Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Worldly Protector (Buddhist) - Dorje Shugden

འཇིག་རྟེན་པའི་ལྷ། ནང་ལྷ། 世俗的神(佛教)
(item no. 393)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1800 - 1899
Lineages Gelug and Buddhist
Size 68.58x49.53cm (27x19.50in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment, Fine Gold Line on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# F1996.1.1
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Wrathful

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Dorje Shugden (English: the Vajra Possessing Strength): surrounded by a retinue of four emanations - a minor worldly protector.

Wrathful in appearance, maroon in colour, the Great King of Mind, with one face and two hands, has three eyes, a mustache and beard. Crowning the head a monk's riding hat broad rimmed and yellow is decorated with a red ribbon. The right hand in a wrathful gesture holds upraised a stick marked with a jewel - ready to strike. The left holds to the heart a lasso with the ends flying to the side. Attired in the orange and yellow patchwork robes of a monk and blue brocade boots he sits in a relaxed posture above a sun disc and pink lotus blossom seat atop a human skin and snow lion supported throne. Inside a skeleton palace, placed on a dais constructed of bone against a backrest of corpse pillars and an arch of gold decorated with looped intestine, licks of orange and red flame curl upward. The roof is adorned with impaled corpses. The rafters are decorated with hanging skins, animal and human, looped entrails further adorn. Above the roof, four dragons appearing from behind the clouds send streaks of yellow lightning spewing from great gaping jaws and taloned claws.

Surrounded by four retinue figures, at the middle left is the Great Increasing King (Tibetan: gye pi gyal chen), yellow in colour, with one face and two hands holding a jewel in the right and a bowl in the left. Attired in regal garb, he rides a brown horse. Directly below is the Great Peaceful King (Tibetan: shi wi gyal chen), white in colour, peaceful, holding aloft an arrow in the right hand and a lasso in the left. Dressed in royal attire, he rides a white elephant.

At the middle right is the Great Powerful King (Tibetan: wang gi gyal chen), dark red, holding a hook and lasso. Royal in appearance with a crown and robes, he rides atop a green dragon. Directly below is the Great Wrathful King (Tibetan: drag po'i gyal chen), maroon in colour, fierce in appearance, holding upraised a curved sword in the right hand and a human heart extended to the side in the left. Surrounded by orange and red flames he rides atop a Garuda clutching a snake in the talons and beak.

Beneath the retinue deities within a walled enclosure of stretched dried skin adorned with skulls and looped intestine is a red pond with swirls and waves of blood interspersed with floating insects and reptilian forms. Hovering above the turbulent vitriol is a table of wrathful offerings. The center skullcup holds the proffered substances of the five senses and to the right and left are blood and nectar. Beyond the enclosure, at the sides, tall trees host the flocks of black birds, messengers of the deity.

At the top center a lama figure wears orange monastic robes with a red pandita hat lying flat atop the head. The right hand is held to the heart in a gesture of blessing and the left in the lap, seated on a cushion and lotus seat. At the left is Vajrayogini, a principal tutelary deity of the Mother Tantras, red, holding a curved knife and skullcup. At the right side is the protector Shadbhuja Mahakala, wrathful, black, with one face and six hands.

At the bottom right the King of the North and a god of wealth, Vaishravana, yellow in colour, holds a victory banner and a mongoose. In a relaxed posture he sits atop a snow lion, moon disc and pink lotus seat. At the bottom left is Sakya Gongma Ngagwang Kunga Tashi Thutob Tendzin of the Khon family. The right hand is extended to the side in a wrathful gesture and the left cradles a long-life vase in the lap. Attired in rich orange vestments he wears the Sakya religious hat, a pandita hat with the lappets draped across the top. Nestled in a meditation cloak on a cushioned seat against a blue backrest, above his head is the buddha of longevity Amitayus. In front a monk attendant stands before a table of ritual objects. Below that is the lay figure of Thabke Tashi, the patron and commissioner of the painting. Attired in orange brocade robes, holding a large vase with both hands, he sits above a cushioned seat. Two small figures wearing hats are located to the side next to a table overflowing with wishing jewels, red coral, gold, and precious objects. Arranged purposefully in front along the length of the foreground are large bolts of fabric topped with precious gifts. Above that, before the gatehouse to the palace, are seven bowls filled with rare delicacies. (The back of the painting has a lengthy inscription, praise to the Sakya Gongma [individual names not identifiable] and a long request of action and protection by Tabke Tashi. The intention is to avert harm and overcome obstacles).

Worldly protectors are typically indigenous Tibetan deities, mountain gods, daemons, spirits or ghosts that have been subjugated and sworn to loyally protect a monastery, geographic region or all of Buddhism in general. This form of Dorje Shugden is rare and was not typically worshiped in the town of Sakya. That specific form was Shugden Tanag Chen (Shugden [riding] a Black Horse. See the bottom right). During the early decades of the last century Dorje Shugden became a subject of considerable controversy among the four Tibetan schools, namely the Gelugpa. The controversy still continues today. Also, within the Sakya School there is no initiation or 'life-entrusting' (Tibetan: srog gtad) ritual for Shugden as found in the Gelug School. That form of the deity (Shugden) typically appears riding a snow lion, holding a sword in the upraised right hand and a heart clutched to the breast in the left. For the Sakyapa all forms of the practice fell into disfavour over 6 decades ago and are essentially non-existent outside of Tibet. Small temples in regional areas of Tibet historically connected with the indigenous local deity may still proffer offerings for the purpose of protection and removing obstacles.

Jeff Watt 1-2000

Reverse of Painting
English Translation of Inscription: Lengthy inscription on the back.

Special Features: (Printed script (Uchen), includes "Om Ah Hum" inscription)

Secondary Images
Related Items
Bibliography: Dorje Shugden Publications

Thematic Sets
Collection of RMA: Iconographically Rare Works
Buddhist Protectors, Worldly Deities (Lokapala)
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 2
Buddhist Protectors: Worldly (Gelug)
Buddhist Deity: Dorje Shugden Art History
Buddhist Deity: Dorje Shugden Main Page
Buddhist Deity: Dorje Shugden, Trode Khangsar Style (Seated on a Throne)
Buddhist Deity: Dorje Shugden Five Families (Single Composition)