Shri Shmashana Adhipati Main Page | Protector Deities Main Page
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Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Shri Shmashana Adhipati Description (below)
- Shmashana Adhipati Outline Page
- Sakya Form
- Gelug Form
- Yantra (HAR 18430, 81510)
- Shri Shmashana Adhipati Masterworks
- Confusions: Cham (dancing skeletons), cemetery scenes (dancing skeletons), skeleton masks
"...the two, Shri Shmashana Adhipati, Father-Mother, with bodies white in colour and having a very frightful skeleton form shining forth with rays of light; staring eyes, curled tongue; faces with bared fangs; the right hands hold aloft to the sky sticks of dry bone, and the left hold skullcups of blood to the heart - drinking; a crown of five dry human skulls; twisted jewel earrings; with a lower garment of various silks; with the two feet in dancing postures standing in the middle of a blazing fire of pristine awareness." (Sakya Kangso).
"...in the middle of the wind above an ocean of blood is the foundation of a great land of earth, and a mountain of skeletons, above, inside a four-sided mansion of skulls, a lotus and sun seat stands Shri Shmashana Adhipati, Father-Mother, surrounded by a circle of immeasurable worldly and non-worldly dakas." (Buddha Lakshmi).
"...the two, Shri Shmashana Adhipati, Father-Mother, with a body white in colour and shining forth rays of light, having the form of a very bright skeleton, with two hands, staring eyes (three splendid and alluring eyes), curled tongue and bared fangs. The right hand holds aloft to the sky a dry skull stick and the left a blood filled skullcup held to the heart and drinking with the mouth. Standing in a dancing manner with the right foot raised and pressed against the thigh of the extended left leg. Adorned with lower garments of various silks, a crown of five skulls, jewels and earrings. The Father-Mother dwell in the middle of a blazing fire of pristine awareness surrounded by an immeasurable host of worldly and beyond worldly dakas." (Sanggye Rinchen).
It is important not to confuse the protector deities Shri Shmashana Adhipati, Father & Mother, with the skeleton dancers found in the various systems of Tibetan religious Cham dance. Those skeleton dancers, sometimes categorized as having three types, are unrelated to the Secret Wheel Tantra and the practices of the Shri Shmashana Adhipati. So far all of the iconographic depictions in painting and sculpture of two skeletons dancing as a couple, with appropriate hand attributes, and standing atop a conch and cowrie shell, are Shmashana Adhipati as described in the Secret Wheel Tantra. It should also be understood that Shri Shmashana Adhipati are not worldly deities, but enlightened deities categorized as 'Wisdom protectors.' They are emanations of Chakrasamvara.
The skeleton figures, representing worldly spirits, in Tibetan Cham dance are often seen as jesters or servants for other minor worldly gods such as Yama. These Cham dancing skeletons, like the other characters found in dance such as the deer and yak headed servants of Yama, are generally only found in narrative vignettes if found at all in Tibetan paintings. The most common dance represented in painting is generally known descriptively as the Black Hat Dance, and specifically understood to be the Vajrakilaya Cham dance. There will of course be images or random skeletons found in wrathful deity paintings or in the many depictions of the charnal grounds where the relevant Sanskrit and Tibetan texts explicitly state that skeletons are found in cemeteries.
A survey of Vajrayogini paintings in the database finds 16 where Shmashana Adhipati is depicted in the composition as a protector.
Shri Shmashana Adhipati (Chitipati) arises from the Secret Essence Wheel Tantra (dpal dur khro bdag po'i sgrub skor, Sa chen, [W2DB4567], dpal dur khrod kyi bdag po'i rgyud gsang ba snying gi 'khor, vol.14 [W23681]) and is associated with the collection/cycle of Chakrasamvara Tantras (Anuttarayoga Tantra). The root Tantra has eight chapters:  History,  Root Sadhana,  Activities,  Reversal,  Receiving Attainments,  Extreme Activities,  Inducing with Praise, and  Conclusion. The 2nd chapter contains instruction on how to create a painting. Primarily employed as a wealth practice, with emphasis on protecting from thieves, they also serve as the special protector for the Vajrayogini 'Naro Khechari' practice. Shri Shmashana Adhipati is now common, to a greater or lesser extent, in all the New (Sarma) Schools of Himalayan and Tibetan influenced Buddhism.
Lineage of Teachers: Vajradhara, Vajrayogini, Mahasiddha Padmavajra, Lilavajra, Jnana Siddhi, Shri Samayavajra, Chime Lodro Zangpo, Ngulchu Vairochana, Khampa Gvalo Shonnu Pal, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158), etc.
Jeff Watt 4-2004 [updated 4-2017]