Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Mandala of Vajrakila (Eight Pronouncements)

རྡོ་རྗེ་ཕུར་པ། 金刚普巴(本尊)
(item no. 90765)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1400 - 1499
Lineages Nyingma, Sakya and Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Tibet House, New York
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Interpretation / Description

Vajrakila, Heruka (Tibetan: dor je pur ba, drag tung. English: Vajra Peg, Blood Drinker): also known as Vajra Kumara (Vajra Youth). Vajrakila is the 'activity' deity from the set of Eight Herukas (Tibetan: ka gye) of the Mahayoga Tantras of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism. The deity is also the principal Tantric meditational deity for the Nyingma Tradition and also for the Khon family of the Sakya Tradition (see Khon-lug Purba).

Vajrakila Main Page | Vajrakila Outline Page | Vajrakila Mandalas

This form of the deity does not follow the standard appearance for the deity Vajrakila. The subject of the painting is unusual because the first pair of hands of the central mandala figure and for the ten principal retinue figures do not hold the typical peg 'kila' that Vajrakila is known for. However, the identification of the subject of the painting as Vajrakila is made based on all other iconographic details of the painting, mandala configuration, number of deities, and so fourth.

Central Figure: Fearsome and wrathful, blue in colour with three faces, six hands and four legs, the right face is white and the left face red, each has three eyes, a gaping mouth and orange hair flowing upward. The first pair of hands hold a curved knife and skullcup at the heart. (This is not typical for the deity Vajrakila who normally holds a peg 'kila' between the two hands at the level of the heart). The two right hands hold a five and nine pointed vajra and the left hands hold a trident and a mass of yellow flame. Unfurled behind are two blue wings. Adorned with a crown of skulls, earrings, bracelets and a necklace of fifty heads, he wears an elephant hide across the back.

Consort: The consort Diptachakra (Flaming Wheel) is light blue in colour with one face and two hands holding a skullcup in the left hand. Adorned with jewels, gold and a garland of fifty dry skulls she wears a leopard skin skirt and the left leg upraised to embrace the male consort. Atop the splayed bodies of Maheshvara and Uma, a sun disc and multi-coloured lotus the two terrific deities stand surrounded by an ornate dharmadayo, three sided and blue, and by the orange-red flames of pristine awareness. On the proper right side of the deity is a blue, one faced, two armed, wrathful figure with the lower body in the form of a three sided peg 'kila.'

"Supreme Kilaya, son of the gathered wrathful Victors,
Exhibiting a vajra with the power to eliminate without obstruction,
Liberator, deity of activity transcending violence;
Homage to the form of Vajra Kumara."
(Nyingma liturgical verse)

Retinue: Surrounding the central deity are ten wrathful deities almost identical in appearance to the main Vajrakila figure. The ten deities are placed atop a ten spoked weapon wheel. Each of these figures has two additional attendant deities standing at the right and left sides. These ten deities are: Humkara, Vijaya, Niladanda, Yamantaka, Arya Achala, Hayagriva, Aparajita, Amrita Kundali, Trailokyavijaya, Mahabala.

Door Guardians: Inside the square celestial palace, in a red circle, are the deities standing atop the flat ten spoked weapon wheel. In the four directions, at the center of each wall, are 'T' shaped doors with a door guardian, one faced, two armed, standing in each. Typically these four figures have bird faces: cuckoo, crow, owl and hawk.

Celestial Palace: On the red veranda outside of the five coloured palace walls, on each side of the doors, are two dancing offering goddesses white in colour, sixteen in total. The outer blue and white lines forming a square enclosure represent the stylized decorative facade on the four sides of the palace roof, adorned with various ornaments and banners. The elaborate lintels above each of the four doors are constructed of four tiered steps topped with a Dharma wheel and two reclining deer with a silk canopy above.

The palace is placed squarely on a multi-coloured double vajra, horizontal, (Sanskrit: vishvavajra) with only the prongs and makara heads (an Indian mythological sea creature) appearing at the four sides. Surrounding that is a circle of multi-coloured (rectangular) lotus petals representing the enormous lotus upon which the entire palace and charnel ground structure rests.

The outer circle containing small figures on a background landscape is the ring of the Eight Great Charnel Grounds filled with corpses, fires, chaityas, yogis, nagas, and wrathful worldly deities. Surrounding that is another ring with sixteen figures of worldly gods all riding various animal and mythical mounts. The final ring is composed of the multi-coloured fires of pristine awareness that completely envelop the entire mandala of the deity, retinue and palace.

Outside of the Mandala: At the four corners of the composition, outside of the round mandala, are four more wrathful deities similar to the central mandala deity. These figures, along with the central figure, represent the personifications of body, speech, mind, qualities and activities. These five terms represent a Tantric organizational structure involving both Buddhist visual and philosophical meaning. Four additional deities, smaller in size, each with one face and two hands, the lower body a peg 'kila,' surround the outer edge of the mandala.

Upper Register: the top register is read from left to right and begins with what appears to be Vajrapani in wrathful form followed by four Indian or Central Asian teachers, Padmasambhava, and seven Tibetan teachers. Six more Tibetan teachers are situated to the right and left of the mandala circle. These figures, beginning with Vajrapani, constitute the lineage of teachers who were the holders of the initiation and instruction for this tradition and form of the deity Vajrakila.

Lower register: again read from the left it includes six more Tibetan teachers belonging to the lineage, all wearing monastic robes. Following that, at the center of the register, is another wrathful deity similar to the central mandala deity. To the right of that is Legden Mahakala, Shri Devi, Yellow Jambhala and Black Jambhala. At the far right corner is the donor figure, a monk, seated in front of an assortment of shrine offerings.

Jeff Watt, New York. December 11th, 2009

English Bibliography:

A Bolt of Lightning from the Blue: The Vast Commentary on Vajrakila by Martin J. Boord. 2002.

The Cult of the Deity Vajrakīla according to the Texts of the Northern Treasures Tradition of Tibet (Byang-gter phur-ba) by Martin J. Boord. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Third Series, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Jul., 1995), pp. 320-323.

The Cult of the Deity Vajrakīla by Martin J. Boord. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 117, No. 3 (Jul. - Sep., 1997), pp. 620-621.

Dagger Blessing, the Tibetan Phurpa Cult: Reflections and Materials. Thomas Marcotty. Delhi: B.R.Publishing, 1987.

Padmasambhava's Invention of the Phurpa, F.A.Bischoff and Ch.Hartmann. Etudes Tibetaines, Paris, 1971.

The Phur-pa - Tibetan Ritual Daggers, John C. Huntington. Ascona, 1975.

The Phurbu: the Use and Symbolism of the Tibetan Magic Dagger, Georgette Meredith. History of Religions, Vol. VI no. 3, Chicago, 1967

A Short Description of the Phurpa, Sarat Chandra Das. Journal of the Buddhist Society, IV, 1896, p.5.

Front of Painting
English Translation of Inscription: [No inscriptions on the front]

Reverse of Painting
English Translation of Inscription: [Verses of blessing and mantras for the principal deities]

Special Features: (Printed script (Uchen), includes "Om Ah Hum" inscription)

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Collection of Tibet House: New York (Repatriation)
Nyingma: Mandala Masterworks
Buddhist Deity: Vajrakila Main Page
Buddhist Deity: Vajrakila (Masterworks)
Collection of Tibet House: New York (Painting Masterworks)
Collection of Tibet House, NY (Misc. Paintings)
Buddhist Deity: Vajrakila (Mandala)
Padmasambhava: Early Images (Primary & Secondary)
Subject: Lineage Paintings - Linear
Buddhist Deity: Vajrakila (Early Images)