Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Indian Adept (siddha) - Virupa

རྒྱ་གར་གྱི་གྲུབ་ཆེན། 印度大成就者
(item no. 81552)
Origin Location Central Tibet
Date Range 1400 - 1499
Lineages Ngor (Sakya) and Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Private
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Person

Appearance: Mahasiddha

Gender: Male

TBRC: bdr:P3293

Interpretation / Description

Virupa and Kanha (T: nal jor wang chug bir wa pa. Nag po pa shar chog pa): This painting, number two in the series, belongs to a larger set of paintings depicting the lineage of teachers for the Path together with the Result (S. margapala) teachings of mahasiddha Virupa.

The set of paintings was commissioned between 1419 and 1430 by Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo as part of the funerary services for his teacher Buddhashri who passed away in 1419.

Directly above the two central figures are three deities, from the (viewers) left is Samputa Nairatmya with one face and four hands, Shri Hevajra, and Nairatmya with two hands.

The twenty-one figures along the top and side registers follow the list of the Eighty-four mahasiddhas according to the Vajrasana system of the 11th century. The next three paintings in the greater set would contain the remaining sixty-three siddhas. In the top register beginning at the (viewers) left are Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Luipa, Padmavajra, Saraha, Saroruhavajra, Virupa and Dombi Heruka.

Descending on the (viewers) left side are Busuku (Shantideva), Ghantapa, Jnanapada, Indrabhuti, Kotalipa and Lawapa. Below those mahasiddhas is the deity Akshobhya Hevajra of the Hevajra Tantra. Descending on the right side are Jalandhara, Kukkuripa, Krishnacharya, Naropa, Tantrapa, Chandragomi and Kantopa.

Along the bottom are white Gauri, yellow Chauri, red Vetali, green Ghashmari, blue Pukkashi, white Shavari, blue Chandali and green Dombini.

At the bottom center a small inscription in gold identifies the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Buddhashri as the person the set of paintings were created to honour. Below that on the right and left sides are the four-line prayers for Virupa and Kanha.

"Knowing all that is most secret,
Through effort gaining the excellent state,
With love performing the benefit of others;
To Virupa I bow."

"With the profound advice
Release my mind, performing the benefit of others
With the practice of vows;
To Kanha I bow." (Written by Chogyal Pagpa).

(See Sonam Tsemo and Dragpa Gyaltsen from the same set: MFA Boston).

Kanha Name Confusions:

The Indian adept, mahasiddha of the 9/10th century, Virupa had two main students, Kanha and Dombhi Heruka. Virupa taught both of them the Lamdre (Margapala) system, The Path Together with the Result, based significantly but not exclusively on the Hevajra Tantra. Kanha, meaning black, was the principal student in the Lamdre lineage following after Virupa. In Western texts and Tibetan translated material this and similar names can appear in Sanskrit as Kanha, Kanhapa, Kanhavajra, Krishna, Krishnapa, Krishnavajra, Krishnacharin, Krishnacharya and Kala Virupa. All of these terms are Sanskrit and relate essentially to the colour black. The Tibetan word for Kanha as a persons name is 'nag po pa' which means the 'black one.'

There are two very popular and well documented systems of listing the names and biographies of the Eighty-four Great Mahasiddhas of India. They are the Vajrasana and the Abhayadatta systems. Both of these were translated into the Tibetan language. Also, in both of these systerms there are several siddhas with the name Nagpopa along with various associated spellings.

Why is this important and why does it matter? It matters because there is another mahasiddha with the Sanskrit name of Krishnacharya (Nagpopa Chopa, or Nagpo Chopa) associated with the Chakrasamvara Cycle of Tantras. His name is also translated into Tibetan as Nagpopa. Like the Indian siddha of the Lamdre lineage, Kanha, this other siddha, Krishnacharin is very important and more well known to a greater number of Tibetan Buddhist Tantric Traditions. This second siddha, Krishnacharin, is also represented in both the Vajrasana and Abhayadatta Systems of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas. Kanha of the Sakya Lamdre Lineage is found only in the Vajrasana System.

Both of these siddhas, Kanha and Krishnacharin, have their own stories and unique hagiographies. For the purposes of Art History, Iconography and Religious Studies it is important to be able to name and differentiate the various siddhas and teachers in the important lineages that appear in the registers of paintings and wall murals. That is why this subject of the two 'Nagpopas' is important.

How do we know what to call these siddhas? Basically we can only rely on common convention over time. However, we do have early writings from teachers such as Chogyal Pagpa where he refers to the 'black' student of Virupa as 'Kanha' using the Sanskrit term. This is how we know that there is early precedent in the Sakya Tradition for distinguishing between these two 'black ones,' Kanha and Krishna. There is less confusion generally with Krishnacharin because he is represented in all of the New Schools of Tibetan Buddhism and associated so strongly with the Chakrasamvara Tantra traditions. He also has a very lively and interesting biography (hagiography). So, it is really only the Lamdre Lineage siddha by the name of Nagpopa (Kanha) that has become confused. This is because essentially he is only known in the Sakya Lamdre Tradition and the subsequent Pagmodrupa Lineage of Lamdre. In general there are many different lineages of Hevajra descending from Indian roots and many different siddhas. Whereas in the Chakrasamvara system Krishnacharin is prominent and very well known.

For individuals and scholars interested in this subject ultimately what is important is to know that there are two different mahasiddha figures with names that have often been used interchangeably. This has not been a Tibetan problem. In the Tibetan language the two siddhas are very clearly distinguished as Nagpopa (Kanha) and Nagpo Chopa (Krishnacharin). This is a modern Western academic problem in reading the Tibetan translated names for the early Indian Teachers and then interpreting what the original Sanskrit word and spelling would be and then back translating.

In conclusion, there are two Indian siddhas with similar Tibetan names one belongs to the Lamdre Lineage (Kanha) and the other belongs to the Chakrasamava Lineage (Krishnacharin).

Jeff Watt, 12-2005 [updated 12-2008]

Numbered List:
1. Nagarjuna
2. Aryadeva
3. Luipa
4. Padmavajra
5. Saraha
6. Saroruhavajra
7. Virupa
8. Dombi Heruka

Busuku (Shantideva), Ghantapa, Jnanapada, Indrabhuti, Kotalipa and Lawapa 9. Busuku (Shantideva)
11. Ghantapa
22. Nairatmya (Samputa Tantra)
23. Hevajra
24. Nairatmya
25. Hevajra
26. Gauri
27. Chauri
28. Vetali
29. Ghashmari
30. Pukkashi
31. Shavari
32. Chandali
33. Dombini

Secondary Images
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