Himalayan Art Resources

Buddhist Protector: Mahakala Main Page

Mahakala Main Page | Protector Deities Main Page

Database Search: All Images | Paintings | Sculpture | Mandalas

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Mahakala Definition (below)
- List of Mahakala Names
- Mahakala Resource Page
- Mahakala Outline Page
- Mahakala: Rare & Unusual Forms
- Mahakala as a Meditational Deity
- Nyingma: Kama and Terma Mahakala Forms
- Offering 'Kangdze' Paintings
- Shri Devi Main Page
- Common Confusions
- Others....

Three Principal Topics:
- Three Principal Texts
- Six Principal Systems
- Twelve Iconographic Forms

Three Principal Texts:
- Eight Chapter Mahakala Tantra
- Twenty-five Chapter Mahakala Tantra
- Fifty Chapter Mahakala Tantra
- Miscellaneous Tantra Texts

Six Principal Categories of Mahakala:
- Panjarnata
- Chaturbhuja
- Chaturmukha
- Shadbhuja
- Bhagavan
- Raudrantika
- Others...

Mahakala Masterworks Pages:
- Bernagchen
- Brahmanarupa
- Chaturbhuja
- Maning
- Panjara (Painting)
- Shadbhuja (Shangpa tradition)
- Vyagraha-vahana

Twelve Iconographic Forms by Appearance:
- One Face, Two Hands
- One Face, Four Hands
- One Face, Six Hands

- Three Faces, Six Hands
- Three Faces, Eight Hands
- Three Faces, Ten Hands

- Four Faces, Four Hands
- Four Faces, Twelve Hands
- Four Faces, Fourteen Hands
- Four Faces, Sixteen Hands

- Multiple Faces, Multiple Hands
- Others...

General Introduction: Mahakala is a category of Tantric Buddhist deity. His common function is as a protector (Dharmapala) and specifically the primary Wisdom Protector of Himalayan and Tibetan Buddhism. He is however also a meditational deity (ishtadevata) in the highest Anuttarayoga Tantras. For the study of Mahakala there are three important topics: Principal Texts, Principal Systems and Principal Iconographic Forms

There are dozens of different variations and forms of Mahakala. He is typically in wrathful appearance following the Indian model of a Raksha demon. In most occurrences and uses of Mahakala, he is paired with a meditational deity such as Shri Hevajra and as Panjarnata Mahakala, Chakrasamvara and Chaturbhuja Mahakala, Guhyasamaja and Chaturmukha Mahakala. In most cases Mahakala is an emanation, or wrathful aspect, of the principal meditational deity that he is associated with. For instance Panjarnata Mahakala is the most wrathful emanation, or form, of Shri Hevajra. In other situations Mahakala might be a wrathful emanation of Vajradhara or Akshobhya Buddha. Aside from the individual Anuttarayoga Tantras that teach various forms of Mahakala, the principal texts are the Eight Chapter, Twenty-five Chapter and Fifty Chapter Mahakala Tantras.

In one specific case, that of Shadbhuja Mahakala, Avalokiteshvara takes on the form of Mahakala. Therefore, it can be said that the Shadbhuja form, with one face and six hands is a wrathful Avalokiteshvara performing the function of a protector. Shadbhuja Mahakala arises specifically from the Eight Chapter Mahakala Tantra.

Jeff Watt 5-2003 [updated 3-2015, 5-2017]