Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Worldly Protector (Buddhist) - Dorje Shugden

འཇིག་རྟེན་པའི་ལྷ། ནང་ལྷ། 世俗的神(佛教)
(item no. 8284)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1900 - 1959
Lineages Sakya, Ngor (Sakya) and Buddhist
Size 50.50x37cm (19.88x14.57in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment, Black Background on Cotton
Collection Private
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Wrathful

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Dorje Shugden in the iconographic configuration known as the Five Kings, accompanied by two teachers and several related and unrelated deities.

At the top left is a teacher wearing monastic attire and a red pandita hat, supporting a vajra and bell on two flower blossoms. Typically this iconography with the vajra and bell belongs to Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo (1382-1456). At the top right is a Sakya teacher wearing layered garments and a pandita hat with the lappets turned upwards and over the crown of the head. He also appears to be adorned with large earrings which is typical of a male of the Khon family line. The posture and attributes od a sword and book along with a vajra and bell are unusual and more commonly seen with depictions of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892). A difference here is that the two sets of attributes are displayed atop the two flower blossoms above each shoulder with the extended right hand holding a wish-fulfilling jewel.

At the top center is the meditational deity 'Secret Accomplishment' Hayagriva, red in colour, with three faces and six arms. Either Hayagriva or Vajrapani are commonly located at the top center of compositions that portray as the central figure a Tibetan worldly protector. In this particular occurrence Hayagriva has a closer relationship to the worldly spirits known as 'gyalpo' to which Dorje Shugden belongs. In the Sakya tradition there is a set of 'gyalpo' spirits known as the Three Kings who are Dorje Strab, Tsiu Marpo and Dorje Shugden.

Directly below the figure of Hayagriva is Brahmanarupa Mahakala in the appearance of an Indian Brahmin - a uniquely Sakya creation to avoid showing publicly the wrathful form of Chaturmukha Mahakala to those who are uninitiated. According to Sakya deity hierarchy, and followed by the Ngor tradition, belonging to the Tsang Matrix of religious traditions, the worldly protector Dorje Shugden is placed much lower and under the control and supervision of Chaturmukha Mahakala.

Semi-wrathful in appearance, maroon in colour, Vajra Dorje Shugden holds a stick topped with a jewel upraised in the right hand. In the left hand is a skullcup and heart together with a lasso. Attired in monastic robes, he wears a monk's riding hat, yellow in colour. In a relaxed posture, atop a multi-coloured lotus cushion and lion supported throne, Dorje Shugden sits within a three tiered palace with wrathful ornaments and decorations. This form of the deity Shugden follows in appearance the centerpiece of the Trode Khangsar temple located in the Barkhor surrounding the Lhasa Jokhang Temple in Tibet.

Descending on the left side are Rahula, with nine heads, multiple eyes, and a lower body of a serpent. Below that is Ratna Dorje Shugden, yellow, riding a horse. Below that is is Dorje Shugden Riding a Black Horse. Descending on the right side is a blue figure, wrathful, holding a butcher's stick and a skullcup. Below that is Buddha Dorje Shugden, white in colour, riding an elephant. Below that is Padma Dorje Shugden, red, riding a dragon. At the bottom center is Karma Dorje Shugden, maroon in colour, riding atop a garuda bird. Dorje Shugden in the Gelug tradition of Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo (1878-1941) is commonly represented in a five figure configuration known as the Five Kings or the Five Families. These are also related to the Five Buddha Families and the Four Tantric Activities.

The Five Families of Dorje Shugden:
- Vajra, semi-peaceful/semi-wrathful, maroon, lion mount.
- Buddha, semi-peaceful, white, elephant mount.
- Ratna, peaceful, yellow, horse mount.
- Padma, wrathful, red, dragon mount.
- Karma, wrathful, dark red, garuda mount.

The 'Vajra' Dorje Shugden figure typically found in this iconographic configuration is not found in this composition and is likely represented by the large centrally seated Dorje Shugden holding the stick and a heart. This form of the deity is not commonly found in the Sakya or Ngor traditions where Shugden is iconographically portrayed as a monk riding a top a black horse as located in the lower left corner of this composition. The Nyingma protector deity Rahula located along the upper side of the painting is also not a protector worshiped or practiced in Sakya or by the Khon family, and rarely in the Ngor tradition. It is most probable that this painting is a product of the Ngor tradition and specifically of the Khangsar Labrang of Ngor Monastery, Tsang Province. The Ngor Monastery has four ruling abbatial houses each with their own special protector. The special protector of the Khangsar Labrang was in the 19th and early 20th century Dorje Shugden. The practice fell out of favour with teachers such as Lama Dampa Shenpen Nyingpo (1876-1953) and his principal student Khangsar Shabdrung Rinpoche. The practice was famously and aggressively discouraged by Drugpa Khenpo Ngagwang Yonten Gyatso (1902-1963) of Ngor.

In summary the painting was most likely commissioned by a practitioner of the Ngor Tradition as evidenced by the Ngor founder in the top left corner. That person also likely had a Sakya 'Khon' teacher as indicated by the figure in the top right corner. Within the Ngor tradition the person was likely associated with, or a member, of the Khangsar Labrang whose special protector was Dorje Shugden. The secret ritual texts of Shugden held in the Khangsar Labrang were codified in the very rare and closely guarded text called the *Dorje Shugden Be'u Bum from where it is very possible the iconography of this composition originates.

Jeff Watt 12-2018 [10-2020]

* Not to be confused with the Gelug publication called the Dorje Shugden Be'u Bum.

(See the article - The 'Bhutan Abbot" of Ngor: Stubborn Idealist with a Grudge against Shugs-ldan, by David Jackson).

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Buddhist Deity: Dorje Shugden Five Families (Single Composition)
Buddhist Deity: Dorje Shugden Masterworks
Buddhist Deity: Dorje Shugden Art History
Buddhist Deity: Dorje Shugden Main Page
Buddhist Deity: Dorje Shugden, Trode Khangsar Style (Seated on a Throne)