Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Vajradhara Buddha

རྡོ་རྗེ་འཆང། སངས་རྒྱས། 金刚持
(item no. 90137)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1400 - 1499
Lineages Sakya
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Private
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Interpretation / Description

Vajradhara (blue) and Vajradharma (red).

The blue central figure at the left side is Vajradhara, Buddha (Tibetan: dor je chang, sang gye. English: the Vajra Holder, Enlightened One): the primordial buddha, personification of the dharmakaya - truth body of enlightenment and progenitor of the Vajrayana system of Buddhism, particularly the Father (method) and Non-dual tantras. Vajradhara is blue in colour with the two hands holding a vajra and bell held to the heart in a vajra embracing gesture. The legs are crossed in vajrasana posture and he sits atop a multi-coloured lotus and lion supported throne. Under the lotus and draping in front of the throne is a decorative fabric adorned with the three syllables, gold lettered, Om, Ah, Hum written in Ranjana script and framed in a leaf pattern.

Sanskrit: Vajradhara Tibetan: Dor je chang

The red central figure on the right side is Vira Vajradharma (Tib.: pa wo dor je cho), red in colour, the primordial buddha of the Mother (wisdom) class of tantra. There are two forms of Vajradharma, the first is (1) Vira Vajradharma as he appears in this composition holding a damaru drum upraised in the right hand and a skullcup held with the left hand and resting in the lap. The second form is known as (2) Vajradharma does not use the prefix term Vira meaning hero and is simply known as Vajradharama. His appearance varies from that of the first form and Vajradharma in posture is identical to Vajradhara except Vajradharma remains red in colour with the two hands holding a vajra and bell crossed at the heart in the vajra embracing gesture. He sits with the legs crossed in vajrasana posture atop a multi-coloured lotus and elephant supported throne - blue and white. Under the lotus and draping in front of the throne is a decorative fabric adorned with the monogram of the Kalachakra mantra, the 'Ten Powerful Syllables,' gold lettered, written in Ranjana script and framed in a leaf pattern. This is likely one of the earliest appearances of the Kalachakra monogram in a Tibetan scroll painting.

Slightly above the two central figures is a Tibetan lama with the hands in the vajra embracing gesture, wearing monastic robes, and red pandita hat. There is no inscription or any attributes in the hands, or above the shoulders, but he is likely to be Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo (A) the founder of the Ngor sub-school of the Sakya Tradition. To the left is Heruka Vajrabhairava (B), buffalo headed, blue in colour, with one face and two hands holding a curved knife and skullcup - without a consort - standing atop a blue buffalo. On the right side is Rakta Yamari (C), red in colour, one face and two hands, with a consort, standing atop a red buffalo.

Between the Lama, Vajrabhairava and Rakta Yamari are three small figures (listed in the numbering system as F1, F2, and F3). These three figures are called the 'Marmo Kor Sum' - the Cycle of Three Red Deities - a special grouping of three forms of Vajrayogini exclusive to the Sakya Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. The three are Naro Kachod from the lineage of the siddha Naropa, Indra Kachod from the lineage of King Indrabhuti and Maitri Kachod from the lineage of Maitripa. The Cycle of Three Red Deities also belongs to the set of Thirteen Golden Dharmas a large group pf profound practices of the Sakyapas.

Above all of those figures, on the left side, is Hevajra, blue in colour, embracing Vajra Nairatmya, with eight faces and sixteen hands holding white skullcups and dancing on four legs with the two proper right legs extended and the two left drawn up. On the right side of the compsoition above the group of central figures is Chakrasamvara, blue, with four faces and twelve arms, embracing Vajrayogini, red in colour. Within a close proximity to the two deities are two dancing offering goddesses.

From the top center, moving left and descending, are the lineage teachers of the 'Near' Margapala Lineage (Lamdre) relating to the teachings of the Hevajra tantra. This lineage comes from Virupa directly to Sachen Kunga Nyingpo without any other Indian mahasiddhas or Tibetan teachers between. It is said to have taken place in reality with Virupa actually visiting Sakya, but, it is probably best understood as a pure vision type experience. Virupa is said to have remained in Sakya for one month bestowing teachings and initiations on Sachen.

On the viewers right are the lineage teachers of the Chakrasamvara cycle of tantra most associated with the Indian mahasiddha Luipa. There are dozens of lineages and systems of teachings for the various Tantras and forms of the deity Chakrasamvara. Amongst all of the those lineages there are three that stand out as the most important, known in Tibetan as the 'lu nag dril sum': the Three Luipa, Krishnacharin and Ghantapa. These three mahasiddhas are regarded as having the most profound and complete teachings for the tantric systems of Chakrasamvara.

