Dombi Heruka is one of a small number of Indian Buddhist mahasiddhas that are consistently identifiable based on a standard iconographic form and a consistent artistic depiction. He is most often associated with his teacher Virupa and the Margapala (Lamdre) teachings based on the Hevajra and Chakrasamvara Tantras. Of the two principal students of Virupa, Kanha was taught the gradual method Margapala and Dombi Heruka was taught the teachings of the sudden method Margapala.
There are numerous Tibetan incarnation lineages that claim Dombi Heruka as a previous incarnation. The most famous of these are the Gelugpa Longdol Lama, the Karma Kagyu Tai Situpa and the Surmang Trungpa Tulku. Longdol Lama also includes Marpa Chokyi Lodro which would also make Marpa as a later incarnation of Dombhi Heruka. Tai Situ followers also claim that he is an incarnation of the Bodhisattva Maitreya and Jonang Taranata, thus making Dombi Heruka an incarnation of Maitreya and Jonang Taranata an additional later incarnation of Dombi Heruka.
Dombi Heruka is commonly mistaken for another mahasiddha with a similar name but different appearance, Dombhipa the washer-man, also from the set of Eighty-four Mahasiddhas. The mahasiddha form of Je Tsongkapa in his depiction as a siddha riding a tiger and carrying a sword in the upraised right hand is often mistaken for Dombi Heruka of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas.
Although originally belonging to the 'Sarma' New Traditions of Tibetan Buddhism beginning in the 11th century, later Nyingmapas adopted Dombhi Heruka into the new 'Terma' compilations of the life-story of Padmasambhava making both Dombi Heruka and Virupa incarnations/emanations of Padmasambhava.
In the appearance of a mahasiddha figure, of which there are three types, having taken on the guise of a heruka deity, the third of the three types, with bone ornaments and a skull headdress, Dombi Heruka typically holds a snake lasso in the upward raised right hand and a skullcup in the left embracing the consort. He rides a top a pregnant tigress accompanied by a low-caste consort. [See the Eleven Figurative Forms in Tibetan Buddhist Iconography].
Jeff Watt [Updated November 28th, 2011, 10-2017]
Dombi Heruka : the Tiger-Rider (Abhayadatta #4)
Dombi Heruka was the king of Magadha. Unknown to his subjects, he was secretly initiated by the Guru Virupa into the Mandala of Hevajra and through this meditative practice he attained a level of enlightenment and supernatural powers. His subjects held him in high regard and he loved them like a father loves his children. For their benefit he devised a plan to rid them of fear and unhealthy desire. He told his subjects that due to their collective bad karma from past actions, their kingdom was plagued by thieves, bandits and poverty. He then told them to hang a large bronze bell from the branch of a great tree and whenever they saw danger or poverty in the kingdom to ring it. People did as he said and in time the problems facing the kingdom disappeared. There was no more crime and the indigent became comfortable.
One day a group of traveling singers and musicians of very low caste came to Magadha, one of which had a beautiful young daughter, an exquisite virgin who had the attributes of a goddess. Dombi Heruka wished her to be his consort. When he approached the girl's father and told him of his intentions, the humble musician was shocked, stating that the king was far too important and powerful to marry someone of such a low caste. Dombi Heruka did not care about high or low caste and paid the father the girl's weight in gold.
For twelve years, the people of Magadha were not aware that the girl was the king's tantric consort, however, in the thirteenth year it was discovered. The subjects were enraged that the king was involved in a relationship with someone of low caste. Dombi Heruka was forced to abdicate his throne to his son. Then, along with his consort, the king entered a nearby forest and practiced meditation for twelve years.
While the couple was gone, the kingdom was misgoverned and all the previous problems returned. Eventually, the subjects wanted Dombhi Heruka to return to the throne. A royal council sent a delegation out on a mission to find the couple. When the delegation found them, Dombi Heruka was meditating under a tree and his consort was walking on lotus leaves in the middle of a pond. The delegation was amazed and returned to Magadha to report what they had seen. Shortly there after, a second delegation was sent out to invite them to return to the capitol. Dombi Heruka accepted.
The two rode into the city in union on the back of a pregnant tigress while brandishing a poisonous snake as a whip. After the people overcame their fear and surprise they asked him to reclaim his throne. He stated that he had lost his caste by consorting with an outcaste woman so it would not be fit for him to return. Yet since death ends all distinctions, he proclaimed that they should be burned alive and thus would be able come back to rule in the next life. A large fire was constructed and the couple jumped directly into the heart of it. After it burned for an entire week, and had cooled enough to be approached, the people saw that the royal couple was still there. Dombi Heruka appeared in the fire in the heart of a fully-blown lotus in the form of the deity Hevajra in union with his consort. All doubt was removed from the minds of the subjects of Magadha and they once again called Dombi Heruka their king. He proclaimed that Magadha was to be a kingdom of truth. After addressing the crowd he rose to the Dakini's paradise, where it is believed he still remains to this day for the sake of perfect awareness and pure delight.