Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Mahakala (Buddhist Protector) - Panjarnata (Lord of the Pavilion)

མ་ཧཱ་ཀཱ་ལ། ནག་པོ་ཆེན་པོ། 玛哈嘎拉
(item no. 88589)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1700 - 1799
Lineages Sakya, Ngor (Sakya) and Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment, Black Background on Cotton
Collection Anna Maria Rossi & Fabio Rossi
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Wrathful

Gender: Male

TBRC: W25327

Interpretation / Description

Mahakala, Vajra Panjarnata (Tibetan: dor je gur gyi gon po. English: the Great Black One, Lord of the Vajra Pavilion [or Canopy]): from the Vajra Panjara Tantra [TBRC w25327].

Iconographic Elements of the Painting: Size, Descending Order & Hierarchy:
- Panjarnata Mahakala (central figure)
- Vajradhara Buddha (top center)
- Sachen and Ngorchen (left and right sides)
- Vajrapani and Ekajati
- Brahmanarupa and Shri Devi
- Five Rakshasa (Activity Protectors)
- Begtse and Magzor Gyalmo

Artistic Elements of the Composition:
- Subject: figurative
- Composition Type: floating figure
- Ground Colour: Black Ground
- Painting Style: Khyenri & Kham-dri
- Region: Eastern Tibet (Kham)
- Date: 18th century
- Inscriptions: none visible
- Back of Painting: image not available
- Artist: unknown at this time

Mahakala is not a single deity but rather a category of Buddhist deities who always appear wrathful and fearsome. Panjarnata Mahakala is a sub-category with numerous forms within the larger group of Mahakalas. Generally speaking, when discussing Mahakala, it is understood that he is principally a protector deity within the hierarchy of deities and function. There are however a few practice traditions of Mahakala where he also functions as a meditational deity. The Panjara form of Mahakala, the four armed form, four faced form and Bhagavan form are all used as meditational deities. Typically they have elaborate mandalas with numerous retinue figures.

"...the great Vajra Mahakala, blazing, with one face, two hands, in the right a curved knife and the left a skullcup filled with blood, held above and below the heart. Held across the middle of the two arms is the 'Gandhi of Emanation.' With three eyes, bared fangs, yellow hair flowing upward, a crown of five dry human skulls and a necklace of fifty wet, blood dripping; adorned with six bone ornaments and snakes; having a lower garment of tiger skin; flowing with pendants and streamers of various silks; in a posture dwarfish and thick, standing above a corpse. To the right is a black crow, left a black dog, behind a wolf, in front a black man, above a garuda, emanations of messengers issue forth, with Akshobhya as a crown, standing in the middle of blazing fire of pristine awareness." (Konchog Lhundrub, 1497-1557).

Panjaranatha Mahakala arises from the Panjara (Pavilion, or canopy) Tantra for which he is the protector and guardian. This Tantra belongs to the larger Hevajra Cycle of Tantras and classified as Non-dual Anuttarayoga. The method of painting is 'nag tang,' black scroll - gold outline on a black background with a lack of superfluous ornamentation and landscape. There are many small vignettes with charnal ground scenes which are very reminiscent of the 'Old Gongkang' protector chapel at Gongkar Chode Monastery. However, the over all composition along with various elements and the signature flame pattern behind Mahakala indicates that the painting is from Eastern Tibet (Kham) and is likely associated with Dzongsar Monastery or within the sphere of the capital town Dege.

Panjaranata Mahakala Lineage of Teachers: Vajradhara, Vajrapanjara Dakini, Brahmin Vararuchi, Pandita Deva Vajra, Shraddha Karavarma, Lochen Rinchen Zangpo, Drag Tengpa Yontan Tsultrim, Mal Lotsawa Lodro Drag, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158), etc.

Secondary figures in the upper composition: At the top center is Vajradhara Buddha, blue in colour. At the viewer's left side is Sachen Kunga Nyingpo wearing lay attire and holding a lotus flower. He was one of the principal founders of the Sakya Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. At the right side is Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo wearing monastic attire, holding two flowers supporting a vajra scepter and bell. He was the founder of the Ngor Ewam Monastery which later became the Ngor Branch of the Sakya Tradition.

At the lower left and right are Bhutadamara Vajrapani, wrathful, with four arms. On the right is Ekajati, wrathful, holding a vase with the two hands. She is considered the mother of all forms of Mahakala.

Secondary figures in the lower composition: At the middle left and right is Brahmanarupa Mahakala, blue in colour, with white hair and a white beard. On the right is Shri Devi Dudsolma with four arms and riding a donkey. At the bottom left corner is Begtse Chen, red in colour, wearing gold body armor. At the right side is Shri Devi Magzor Gyalmo with two arms riding a mule.

The five wrathful deities directly below Mahakala are the 'Putra Mising Nga' a group of family members. The father and mother are Kala Rakshasa and Kala Rakshasi. The the three children are Putra, Batra and Singmo - the daughter.

"...above a lotus and sun is Kala Rakshasa with a body black in colour, one face, two hands, the right holds a curved knife, left a blood filled skullcup, wearing a ceremonial human skin and having gold earrings. At the left of that is Kala Rakshasi with one face and two hands, the right holds a gold razor, left a skullcup filled with brains and blood, wearing cloths of black silk and having one braid."

"...the three Putras, brothers and sister. Putra, black, with one face, two hands, the right holds a sword and the left a blood filled skullcup, adorned with silk trousers and clothes of black silk. Bhatra, black, with a tiger skin fur coat, holding in the right a wooden stick and in the left a human heart. Rakshasi Ekajati (Singmo), holding in the right a gold razor and intestines in the left, blazing fire from the mouth. These five have bodies blue-black in colour, three very fierce eyes, adorned with garlands of bones and a necklace of fifty wet human heads, standing in a manner raging and trembling completely severing harmful ones." (Konchog Lhundrub, 1497-1557).

In the empty spaces of the composition between the secondary figures are landscape vignettes, animals and four humans which represent the 'Four Leaders and Messengers' of Mahakala. They constitute the outer retinue and servants.

"Also to the right are others, one hundred led by a man adorned in a tiger garment. To the left, one hundred, led by a bhikshu with a large body; further followed by one hundred black mantradharins. In front, in the empty spaces to the north are one hundred led by a black woman; surrounded also by others, beyond thought, destroying oath-breakers; black dogs, black men, wolves, and the like." (Konchog Lhundrub, 1497-1557).

Jeff Watt 10-2015

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Painting Type: Black Ground (Eastern Tibet, Kham)
Collection of Anna Maria Rossi & Fabio Rossi
Mahakala: Panjarnata, Lord of the Pavilion (Main Page)
Painting Type: Black Ground Main Page
Mahakala: Panjarnata, Lord of the Pavilion (Fire Circle Comparison)