Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Messenger (Deity)

Deities According to Function

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Messenger Description (below)
- Kriya Tantra
- Tantra Classification
- Protector Deities Main Page
- Mahakala
- Divination
- Confusions
- Others...

1. Messengers in the entourage of Protector Deities:
There are two basic meanings for the term 'messenger' in Tantric Buddhism and represented in Himalayan art. The most common usage is to refer to the secondary, tertiary or outer retinue in the company of the protector deity Mahakala and and most other worldy and beyond worldly Buddhist protectors. Often the messengers take the form of birds and animals especially those that frequent the cemeteries and charnal grounds.

For Panjarnata Mahakala the messengers are described as "...To the right is a black crow, left a black dog, behind a wolf, in front a black man, above a garuda, emanations of messengers issue forth, ..." (Konchog Lhundrub, 1497-1557). The messengers are often depicted in the paintings of Panjarnata and with careful observation can be identified in many other paintings of the different forms of Mahakala.

The worldly protector Tsiu Marpo is accompanied by a red dog and Dorje Setrab is said to be accompanied by roosters. Sometimes the animal messengers act as familiars during divination rituals or in dreams.

2. Messengers of the Kriya Tantra Classification:
The second meaning for 'messenger' is included in the explanations for the cataloguing of deities in the kriya class of Buddhist tantra. For the kriya classification ONLY there is a structure or organization that follows a royal or court hierarchy and divides the Three Buddha Families into as many as eight categories: 1. Buddha of the Family, 2. Lord of the Family, 3. Mother of the Family, 4. Ushnisha of the Family, 5. Wrathful Deity of the Family, 6. Messengers of the Family, 7. Bodhisattvas of the Family, and 8. Nagas & Yakshas of the Family. This structure of classification is also related to the organization of a mandala and decreasing level of importance of figures as they are positioned in the outer and outermost rings of a mandala.

Kriya Tantra Messengers:
- Parnashavari (Tatagata Family)
- Maha Lakshmi (Padma Family)
- Mahabala (Vajra Family)
- Vajra Tunda (Vajra Family)

Jeff Watt, 2-2020

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