Himalayan Art Resources

Iconography: Deities That Are No Longer Popular (Iconic)

Popularity of Deities Page

Subjects, Topics & Types
- Description (below)
- Mahayana Figures (Sutra)
- Sarma Deities
- Nyingma Deities
- Four Tantra Classifications & Deities
- Others...

- Deities That Are No Longer Popular (Iconic)
- Deities No Longer Popular (Non-Iconic)
- Charya Tantra: Popular
- Yoga Tantras: Unpopular

Deities That Are No Longer Popular refers to those deities that were popular in early Mahayana and Tantrayana Buddhism but lost popularity in the last five or six hundred years. These deities are important because they are well represented in early art, primarily sculpture, murals and text illuminations.

Five Questions:
1. Which deities are no longer popular?
2. When were they popular?
3. When were they no longer popular?
4. Why were they no longer popular?
5. Which deities replaced them in popularity?

Three Best Examples:
- Achala
- Amoghapasha
- Khasarpana

There are three outstanding deities that were well represented in art early on that are no longer popular. They are Achala, Amoghapasha, and Khasarpana. All three of these fell out of favour in approximately the 14th century and very little art in their likeness was produced after that time. Aside from those three there are many other figures represented in art which to a greater or lesser degree disappeared from art culture by the 15th century.

From the Four Tantra Classification system the third level is the Yoga Tantras. The Yoga Tantras were very popular from approximately the 9th century up to the early 15th century. After that time they have almost disappeared completely as religious practices and as the subjects of art. The rare occasion for the painting of a mandala is only when a set of compendium compositions are commissioned for the complete set of Vajravali, Mitra Gyatsa, and similar collections of mandalas.

There are many reasons why deities can fall out of favour but a main reason is because the tradition that was principally promoting the practice of that deity became weak, absorbed into another tradition, or disappeared entirely. Sometimes the early forms had complicated ritual practices or too many rules and pledges.

Deities that are less popular don't disappear completely. They are maintained and carried on within the large collections of deity practices first compiled in the 11th century by scholars such as Abhayakara Gupta, Patsab Lotsawa, Bari Lotsawa and others.

Deities are also replaced by evolving figures that perform essentially they same function as the less popular deity. Examples of this are Vairochana from the Sarvadurgati Parishodhana Tantra. His rituals were primarily employed for funerary services. The Nyingma practice of the Peaceful and Wrathful deities of the between state (bardo) replaced the Vairochana rituals in most of the Tibetan traditions. They were newer, shorter, did not require a mandala preparation, and were generally easier to perform.

Types of deities that are no longer popular:
- Achala
- Aparajita
- Avalokiteshvara
--- Amoghapasha
--- Avalokita/Hayagriva
--- Khasarpana
--- Eleven Faces Kings Tradition
- Chakrasamvara
--- Donkey-Face (& others)
- Hevajra
--- With Weapons (& others)
--- Nairtamya
- Tara Seventeen Deity Mandala
- Vairochana Buddha

Four Tantras:
- Kriya:
- Charya: Vairochana Abhisambhodi Tantra
- Yoga: All Yoga Tantras
- Yoganiruttara (Anuttarayoga):

Jeff Watt 8-2021

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