Himalayan Art Resources

Indian Adept: Naropa Main Page

Naropa Masterworks

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
- Biography
- Holding a Skullcup
- Holding a Human Skin
- Mahasiddha Main Page
- Confusions: Kanha of the East
- Others...

Video: Mahasiddha Naropa

Key Points:
- Important for tantric lineages & teachings (Sakya, Kagyu)
- Named in the Eighty-four Great Siddha sets
- Not in the Eight Great Siddha Sets
- Not easily recognizable

Naropa is principally known for the practice cycles of Chakrasamvara and Vajrayogini. He is found in the lineages of all the Sarma schools of Tibetan Buddhism and particularly held in high esteem within the Sakya and Kagyu traditions and branch schools. In the Dagpo Kagyu he is considered one of the two founding preeminent Indian teachers along with Tilopa. In the Sakya school he is included as one of the five foremost mahasiddhas of that tradition along with Virupa, Nagarjuna, Vararuchi and Padmasambhava.

Context in Art:
- Lineage Depiction (Chakrasamvara, Vajrayogini, others)
- Eighty-four Mahasiddhas
- Dagpo Kagyu Lineage
- Others...

Naropa is represented in both painting and sculpture. He is included in the many different sets of the Eighty-four Great Mahasiddhas. He is not found in any of the commonly known sets of the Eight Great Siddhas and likewise his teacher Tilopa. He is commonly included in different lineage depictions for tantric cycles of practice and the Mahamudra lineage of various Kagyu schools. Generally, Naropa can only be identified by a written inscription, context within a painting, or in one of two recognizable iconographic forms, such as holding or wearing a human skin.

There are three common iconographic appearances for Naropa. In the Kagyu lineage depictions he is generally holding a skullcup in the left hand and the right performs a gesture of blessing or teaching. These hand gestures are not consistent between art painting styles or sculptural representations. Outside of any context Naropa can easily be mistaken for Kanha of the East, or any number of generic mahasiddhas displaying a gesture and holding a skullcup.

Many painted examples show Naropa with both hands empty and placed in non-descript gestures. In the Chakrasamvara lineage depictions, typically seen as a secondary figure in the upper registers of a composition, Naropa will often be seated or standing wearing a flayed human skin with either one or both arms extended stretching the skin. This iconography can also be common for how he is seen in the group of the Eighty-four Mahasidddhas especially with the Abhayakara Gupta and the Vajrasana systems.

Three general iconographic appearances for Naropa:
- Relaxed Posture Holding a Skullcup
- Holding One Arm of a Human Skin #52548480
- Holding the two Arms of a Human Skin #1085, 69320, 90834, 3314732
- Others...

Database Search: All Images

Jeff Watt [updated 1-2020, 12-2021]