Himalayan Art Resources

Indian Adept: Virupa Iconography

Virupa Main Page

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Forms of Virupa Description
- Siddha Appearance
- Virupa Forms Outline
- Single painting or sculpture (not part of a set)
- Single painting, Virupa and Lamdre Lineage Teachers
- Single painting, Virupa and Eighty-four Mahasiddhas
- Part of a lineage painting or lineage sculpture set
- Part of an Eighty-four Mahasiddha painting (or tsakali) set
- Jonang Iconography Style
- Black Virupa
- Six Standard Iconographic Forms
- Identifiable Mahasiddhas
- Confusions: Tsang Nyon Heruka, Shri Simha
- Others...

1. Right Pointing Gesture
2. Left Pointing Gesture
3. Dharma Teaching Gesture
4. Right Hand Presses on the Seat, Left Above the Knee
5. Right Hand Raised to the Forehead
6. Two Hands in the Three Pronged Vajra Gesture

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.

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.

Database Search: All Images | Painting | Sculpture

Jeff Watt [updated 4-2019, 12-2019]

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