Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Mahakala (Buddhist Protector) - Kartaridhara (Knife Holder)

མ་ཧཱ་ཀཱ་ལ། ནག་པོ་ཆེན་པོ། 玛哈嘎拉
(item no. 366)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1700 - 1799
Lineages Kadam
Size 55.88x29.21cm (22x11.50in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# P1996.20.14
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Wrathful

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Kartaridhara, Mahakala (Tibetan: dri gug gon po nag po chen po, English: the Black Lord with a Curved Knife).

"Glorious Lord, blue-black in colour, with one face and two hands, three round red eyes, bared fangs, orange hair flowing upward, a crown of five dry skulls, a necklace of human heads and nagas of the five races adorning the head. The right hand holds aloft a curved knife, the left holds to the heart a blood filled skullcup. The right leg is bent and the left extended, standing above a lotus, sun and upturned human corpse. Wearing a lower garment of tiger skin [he] dwells in the middle of a blazing mass of red-black fire." (From the Narthang Gyatsa, 12th century).

Also adorned with a large green flowing scarf and two necklaces of writhing snakes Mahakala is portrayed against a bright red nimbus completely surrounded with licks of flame contrasted against a dark blue background above a multi-coloured lotus in the middle of a blue lake.

At the top center sits a solitary lama wearing simple and unadorned monastic robes with the right hand performing the 'earth witness' mudra (gesture) and the left placed in the lap performing the mudra of meditation.

At the bottom, in a trampling stance, is a wrathful attendant figure, brown in colour, with one distorted animal face and two hands holding a curved knife and skullcup, looking up and offering the skullcup to the Lord; wearing a tiger skin skirt, standing above a corpse.

Kartaridhara Mahakala, in the single aspect, was popularized by Lord Atisha (founder of the Kadampa School, 11th century).

Jeff Watt 7-98

Related Items
Thematic Sets
Buddhist Protectors: Enlightened
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 7
Buddhist Protector: Mahakala Main Page
Mahakala: Kartaridhara (Knife Holder) Page
Subject: Confused Visual Subjects (List)