Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Mahakala (Buddhist Protector) - (4 face - 16 hands)

མ་ཧཱ་ཀཱ་ལ། ནག་པོ་ཆེན་པོ། 玛哈嘎拉
(item no. 35976)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1500 - 1599
Lineages Sakya, Ngor (Sakya) and Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment, Black Background on Cotton
Collection Private
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Wrathful

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Mahakala with Four Faces and Sixteen Arms Embracing a Consort according to the root text and system of the Mahakala Tantraraja Nama [w25348] in the tradition of Abhayakara Gupta. (See other forms of Mahakala from the Tantra).

At the top center is the primordial Buddha Vajradhara. On the left side is Heruka Chakrasamvara embracing Vajrayogini. On the right side is Bhutadamara Vajrapani with four arms; the principal two hands perform the demon subduing gesture. At the upper right is Two Armed Mahakala. At the upper left is Four Armed Mahakala. Both of these figures are without a consort.

At the bottom left side is a Three Faced Eight Armed Mahakala. At the bottom right is a Three Faced Six Armed Mahakala. At the bottom center is a Four Faced Twelve Armed Mahakala. These three figures each have a consort with one face and two arms.

The six forms of Mahakala depicted in this composition are described in the Fifty Chapter Mahakala Tantra (Mahakala Tantraraja Nama. nag po chen po mgon po mngon par 'byung ba zhes bya ba'i rgyud kyi rgyal po. [TBRC w25348]).

In that text there are ritual practices and descriptions for a total of eight forms of Mahakala:
- Two-armed solitary with two retinue figures (right arm raised or placed at the heart)
- Four-armed solitary with four retinue figures
- Six-armed with consort
- Eight-armed with consort
- Ten-armed with consort (not in the painting)
- Twelve-armed with consort
- Fourteen-armed with consort (not in the painting)
- Sixteen-armed with consort

Jeff Watt 3-2015

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Buddhist Protector: Mahakala Main Page
Collection of Richard R. & Magdalena Ernst (Masterworks)
Mahakala (Rare & Unusual Forms)
Subject: Fifty Chapter Mahakala Tantra
Collection: Private 1
Subject: Wrathful Appearance Page
Collection of Richard R. & Magdalena Ernst
Painting Type: Black Ground Masterworks