Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Heruka (Nyingma)

Heruka Meaning & Forms

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
- Iconographic Categories
--- Guhyagarbha Tantra (Peaceful & Wrathful Deities)
--- Eight Pronouncement Heruka (Chemchog, etc.)
--- Revealed Treasure Traditions (depicting Heruka)
--- Miscellaneous Unidentified
- Outline (Nyingma)
- Types Outline (General)
- Wrathful Appearance Page
- Winged Deities
- Masterworks
- Confusions
- Others...

- Nyingma Heruka Deities (Part 1)
- Nyingma Heruka Deities (Part 2)
- Mahottara Heruka
- Heruka (General)

In the Nyingma (Old) Tradition the term Heruka (blood drinker) generally refers to any male meditational deity that is wrathful in appearance.

A Heruka deity typically has three faces, six arms, eight legs, a consort, and sometimes a pair of wings. A small number of these deities can be readily identified by a unique attribute, such as the horse head of Hayagriva or the kila (purba) peg of Vajrakila, and Yamari/Yamantaka standing atop a buffalo, while the remainder of deities are relatively difficult to identify. The most common heruka figures are the Five Buddha Heruka of the Guhyagarbha Tantra, the Five Wrathful Deities of the Between Sate (Bardo) based more or less on the Guhyagarbha, and the Eight Pronouncement Heruka. The most common individual forms found in art are Vajrakila, Hayagriva and Chemchog Heruka , etc.)

There is a more complex form of the Nyingma Mahottara Heruka that has nine stacked faces and eighteen arms and an even more complex form with twenty-one faces with forty-two arms.

From the Guhyagarbha Tantra there are six heruka deities which are also the main wrathful deities represented in the Bardo (Shitro) paintings.

Five Buddhas & Mahottara:
- Mahottara Heruka: dark brown or maroon
- Buddha Heruka: brown
- Vajra Heruka: white
- Padma Heruka: red
- Ratna Heruka: yellow
- Karma Heruka: green

There are eight famous Pronouncement Heruka deities along with Mahottara (Chemchog). Generally these deities have three faces and six hands however there are some 'Treasure Traditions' (terma) that have one face and two hands. The deity names Yangdag and Chemchog, sometimes found as written name inscriptions, are often interchanged and the attributes can also be different between the various painted examples of the three faced and six armed figures.

Over time and with the rise of the 'Revealed Treasure' teachings numerous meditational forms of Padmasambhava grew in popularity essentially creating an additional third category of deity meditation types such as the Lama Gongdu Terma Cycle and the Bardo Shitro deities.

Database Search: All Images

Jeff Watt 2-2021

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