Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Mahakala (Buddhist Protector) - Bernag Chen (Black Cloak)

མ་ཧཱ་ཀཱ་ལ། ནག་པོ་ཆེན་པོ། 玛哈嘎拉
(item no. 942)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1800 - 1899
Lineages Karma (Kagyu) and Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Wrathful

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Bernag Chen, Vajra Mahakala (English: the Great Black-Cloak Vajra Mahakala), the personal protector of the Karmapas and the special protector of the Karma Kagyu (Kamtsangpa) School.

Directly above Mahakala is the meditational deity Vajrayogini in her form as Vajravarahi. At the top left is Karmapa and on the right is a red hat Lama - possibly Tai Situ.

Bernagchen Mahakala is the personal protector of the Karmapas and the special protector of the Karma Kagyu (Kamtsangpa) School of Tibetan Buddhism. The Karmapas are a line of successive teachers acknowledged as the first lineage of reincarnating lamas in Tibetan Buddhism. Mahakala is a classification of Buddhist protector deity originating in India. This specific form of Mahakala known as Bernagchen arises from the Nyingma 'Revealed Treasure' Tradition of Tibet and was later introduced into the Karma Kagyu School by the 2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (1206-1283).

The fiercely wrathful, Black Cloak Mahakala is black in colour, with one face, three round bulbous eyes, a large gaping red mouth with bared white fangs. His yellow beard, eyebrows and hair flow upward like flames. The right hand holds aloft a curved flaying knife with a vajra handle. The left holds a white blood filled skullcup to the heart. Adorned with a crown of five dry white skulls, earrings, bracelets and a garland of freshly severed heads, he wears a great black cloak as his unique characteristic. He stands surrounded by black smoke and red licks of the flames of pristine awareness.

Jeff Watt 4-2001 [updated 10-2008]

Related Items
Thematic Sets
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 3
Mahakala: Bernagchen Page (Black Cloak)
Painting Style: Palpung - Wrathful Deities