Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Wrathful Deities & Function

Deities According to Function (Buddhist)

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Wrathful Deities & Function Explanation (below)
- Protector Deities: Traditions & Schools
- What is Mood?
- What are the Colours?
- Confusions
- Others...

Principal Functions:
- Protection: Mahakala, Shri Devi, etc.
- Meditational Deity: Vajrabhairava, Vajrapani, etc.
- Long Life: Amaravajradevi, Green Shadbhuja Mahakala, etc.
- Wisdom Producing Deity: White Achala, Yellow Shadbhuja Mahakala
- Power: Takkiraja, etc.
- Wealth: Sita Shadbhuja Mahakala, etc.
- Purification: Vajravidarana, Vajradaka, etc.

Almost all wrathful deities follow the Indian model of a Raksha (male) or Rakshasi (female) demon as described in Indian literature. Raksha appearance is one of the three types of figurative appearance or moods in Himalayan style art. Rakshasa/si are dangerous male and female spirits, sometimes characterized as demons, of classical Indian literature. Their fearsome appearance became the model for wrathful Buddhist deities such as Mahakala, characterized by round bulbous red eyes, gaping slathering mouths with large bared canine teeth, flaming hair, dark skinned, large bellied and thick limbed. (See the Three Moods).

In a traditional order the moods are listed as 1. Devi, 2. Rishi and 3. Raksha. Devi appearance also known as bodhisattva or peaceful appearance is described as a youth of sixteen years, dressed and appearing as if inhabiting the various heaven realms according to the descriptions in early Indian literature. The rishi-like appearance is just as it sounds based on the classical descriptions of forest dwelling rishis (early yogis of India). The rishi is slightly peaceful and slightly wrathful in appearance.

Three of the images below are Enlightened Protectors (Jnana Dharmapala) and three of the images are of meditational deities (ishtadevata). All six images depict very wrathful figures.

Jeff Watt [updated 6-2017]

(The images below are only a selection of examples from the links above).