Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Mahakala (Buddhist Protector) - Chaturbhuja (Four-hands)

མ་ཧཱ་ཀཱ་ལ། ནག་པོ་ཆེན་པོ། 玛哈嘎拉
(item no. 65303)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1800 - 1899
Lineages Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment, Black Background on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc. #C2003.40.1
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Wrathful

Gender: Male

Summary: This form of Mahakala can be either a protector deity (dharmapala) or a meditational deity (ishtadevata).

Interpretation / Description

Chaturbhuja, Mahakala (Tibetan: gon po, chag shi pa. English: the Great Black One with Four Hands). The principal protector of the Chakrasamvara class of Tantras.

Sanskrit: Chaturbhuja Tibetan: Chag shi pa

With one face and four hands, he is extremely wrathful in appearance. The first pair of hands hold a curved knife and a skullcup filled with blood. The second right hand holds upraised a sword blazing with wisdom fire and in the left a katvanga staff topped with a trident. Orange hair flows upward as he stares with glaring red eyes and a wide gaping mouth. Adorned with the bone, gold and jewel ornaments of a wrathful deity he wears a necklace of fifty freshly severed heads. Seated in the relaxed 'vira' (hero) posture on a multi-coloured lotus seat, he is completely surrounded by the flames of pristine awareness; accompanied by three attendant figures.

"From a red-black mandala of fire, above a lotus, sun, moon and corpse, with one face and four hands, seated in a relaxed posture: homage to the Great Black One." (Nyingma liturgical verse).

As a wrathful form of enlightenment, a wisdom deity and buddha, he appears as a protector for Vajrayana Buddhism. There are many forms of this particular Mahakala in both Nyingma and Sarma traditions. The pandita and mahasiddha Nagarjuna originally popularized the practice. In the Sarma Schools Chaturbhuja is strongly related to the Chakrasamvara cycle of Tantras.

Jeff Watt 9-2000

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