Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Mahakala (Buddhist Protector) - Shadbhuja (Shangpa)

མ་ཧཱ་ཀཱ་ལ། ནག་པོ་ཆེན་པོ། 玛哈嘎拉
(item no. 90544)
Origin Location Western Tibet
Date Range 1400 - 1499
Lineages Shangpa Kagyu, Gelug and Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art
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. (See the Shadbhuja Main Page and Outline Page).

"In the middle of the great charnal ground of Sitavana, above a multi-coloured lotus, sun, and layered Ganapatis, white with elephant heads, is the Quick Acting Lord of Pristine Awareness with a body blue-black in colour, one face and six hands. Pale yellow hair flowing upward, three round red eyes, bared fangs and curled tongue, a crown of five dry skulls, having a necklace of fifty blood dripping wet [heads], the first right hand holds a curved knife, second a skull mala, third a damaru. The first left holds a blood [filled] skullcup, second a trident and third a vajra lasso; adorned with the eight great nagas, an elephant skin as an upper garment and a tiger skin as a lower garment tied with a sash of green silk. The forehead is anointed with a drop of sindura and Akshobhya adorns the crown of the head. All the arms and legs are decorated with small bells. Standing in a manner with the two legs striding forth in the middle of a blazing fire of pristine awareness."

"To the left of that, [lower right] is the Mistress of the Desire Realm, riding a mule with a white patch, with a body blue-black in colour, one face and four hands. The first right holds a sword, second a curved knife. The first left holds a banner, the second holds a fresh skull filled with blood; with a crown of five dry human skulls, three round red eyes, bared fangs. In front of the Lord [bottom center] is yaksha Kshetrapala, riding a crazy black bear. With a body blue-black in colour, one face and two hands holding in the right a curved knife held aloft and in the left a skullcup filled with blood offered to the mouth of the Lord. To the right [lower left] of the Lord is ishvara Jinamitra, with a body red-black in colour, one face, two hands. The right beats a skull damaru and the left holds a blood filled skullcup. Behind the Lord [upper left] is yama Takkiraja, with a body maroon-black in colour, one face, two hands. The right holds aloft a lasso of intestine and the left in a wrathful gesture with the tip blazing with fire. To the left [above] of the goddess is the lord of maras, Trakshe, black, the right hand holding aloft a banner and the left a sandalwood stick; wearing a cloak of blue striped silk and riding a black horse with white hooves. With four sizable bared fangs, pale yellow eyebrows and upward flowing beard; three red flickering eyes looking angrily at enemies and hindrances; beautified with fierce ornaments, standing in the middle of a blazing fire of pristine awareness."

"Outside of that are the ten guardians of the directions, the eight great gods, eight great nagas, eight great planets, four worldly guardians, twenty-eight constellations, and nine great bhairavas; the Seventy-five Lords of Pure Lineage together with a retinue of an ocean of oath-bound attendants filling the earth and sky." (Tsarchen Losal Gyatso, 1502-1566).

At the top center is the primordial buddha Vajradhara, blue, with one face and two hands holding a vajra and bell crossed at the heart. At the sides sit 8 lineage teachers, in the appearance of mahasiddhas and monks. Below at the left is the buddha Vairochana, white, with the two hands performing the teaching mudra (gesture) at the heart. At the right is Amitabha, red, with the hands in the mudra of meditation. Within the circle of flames surrounding the central figure, a flock of black birds soar above and numerous black dogs, wolves and horses emanate from the sides. At head level on the left is a small figure of the bodhisattva Manjushri, on the left is the buddha of Boundless Life, Amitayus.

At the lower right is the wrathful protector Yama Dharmaraja, blue-black, with a buffalo head, holding a stick and lasso, riding atop a buffalo. At the lower left is a standing figure, dark in complexion. Below those, along the bottom are the 10 Guardians of the Directions from the group of Seventy-five Lords of Pure Lineage, each with unique hand objects, colour and an animal mount. Chief amongst those is Brahma at the bottom right, yellow, with four faces and two hands.

Shadbhuja Mahakala arises from the Eight-Chapter Mahakala Tantra belonging to the Kriya classification. The interlocutor or sponsor of the tantra was the deity Hayagriva. There are numerous other forms of Shadbhuja, the most popular being the wealth deity White Mahakala practiced in all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Variations in appearance are found in the different traditions principally the leg postures of Mahakala, the Gelugpa preferring the more wrathful posture with the legs apart. The Tsarpa lineage of Sakya prefers Shri Devi with four hands so as not to confuse her with Magzor Gyalmo the younger sister or servant that has two hands. The colours and hand objects of the remaining retinue also vary according to individual traditions. A further 75 deities, in Tibetan called 'gonpo' (mgon po. English: lords) make up the outer retinue. This enumeration hinging on the word 'gonpo' the common name used in reference to Mahakala, has led to the mistaken Western notion that there are 75 forms of Mahakala in Tibetan Buddhism. Iconographically there may be fewer forms but textually there can be a much greater number.

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 cycle of practice), etc.

Jeff Watt 6-99

Related Items
Thematic Sets
Mahakala: Shadbhuja [Shangpa] Page (Six-hands)
Mahakala: Shadbhuja (Early Paintings) Page
Buddhist Protectors: Enlightened
Collection of Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art
Buddhist Protector: Mahakala Main Page
Painting Style: Western Tibetan
Subject: Lineage Paintings - Alternating
Collection of Southern Alleghenies: Protectors