Himalayan Art Resources

Indian Adept: Virupa Main Page

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Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Virupa Description (below)
- Virupa Outline
- Iconographic Forms
- Siddha Appearance
- Guruyoga
- Masterworks
- Bibliography
- Confusions: Shri Simha, Tsang Nyon Heruka
- Others...

Medium Type:
- painting or sculpture
- Block print image
- Illuminated manuscript (book illumination)
- Others...

Virupa, the Lord of Yoga, 9th century (Tibetan: bir wa pa, nal jor wang chug); foremost in magical attainments among the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas of India. He can appear in a number of different forms and colours. He can also appear in different contexts such as a set of lineage images, a narrative scene, the set of Eighty-four Mahasiddhas, as a Guruyoga meditation form, etc. Virupa is not unique to any one tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and therefore can be found almost anywhere. In the Sakya Tradition Virupa is typically depicted in one of six textually documented forms that follow the major events in his life story.

When depicted with the right arm raised in the air and performing a wrathful gesture Virupa can easily be mistaken for the Nyingma teacher Shri Simha who appears in a similar posture and gesture.

"Reversing the Ganga and subduing the evil king;
While holding the sun - drinking the liquor of the entire country, without being drunk;
Completely shattering the Linga and subduing the Chandali;
To the renowned Lord of Power, I bow my head." (Sakya liturgical verse).

"With a body blue in colour,
The right hand pressed to the ground,
The left upraised in a threatening gesture,
Seated in the sattva posture;
To the One reversing the Ganga, I bow! Mangalam."

In a number of painted compositions Virupa is accompanied by a woman, a female consort or attendant. Generally the attendants are depicted either holding a parasol or holding a jar or jug of liquid. Sometimes the figure is seated or standing next to Virupa with nothing special in the two hands.

The first of these figures, with the parasol in the hands, is often a generic addition in Himalayan art of a female consort commonly added to the composition of a figure in mahasiddha appearance. In this case the female figure does not have a name nor any known narrative or historical origins. This is also the same for the generic figure with nothing in the hands. However, in the uncommon Virupa Guruyoga literature he has a specific iconographic form and is visualized with a consort standing to the left side and holding a parasol. In this instance she is only referred to as Vidya, or Knowledge-holder. There is no consort described or implied in the common Virupa Guruyoga. In the various painting traditions an attendant female figure holding a parasol can be found with all of the different forms of Virupa regardless of textual accuracy.

The female figure carrying the jug is based on the narrative life stories of Virupa when he was drinking at a tavern and stopped the sun in the sky until he was finished satisfying his thirst. It is said in some literature that the barmaid left her employment and became a student of Virupa.

Sometimes the barmaid is said to be Sukhasiddhi or Niguma of Shangpa Kagyu fame as it is reported that Niguma had a Virupa as one of her early teachers. This however is not likely as there were a number of teachers named Virupa at different times in India. Only a few of these so-called Virupas were related to each other such as Kala Virupa, possibly an alternate name for Kanha, who was believed to be a direct student of the famous Virupa of Nalanda.

Jeff Watt 2-2002 [Updated 11-2016, 4-2017, 9-2017]

Virupa Biographies:

Biography of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas, Abhayakara Gupta (11th century).

Biography of Shri Virupa, Jetsun Dragpa Gyaltsen (1147-1216)

Chagen's Biography of the Great Master Virupa, Chagen Wangchug Gyaltsen (13th century)