Himalayan Art Resources

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

མ་ཧཱ་ཀཱ་ལ། ནག་པོ་ཆེན་པོ། 玛哈嘎拉
(item no. 65787)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1700 - 1799
Lineages Shangpa Kagyu, Gelug and Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Wrathful

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Shadbhuja Mahakala (Tibetan: nag po chen po chag drug pa. English: the Great Black One with Six Hands), wrathful emanation of Avalokiteshvara. Late 18th or early 19th century. This painting is in the style of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery of Shigatse, Tibet. Many examples of this style of painting are found in the Imperial Palace in Beijing as a result of gifty exchanges and a visit by the 3rd panchen Lama in the late 18th century. (See Shadbhuja Mahakala main page).

Video: Three Mahakala Masterworks

With one face and six hands, the first pair of hands hold a curved knife and skullcup held to the heart, the second pair a human skull garland, trident and an upraised elephant skin, the lower pair hold a damaru drum and lasso. Adorned with a crown, bone and jewel ornaments and a necklace of fifty heads he stands with the right leg bent and left extended atop the body of an elephant headed figure, above a sun disc and lotus seat, completely surrounded by the fires of pristine awareness.

At the top center is Tsongkapa with a Panchen Lama seated at the viewer's left side and a Dalai Lama at the viewer's right. There are no inscriptions to positively identify the two side figures.

Descending on the left is White Shadbhuja Mahakala, Bramanarupa Mahakala and a red worldly protector deity riding a horse. Descending on the right is Shri Devi Magzor Gyalmo, Yama Dharmaraja and white worldly deity riding a horse. Directly below the central Mahakala is Chaturmukha Mahakala with four faces and four hands, below that is Begtse Chen. At the bottom right side is the Tibetan worldly protector deity Chingkarwa. He is white in colour and holds a spear and a bowl of jewels; riding atop a white horse.

Shadbhuja Mahakala arises from the Eight-Chapter Mahakala Tantra belonging to the Kriya classification. The interlocutor or sponsor of the tantra was Hayagriva. There are numerous other forms of Shadbhuja, the most popular being the wealth deity White Mahakala practiced in all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Variations in appearance are found in the different traditions principally the leg postures of Mahakala, the Gelugpa preferring the more wrathful posture with the legs apart. The Tsarpa lineage of Sakya prefers Shri Devi with four hands so as not to confuse her with Magzor Gyalmo the younger sister or servant that has two hands. The colours and hand objects of the remaining retinue also vary according to individual traditions. A further seventy-five deities, in Tibetan called lords (mgon po) make up the outer retinue and this enumeration hinging on the word 'mgon po' the common name used in reference to Mahakala, has led to the mistaken Western notion that there are Seventy-five forms of Mahakala in Tibetan Buddhism.

Shadbhuja Mahakala Lineage: Vajradhara, Jnana Dakini, shri Shavaripa, lord Maitripa, mahasiddha Rahulagupta, Khedrup Khyungpo Naljor (founder of the Shangpa Kagyu School, 11th century), Nyammed Rinchen Tsondru, Bonton Kyergangpa (famous for the 'Secret Accomplishment' Hayagriva cycle of practice), etc.

Jeff Watt 10-2007

A note about the two side figures at the top: The Panchen figure on the left is possibly the 3rd, Lobzang Palden Yeshe (1738-1780) although the attributes are also close to those of the 4th Panchen, Tenpai Nyima (1782-1853). An almost exact inconographic match is found with the Nartang Block Print set for the 3rd Panchen Lama and also for the 4th Panchen Lama.

If the Panchen is the 3rd then the figure at the right side would very likely be the 8th Dalai Lama, Jampal Gyatso (1758-1804). If the Panchen is the 4th then the figure at the right would likely be the 9th Dalai Lama, Lungtog Gyatso (1805-1815). The Panchen Lamas, 3rd and 4th, were teachers to the young Dalai Lamas of the time, 8th and 9th.

Numbered & Greyscale:
A. Lama Tsongkapa
B. Panchen lama
C. Dalai Lama
1. Shadbhuja Mahakala
2. Sita Shadbhuja Mahakala (white)
3. Magzor Gyalmo, Shri Devi
4. Brahmanarupa Mahakala
5. Chaturmukha Mahakala
6. Yama Dharmaraja & Chamundi
7. Doirje Setrab
8. Begtse Chen
9. Chingkarwa

Jeff Watt 2-2011

Reverse of Painting
English Translation of Inscription: No inscriptions.

Secondary Images
Related Items
Publication: Selection of Works - Painting (RMA)

Thematic Sets
Collection of RMA: Painting Masterworks Page
Mahakala: Shadbhuja [Shangpa] Art History
Mahakala: Shadbhuja (Painting Masterworks)
Subject: Red Snout-like Nose (Wrathful Deities)
Mahakala: Shadbhuja [Shangpa] Page (Six-hands)
Mahakala: Shadbhuja [Shangpa] (Shri Devi Notes)
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 4
Collection of RMA: Best of Collection 2
Painting Style: Tashi Lhunpo Monastery