Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Animal Headed/Features Gods & Deities (Buddhist)

Eleven Figurative Forms

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Animal Featured Deities Description (below)
- Iconographic Forms List
- Animal Headed Gods & Deities Outline Page
- Animal Headed Retinue Figures
- Humans with Animal Attributes
- Winged Deities
- Animals: Real & Mythical Outline
- Animal Relationships Glossary
- Snakes & Serpents Outline
- Weird & Off Topics Main Page
- Weird Gods & Deities Outline
- Eleven Types of Deities
- Iconography Main Page
- Masterworks
- Confusions
- Others...

In Buddhist iconography there are a small number of animal headed deities. Generally deities appear as peaceful, semi-peaceful/wrathful or wrathful in appearance. The animal headed deities are categorized outside of this general system and appear with either the central face as an animal or an animal head placed atop their own central face. For example Hayagriva has one or more horse heads atop his main wrathful face. Vajravarahi either has a sow's head on the proper right of her own face, or placed on the top of the head, or in some cases the main face is that of a sow.

Depending on the general mood and disposition of the deity the animal face can be either in the normal animal appearance or wrathful such as with Vajrabhairava and Simhamukha. A number of Anuttarayoga deities have retinue figures with animal heads such as are found in the various Chakrasamvara Tantras of the Sarma Traditions. In the Guhyagarbha Tantra of the Nyingma Tradition there are the famous sets of peaceful and wrathful deities with many of the minor retinue figures having animal faces. These deities are also known as, or referred to as, the Bardo deities.

Humans with Animal Attributes: There are at least three human figures that are also depicted with animal characteristics. The first is Nagarjuna who is typically shown with five or seven snakes above the head. The second is Gyalwa Chogyang, a student of Padmasambhava, that is typically depicted with a green horse head atop his own head. The third is Shridhara, an Indian teacher sometimes included in sets of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas. Shridhara is associated with the Chakrasamvara, Vajrabhairava and Yamari teaching lineages.

Jeff Watt 6-2011 [updated 9-2014, 4-2017, 2-2020]

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