Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Mahakala (Buddhist Protector) - Shadbhuja (Six-hands, Shangpa)

མ་ཧཱ་ཀཱ་ལ། ནག་པོ་ཆེན་པོ། 玛哈嘎拉
(item no. 471)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1700 - 1799
Lineages Gelug
Size 79.38x59.69cm (31.25x23.50in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment, Fine Gold Line, Black Background on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# F1996.18.4
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Wrathful

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Shadbhuja Vajra Mahakala with a Retinue of Five Attendants (Tibetan: dor je nag po, gon po chag drug pa'i kor nga, English: the Great Vajra Black One with Six Hands) wrathful emanation of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.

"The Quick Acting Lord of Pristine Awareness, with a body blue-black in colour, one face and six hands; pale yellow hair flowing upward, three round red eyes, bared fangs and curled tongue, a crown of five dry skulls, having a necklace of fifty blood dripping wet [heads]. The first right hand holds a curved knife, second a skull mala, third a damaru. The first left holds a blood [filled] skullcup, second a trident and third a vajra lasso; adorned with the eight great nagas, an elephant skin as an upper garment and a tiger skin as a lower garment tied with a sash of green silk. The forehead is anointed with a drop of sindura and Akshobhya adorns the crown of the head. All the arms and legs are adorned with small bells. Standing in a manner with the two legs striding forth in the middle of a blazing fire of pristine awareness." (Tsarchen Losal Gyatso 1502-1566). Mahakala stands above the form of the elephant headed Vighnantaka Ganesh, a sun disc and lotus seat.

At the top center is the primordial buddha Vajradhara with one face and two hands holding a vajra and bell crossed at the heart, in a peaceful appearance, seated in vajra posture. At the bottom right is the Mistress of the Desire Realm [Tib.: du kham mo] Mahakali, with a body blue-black in colour, one face and two hands. The first right holds a stick, second a skullcup. With a crown of five dry human skulls, three round red eyes and bared fangs, she rides a mule. At the bottom center is yaksha Kshetrapala, riding a crazy black bear, with a body blue-black in colour, one face and two hands holding a curved knife in the right and a skullcup filled with blood offered to the mouth of the Lord in the left. At the bottom left is the Lord of Maras, Trakshe, black, with one face and two hands, the right holds aloft a red lance and banner and in the left a skullcup; wearing a cloak of silk and riding a black horse. At the top left is ishvara Jinamitra, with a body red-black in colour, one face and two hands. The right beats a skull damaru and the left in a wrathful gesture. At the top right is yama Takkiraja, with a body maroon-black in colour, one face and two hands. The right holds upraised a stick and the left held to the mouth consumes a heart. The last two both stand in a wrathful posture.

The Shadbhuja (six handed) form of Mahakala is a wrathful emanation of Avalokiteshvara and belongs to the Kriya classification of practice with its own short Tantra. Mahasiddha Shavaripa is attributed as the first human lineage holder. Popularized in Tibet by the yogi Khyungpo Naljor in the 11th century, the practice originally belonged to the Shangpa Kagyu School, however the practice was later adopted by the Gelugpa Tradition as their main protector. In modern times the Six-Handed Mahakala is found in all traditions to a greater or lesser extent. This particular example belongs to the Gelugpa system evident by the posture of the right bent leg of Mahakala. There are minor variations in the hand objects of the five attendant figures dependant on the various systems and practice traditions.

The method of painting s called 'black painting' (Tib.: nag thang); the background is black and the deities are drawn as an outline with more or less colour and detail added at the discretion of the artist. This style is generally reserved for the very wrathful figures and rarely used for peaceful deities.

Jeff Watt 4-98

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Mahakala: Shadbhuja [Shangpa] Page (Six-hands)
Buddhist Protectors: Enlightened
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 2
Painting Type: Black Ground Main Page
Buddhist Protector: Mahakala Main Page
Mahakala (Gelug)