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. 8097)
Origin Location Tibet
Lineages Shangpa Kagyu, Kagyu and Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment, Black Background on Cotton
Collection Private
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Wrathful

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Shadbhuja Mahakala (Tibetan: pal ye she gyi gon po nyur du dze pa chag drug pa, English: the Swift Acting Lord of Pristine Awareness with Six Hands): emanation of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara and the special protector of the Shangpa Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism. At the top center are four lineage figures. At the upper sides are four meditational deities. In the foreground are five retinue figures, attendants to Shadbhuja Mahakala.

"The Lord of Pristine Awareness has six hands and a body dark blue in colour. The first two hold a curved knife and skullcup, the middle two a human skull mala and trident, the lowest two a damaru drum and lasso. Adorned with a tiger skin, garland of heads, bones and snakes, and small bells on the hands and feet. Standing in a manner with the two legs together pressing down on Ganapati. With three eyes, bared fangs, eyebrows, beard and hair flowing upward with Akshobhya as a crown. Anointed with a sindhura drop on the forehead. Supported behind by a sandalwood tree, dwelling in the middle of a blazing mass of fire." (Jonang Taranatha, 1575-1634).

At the top center is a very small figure of Buddha Vajradhara. Below that to the lower right and left are the two Indian teachers Rahula and Niguma. Between the two is the Tibetan teacher Kedrub Khyungpo Naljor (1050-1127) the founder of the Shangpa Tradition.

At the top left side is Heruka Chakrasamvara embracing the consort Vajrayogini. At the top right is 'Secret Accomplishment' Hayagriva of the Kyergangpa tradition. Below those two on the left is Kachod Marmo and on the right side is Kachod Karmo. These two female deities are specialized forms of Vajrayogini and employed in advanced Tantric meditation practices.

To the sides and below Mahakala are five retinue figures. On the left is Takkiraja. On the right is Trakshe riding a black horse. Directly below is Kshetrapala riding a bear. On the left side is Jinamitra, red in colour. On the right side is Shri Devi, the only female retinue figure, riding a donkey.

Lineage: Vajradhara, Jnana Dakini, Shri Shavaripa, Lord Maitripa, Mahasiddha Rahulagupta, Khedrup Khyungpo Naljor (founder of the Shangpa Kagyu School, 11th century), Nyamme Rinchen Tsondru, Bonton Kyergangpa (famous terton of the Hayagriva 'Secret Accomplishment' cycle of practice), etc.

This painting of Shadbhuja Mahakala is associated with the Karma Kagyu tradition and the teacher Jamgon Kongtrul of the 19th century. He was instrumental in trying to revive the Shangpa tradition based primarily on the system that came through Jonang Taranata of the early 17th century.

Black ground paintings were originally described in the two Mahakala Tantra texts of twenty-five and fifty chapters from the end of the first millennium. The dark colour is considered suitable for wrathful protector deities. In modern times artists have adopted black ground compositions for all types of peaceful and wrathful deities, teachers and Buddha figures.

Jeff Watt 8-2018

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Mahakala: Shadbhuja (Painting Masterworks)
Collection of Anna Maria Rossi & Fabio Rossi
Mahakala: Shadbhuja [Shangpa] Page (Six-hands)