Himalayan Art Resources

Indian Scholar: Nagarjuna Main Page

Nagarjuna Masterworks

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
- Short Biography
- Depictions & Number Sets
- Identifiable Mahasiddhas
- Three Mahasiddha Examples
- Human Figures with Buddha Appearance
- Identification Key: HAR #1074
- Confusions: Elder Rahula, Sakya Pandita, Nagaraja Buddha, Garab Dorje, Buddha
- Others...

- Nagarjuna: Introduction
- Nagarjuna Confusions
- Six Ornaments & Two Excellent Ones

Principal Characteristics:
- Monastic Appearance
- Ushnisha on the Crown of the Head
- Hood of Seven Snakes
- Teaching Gesture (explication gesture or holding a book)
- Relaxed Posture

Nagarjuna, Arya (Tibetan: pag pa lhu drub [Tbrc P4954]): founder of the philosophical system known as Madhyamaka, the Middle Way School. His exact dates are not known but it is generally believed he lived around the time of the 1st and 2nd centuries C.E. Nagarjuna is typically depicted as a monk with orange and red robes. The two hands are often held at the heart performing a teaching gesture. He has two unique characteristics. The first is an ushnisha on the crown of the head. The second is a hood or canopy of seven snakes framing the head.

Nagarjuna can appear as a central figure in a single composition. He often appears as the first of the Six Ornaments in a single composition or set of paintings. He appears in both the Abhayadatta (Abhaykara Gupta) and Vajrasana sets of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas.

There are a number of individuals named Nagarjuna and in typical Buddhist hagiography they are very often all conflated together as if they were all one person. The four main individuals named are:
- Arya Nagarjuna, 1st/2nd century C.E.
- Nagarjuna Garbha, 8/9th centuries (Vajrasana Mahasiddha System)
- Vidyadhara Nagarjuna, 8th century (Nyingma)
- Nagarjuna (Thirty-five Confession Buddhas)

The Arya Nagarjuna of the Madhyamaka is depicted as described above. In the Vajrasana system of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas he is referred to as Nagarjuna Garbha and depicted the same as Arya Nagarjuna. Vidyadhara Nagarjuna of the Nyingma system portrays the figure as a layman with a lotus hat. As for the author describing a unique system of presentation for the Thirty-five Confession Buddhas there are currently no known images but it is commonly assumed he is conflated with Arya Nagarjuna.

Database Search: All Images | Painting | Sculpture

Jeff Watt [updated 5-2017, 3-2021]

The Problem of the Historical Nagarjuna Revisited by Ian Mabbett. The Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol.118 No.3 (July 1998).

One Clue Fewer about Klu sgrub. Rob Mayer, 2023.