Chakrasamvara Lineage, Abisheka, Root Tantra and Commentary: Vajradhara, Vajrapani, Maha Brahmin Saraha, Acharya Nagarjuna, The Protector Shavari, Luipa, Darikapa, Vajra Ghantapa, Kumarapada, Jalandharapa, Krishnapa, Guhyapa, Nampar Gyalwai Shap, The Acharya Barmai Lobpon, Tilopa, Naropa, (the two) Pamtingpa Kuche Nyi, Lama Lokkya Sherab Tseg, Lama Mal Lotsawa, The Lord of Dharma Sakyapa (1092-1158). (See Sakya Lineages).

Another unique image rarely seen in paintings is the depiction of the two Pamtingpa brothers, included in the Chakrasamvara lineage, seated together on one throne and in one register window of the composition. It almost looks like a mistake of the artist or a double exposure of a camera. (See image).

At the lower left are three red deities known as the 'Mar Chen Kor Sum' - the Three Great Red Deities - Takkiraja, Kurukulla and Maharakta Ganapati. These three are regarded as the three principal 'power deities' pf the Sakyapa and are also included in the before mentioned Thirteen Golden Dharmas of Sakya. On the horizontal register following Ganapati are Red Amitayus and Yellow Jambhala - a long-life deity and a wealth deity. (See the Thirteen Golden Dharmas Outline Page).

In the bottom register on the left side are Panjarnata Mahakala and Shri Devi. Panjarnata is the special protector for the Hevajra cycle of Tantras and the lineage of Hevajra teachers descernding on the left hand side of the composition. On the other side of the group of donor figures at the bottom of the composition is Chaturbhuja Mahakala, dark blue, with one face and four arms. He is the special protector for the Chakrasamvara cycle of Tantras and the lineage of Chakrasamvara teachers descending on the right side of the composition.

This painting is rare and unique because it is the only known painting depicting Vira Vajradharama as a central figure and the only painting known that depicts the two figures of Vajradhara and Vajradharma paired together in a single composition with the two important lineages of teachers.

Unique Iconographic Features:
1. Vira Vajradharma as a central figure.
2. The group of three Vajrayogini figures.
3. The group of three power deity figures.
4. The inscriptions written on the cloth hanging of the thrones.
5. The two Pamting brothers seated on the same lotus seat.

Numbered List: the yellow colouring marks all figures that are deities and the blue denotes the group of donor figures.
Vajradhara
Vira Vajradharma
A. Tibetan Teacher (possibly Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo)
B. Heruka Vajrabhairava
C. Rakta Yamari
D. Hevajra
E. Chakrasamvara
F1. Vajrayogini, Naro Kachod
F2. Vajrayogini, Indra Kachod (These three are a group)
F3. Vajrayogini, Maitri Kachod

Hevajra 'Near' Lineage
1. Vajradhara
R2. Virupa
R3. Sachen Kunga Nyingpo
R4. Sonam Tsemo
R5. Dragpa Gyaltsen
R6. Sakya Pandita
R7. Chogyal Pagpa
R8. Tibetan Teacher
R8a. Tibetan Teacher
R9. Tibetan Teacher
R10. Tibetan Teacher
R11. Tibetan Teacher
R12. Tibetan Teacher
R13. Tibetan Teacher
R14. Tibetan Teacher
R15. Tibetan Teacher
R16. Takkiraja
17. Kurukulla
18. Maha Rakta Ganapati
19. Amitayus Buddha
20. Yellow Jambhala
21. Tibetan Teacher
22. Tibetan Teacher
23. Tibetan Teacher
24. Tibetan Teacher
25. Tibetan Teacher
26. Tibetan Teacher
27. Tibetan Teacher
28. Panjarnata Mahakala
29. Shri Devi Dudsolma
Donor Figures
30. Chaturbhuja Mahakala
31. Tibetan Teacher
32. Tibetan Teacher
33. Tibetan Teacher
34. Tibetan Teacher
35. Tibetan Teacher
36. Tibetan Teacher

Chakrasamvara Lineage
L2. Vajrapani
L3. Saraha
L4. Nagarjuna
L5. Shavaripa
L6. Luipa
L7. Dharikapa
L8. Ghantapa
L9. Kumarapada
L10. Jalandhara
L11. Krishnapa
L12. Guhyapa
L13. Vijaya
L14. Tilopa
L15. Naropa
L16. Pamting Brothers (two figures, Nepali)

Jeff Watt 3-2001 [updated 9-2010]

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Collection: Private 1
Buddhist Deity: Vajradhara Main Page
Buddhist Deity: Vajradhara (Masterworks, Painting)
Tibet: Painting (West Tibet)
Buddhist Deity: Vajradhara, Solitary
Subject: Lineage Composition (Greyscale)
Painting Style: Guge Kingdom (Western Tibet)
Subject: Composition - Registers
Subject: Lineage Paintings - Dual