Himalayan Art Resources

Mahakala: Shadbhuja [Shangpa] Iconography

Shadbhuja Mahakala (Shangpa) Page

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Iconography
- Shadbhuja Mahakala Outline
- Shadbhuja & 75 Retinue Figures (Single Composition)
- Shadbhuja (Legs Straight)
- Shadbhuja (Rinjung Lhantab)
- Shadbhuja Miscellaneous Forms
- Shadbhuja Main Page
- Confusions
- Others...
- Confusions
- Others...

- Shangpa Kagyu Protectors
- White Mahakala of the Shangpa Tradition

Types & Variations:
- Sita Shadbhuja (White)
- White (Tang Tong Gyalpo)
--- Yellow
--- Red
--- Green
--- Blue/black
--- Multi-coloured
- Green, One Face
- Green, Three Faces
- Lagon Yermed (See the Tang Tong Gyalpo Tradition)
- Yellow, Lophel, Three Faces, with consort
- Yellow, Gonpo Dribsel
- Red, Kandro Wangdu
- Sangdrub Chingka
- Blue-black, Saraha Tradition
- Very Black, Sangdrub
- Four Combined, Lhashi Drildrub
- Tul Shug
- Nying Shug
- Others...

Shadbhuja has a number of different forms differentiated by a variation in body colour, the addition of a consort, hand attributes and retinue figures. The most popular being the wealth deity White Mahakala practiced in all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Variations in appearance are found in the different traditions principally the leg postures of Mahakala, the Gelugpa preferring the more wrathful posture with the legs apart. The Tsarpa lineage of Sakya prefers Shri Devi with four hands so as not to confuse her with Magzor Gyalmo the younger sister or servant that has two hands. The colours and hand objects of the remaining retinue also vary according to individual traditions.

"The Lord of Pristine Awareness has six hands and a body dark blue in colour. The first two hold a curved knife and skullcup, the middle two a human skull mala and trident, the lowest two a damaru drum and lasso. Adorned with a tiger skin, garland of heads, bones and snakes, and small bells on the hands and feet. Standing in a manner with the two legs together pressing down on Ganapati. With three eyes, bared fangs, eyebrows, beard and hair flowing upward with Akshobhya as a crown. Anointed with a sindhura drop on the forehead. Supported behind by a sandalwood tree, dwelling in the middle of a blazing mass of fire." (Jonang Taranatha, 1575-1634).

"...above a lotus, sun and [and a prone] Ganapati...is the Lord of Wisdom, with a body blue/black in colour, one face and three eyes. With six arms the three right hold a curved knife, skull mala and drum. The three left [hold] a skullcup, trident and lasso. With five dry human heads [as a crown], adorned with fifty wet [heads] as a necklace, human bones and snakes. Having a drop of sindura on the forehead and Akshobhya Buddha seated as a crown. With an elephant skin as an upper garment and wearing a tiger skin as a lower garment, standing with the right leg bent and left leg straight in the middle of a blazing fire of pristine awareness. At the left side is Devi Remati riding a mule, holding a sword in the right [hand] and a blood filled skullcup in the left. In front is Kshetrapala riding a bear, holding a curved knife and a blood filled skullcup. On the right is Jinamitra, standing above a lotus and sun, holding a drum and blood filled skullcup. Behind is Takkiraja, standing above and lotus and sun, holding a drum and [performing] a wrathful gesture. To the left of Devi is Raudrantika, black, riding a horse, holding a spear and blood filled skullcup." (Changkya Rolpai Dorje, 1717-1786 [TBRC P182]).

There are five principal retinue deities:
- Takkiraja (male, blue)
- Jinamitra (male, red)
- Raudrantika [Trakshe] (male, riding a horse)
- Kshetrapala (male, riding a bear)
- Shri Devi (female, riding a mule)

A further 75 deities (see below), in Tibetan called 'gonpo' (mgon po. English: lords) make up the outer retinue. This enumeration hinging on the word 'gonpo' the common name used in reference to Mahakala, has led to the mistaken Western notion that there are 75 forms of Mahakala in Tibetan Buddhism. Iconographically there may be fewer forms but textually there can be an infinite number.

The Seventy-five Lords of Pure Lineage:
- Ten Guardians of the Directions, (Tibetan - chog yong chu)
- Eight Great Gods, (Tib. - lha chenpo gye)
- Eight Great Nagas, (Tib. - lhu chenpo gye)
- Eight Great Planets, (Tib. - za chenpo gye)
- Four Worldly Guardians, (Tib. - jig ten kyong wa shi)
- Twenty-eight Constellations, (Tib. - gyu kar nyi shu tsa gye)
- Nine Great Bhairavas, (Tib. - jig je chenpo gu)

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Jeff Watt 4-2004 [updated 8-2016, 5-2017, 12-2019]

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