Himalayan Art Resources

Definition: Mahasiddha (Three Functions)

Mahasiddha Definition Page

The Three Functions of Mahasiddha Depictions

Mahasiddha represented in art are divided into three distinct groups based on three different literary sources and functions.
- Lineage Teachers
- Sets of Eighty-four Mahasiddha
- Guruyoga

[1] Lineage Teachers beginning with the historical Buddha, or the primordial Buddha Vajradhara, and depicting each holder of the teaching line up to the date of the creation of a work of art. This is the most important function of mahasiddha representation in Buddhist art.

[2] Sets of Eighty-four Mahasiddha(Tibetan: ) in art are based on the literary works of Vajrasana and Abhayadatta Shri. Both systems of enumerating the eighty-four are commonly depicted as murals, individual paintings or sets of three or more paintings. There are also other authors and literary sources that describe sets of eight, fifty and one-hundred mahasiddha. The eight siddha are commonly found in painting while no examples of the fifty and one-hundred siddha have yet been located.

[3] Guruyoga, or guru devotion rituals and meditation texts, are a common source for painting and sculpture that depicts specific mahasiddha in detailed and fixed iconic poses. The most common examples are depictions of Virupa, Padmasambhava, Padampa Sanggye and Machig Labdron. As a painting or sculpture, these works are created as individual pieces to be used as devotional objects by the owner.

Jeff Watt 4-2006 [updated 5-2017, 10-2020]

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