Himalayan Art Resources

Mahakala: 75 Forms of Mahakala (Erroneous Belief)

75 Lords of Pure Lineage

There is actually no such thing as 75 forms of Mahakala. This is a 20th century Western creation.

In 1956 in a publication titled the Oracles and Demons of Tibet by Rene De Nebesky-Wojkowitz, (The Hague, 1956. ISBN 81-7303-039-1) states that there are seventy-five forms of the Buddhist deity Mahakala. This is found in the 3rd chapter of part 1 where the different forms of Mahakala are discussed. The problem occurs over a confusion with the meaning of the Tibetan word 'gonpo' which is a translation of the Sanskrit word 'natha' and in English simply meaning 'lord.' In the Tibetan language the term 'gonpo' is commonly used as a standard epithet for many of the popular bodhisattva figures such as Lokeshvara, Manjushri and Maitreya. It also happens to be a common epithet for Mahakala and other deities.

- 75 Forms of Mahakala (Transcript)
- Mahakala Overview
- Mahakala Clarification

To continue with the origins of the confusion, there are several principal forms of Mahakala in Tantric Buddhism and each has a different appearance and origin story. In particular there is the Shadbhuja Mahakala of the Shangpa Kagyu Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. This form of Mahakala has one face and six arms, in a standing posture, and is accompanied by five principal attendant secondary figures.

Five Secondary Figures:
- Takkiraja (male, blue)
- Jinamitra (male, red)
- Raudrantika [Trakshe] (male, riding a horse)
- Kshetrapala (male, riding a bear)
- Shri Devi (female, riding a mule)

Outside of the ring of the five secondary figures are the tertiary retinue figures which are called the Seventy-five Lords (gonpo). These seventy-five figures are composed of seven different groups of minor worldly gods and minor protector deities. Some of these are very well known groups such as the Four Worldly Guardians also known as the Four Direction Kings. So, a misunderstanding of the Tibetan word 'gonpo' has led to an erroneous 60 year belief that there were, textually or doctrinally based, seventy-five different forms of Mahakala in Tibetan and Tantric Buddhism.

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

Jeff Watt 9-2020