo, Bodongpa Jamyang Raltri, Namkha Monlam, Je Namkhai Nyingpo, Je Namkha Gyaltsen, Chagyurwa Sonam Sengge, Yang Gonpa Palden Tashi, Ngag Chang Kunga Rinchen, Ngorchen Konchog Palden, Sharchen Champa Kunga Tashi, Sharchen Sherab Jungne, Sharpa Yeshe Zangpo, Kedrub Sanggye Puntsog, (etc.).

Jeff Watt 5-2013

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