Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Vajrabhairava (Buddhist Deity) - with consort

རྡོ་རྗེ་འཇིགས་འབྱེད། 金刚大威德(佛教本尊)
(item no. 59)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1800 - 1899
Lineages Gelug
Size 67.95x48.26cm (26.75x19in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# F1997.3.2
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Animal-Feature

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Vajrabhairava (Tibetan: dor je jig je. English: Vajra Terror) embracing the consort Vajra Vetali surrounded by four protector deities.

Vajrabhairava, with a large buffalo head, terrifying and wrathful, is dark blue in colour, with 9 faces, 34 hands and 16 legs. The upper face is red and a slightly angry yellow face of Manjushri placed on top. The horn tips are flaming. The three right faces are yellow, dark blue and red and the three left are black, white and smoky. Each face has three eyes and various frightful expressions; dark yellow hair flows upward like flames. The first pair of hands hold a curved knife and skullcup embracing the consort. The remaining hands hold a variety of objects with the 2nd set holding in addition the fresh outstretched hide of an elephant at the top. Adorned with bone ornaments and a necklace of fifty heads he embraces the consort Vajra Vetali who has one face and two hands holding a skullcup in the left. The right legs of Bhairava are bent pressing down on various animals and gods. The left legs are extended straight and press upon various birds and gods; standing above an orange sun disc and multi-coloured lotus completely surrounded by the orange and red flames of pristine awareness. In front of the lotus seat is a skullcup filled with various offerings.

At the top left is Shadbhuja Mahakala (Tibetan: gonpo chag drug pa. the Great Black One with Six Hands), in this form - an emanation of Avalokiteshvara, black, wrathful and surrounded by flames.

At the top right is the Lokapala (Direction Guardian) Vaishravana, (Tibetan; Nam thos se), yellow in colour, with one face and two hands holding a banner in the right and a mongoose in the left; riding a white snow lion.

At the bottom right is the special protector of the Vajrabhairava Tantras, Yama Dharmaraja, black, with the head of a buffalo, holding a bone stick and lasso; embraced by the consort Chamundi. They ride on the back of a black buffalo; surrounded by flame. These last three deities were the special protectors of Tsongkapa and so became the main protectors for the Gelugpa School.

At the bottom left is Palden Magzor Gyalmo (the Glorious Goddess Queen of the Weapon Army), black with one face and two hands holding a stick in the right hand and a skullcup to the heart with the left, riding a white mule.

As a tutelary deity (Tib.: yi dam. Skt.: ishtadevata) Vajrabhairava, also known as Yamantaka (Tib.: shin je thar che), belongs to the Yamari class of tantras and specifically arises from the Bhairava Root Tantra (Tib.: Jig je tsa gyu) and belongs to the method (father) classification of Anuttaryoga Tantra. The practice of Bhairava is common to the three Sarma Schools: Sakya, Kagyu and Gelugpa. There are numerous forms and styles of practice from the very complex with numerous deities to the very concise with a single Heruka form. The main lineages to enter Tibet were those of Jowo Atisha, Rwa Lotsawa, Mal Lotsawa and the like.

This form of Bhairava with the central faces placed 3 vertically and 3 faces to each side arranged horizontally is unique to the Gelugpa School and true to a visionary experience of Lord Tsongkapa the founder.

Jeff Watt 8-98


Sadhana Description:
"?Sri Vajra-mahabhairava, dark blue, with nine faces, thirty-four arms and sixteen legs, abiding in pratyalidha posture (right legs bent). Capable of devouring the three worlds, he is shouting 'Haha' and has rolled up tongue, bared fangs and a frown. Beside the frown, his eyebrows and eyes blaze like the fire at the time of destruction. His pale yellow hair streams upwards. Threatening the worldly and supermundane gods, he terrifies even the terrible, roaring like thunder the great sound of PHEM and eating human blood, grease, marrow and fat. He is crowned with the five frightful dry skulls and adorned with a skull garland of fifty fresh heads, a black snake as sacred thread, a circlet of human bone. He is naked of body, with a huge belly. His sex stands erect. His eyebrows, eyelashes, beard and body hairs blaze like the fire at the end of time.

His principal face is a buffalo's, black, extremely wrathful and with sharp horns. Above this, midway between the two horns, is a red face, most frightful, with blood dripping from its mouth. Above this is the yellow face of Manjushri, just a little wrathful, adorned with the ornaments of a young man, with five locks on the crown of his head. The main face under the right horn is blue, that to its right red, and that to its left yellow. The main face under the left horn is white, that to its right smoke-colored, and that to its left black. These faces are extremely wrathful. All nine faces are three-eyed.

The first pair of arms hold a fresh elephant-skin, stretched out with its head on the right and hands and feet on the left, showing the hairs outside. The remaining right hands hold a knife, a dart, a wooden pestle, a knife with wavy blade, a harpoon, an axe, a spear, an arrow, a hook, a club, a katvanga, a wheel, a five-pointed vajra, a vajra hammer, a sword and a damaru. The left hold a blood-filled skull, Brahma's head, a shield, a foot, a noose, a bow, entrails, a bell, a hand, a shroud, a man impaled on a stake, a brazier, a piece of a skull, a threatening forefinger, a triple bandarole and a fan.

His right feet tread on a human being, a buffalo, an ox, an ass, a camel, a dog, a sheep and a fox; his left feet on a vulture, an owl, a raven, a parrot, a hawk, a garuda, a domestic fowl and a swan. He also tramples beneath his feet Brahma, Indra, Visnu, Rudra, Six-faced Kumara, Vanayaka, Candra and Surya, lying face down. In this manner he abides amid an intensely blazing mass of fire.

In his lap is the Mother, Vajra-vetali, blue, with one face and two arms, her right hand brandishing a vajra knife and her left holding a skull full of the blood of the vicious and embracing the Father. She is crowned with five dry skulls, has a long necklace of fifty, also dry, and is adorned with the five symbolic ornaments. Her right leg is extended, her left left embraces the Father.

From Deities of Tibetan Buddhism, Wisdom Publications, 2000. Translated by Martin Willson from the sadhana text of Phabongkha Dechen Nyingpo (1878-1941): biographical reference.

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Tradition: Gelug Deity Paintings
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery II
Buddhist Deity: Vajrabhairava Main Page