Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Mahakala (Buddhist Protector) - Shadbhuja (Shangpa)

མ་ཧཱ་ཀཱ་ལ། ནག་པོ་ཆེན་པོ། 玛哈嘎拉
(item no. 465)
Origin Location Eastern Tibet
Date Range 1800 - 1899
Lineages Karma (Kagyu)
Size 56.52x46.99cm (22.25x18.50in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment, Fine Gold Line on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# F1996.16.8
Painting School Palpung / Situ
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Wrathful

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Shadbhuja Vajra Mahakala (Tibetan: dor je nag po, gon po chag drug pa, English: the Great Vajra Black One with Six Hands).

With a body blue-black in colour, one face, six hands, he has three round red eyes, a mouth red and open gaping with bared white fangs. Yellow eyebrows, beard and hair flowing upward. The first right hand holds a curved knife at the heart above a skullcup held in the first left hand. The upper right holds a damaru drum and in the lower a heart. The upper left hand holds a trident and the lower another heart. Adorned with a crown of five dry human skulls, a necklace of fifty fresh blood dripping heads, he wears bone ornaments and snakes. Attired in a lower garment of tiger skin the stomach is distended above. On the form of the white elephant headed Ganesh, a sun disc and multi-coloured lotus blossom he stands in the middle of the orange flames of pristine awareness. Precious wishing jewels, in a variety of colours, elephant tusks and conch shells are arranged in front as offerings.

At the top center is the female tutelary deity Vajravarahi, red, with one face and two hands holding a curved knife in the upraised right hand and a skullcup held to the heart with the left; standing in a dancing posture. At the lower left the second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (1206-1283), is adorned with a black goatee, wearing monastic robes and a black hat. Both hands are extended across the knees in the mudra of Earth Witness. At the right is a lama wearing monastic robes and a red hat in the style of the Shamar and Situ incarnate lamas. The right hand is held to the heart in blessing and the left holds a Dharma Wheel in the lap. At the far right and left are two seated lamas wearing monastic robes and red pandita hats holding various objects.

At the bottom center is the Vajra Black Cloaked Mahakala (Tib.: gon po ber nag chen) with one face and two hands holding aloft a curved knife in the right and a skullcup to the heart with the left. Wearing a dark full length cloak standing surrounded by flames. At the right is Mahakali (Tib.: pal den lha mo), dark blue, with one face and four hands, riding a mule. At the left is the worldly protector Damchen Garwa'i Nagpo, dark blue, holding in the right hand a hammer and in the left a bellows, riding a brown goat.

There are numerous forms of Shadbhuja (six handed) Mahakala arising from a variety of Tantras. The standard form commonly seen is Shadbhuja from the Shangpa Kagyu tradition.

Jeff Watt 4-98

Related Items
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Mahakala: Shadbhuja [Shangpa] Page (Six-hands)
Buddhist Protectors: Enlightened
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 2
Buddhist Protector: Mahakala Main Page
Mahakala (Kagyu)