Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Red Snout-like Nose (Wrathful Deities)

Wrathful Appearance Page

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
- Vajrabhairava
- Mahakala
- Shri Devi
- New Menri Painting Style
- Confusions
- Others...

Video: Red Snout-like Nose (HAR on Patreon)

The appearance of a red nose with flared nostrils on wrathful 'raksha' figures appears to be a relatively recent phenomenon found primarily from the 18th century to the present. It is most noticeable with Mahakala and Shri Devi figures in painting but not limited to just those two classes of deities. Wrathful Appearance and 'raksha' appearance are synonymous, however they do not incude animal faces or wrathful animal faces. Deities with the face of an animal are classified as Animal-faced Appearance or Animal-featured Appearance.

The origins of the red snout-like nose is undoubtedly derived from Vajrabhairava, a borrowing from the iconography and facial descriptions in literature. He is also commonly shown in painting with bright red flared nostrils as a dominant characteristic along with two large horns on a massive water buffalo head (bubalus bubalis). This depiction of the red nose is common for early works of Vajrabhairava in all religious traditions and also for early and middle period painting styles.

Simhamukha, the Lion-faced Dakini, is also known for the red flared nostrils however there are not enough examples of early and middle period paintings to consider this an important influence. It is possible to say that there is an early tradition with wrathful animal headed deities depicted in paintings to have the characteristic of red flared nostrils.

The red nose is also primarily found with New Menri style painting which originated in the mid 17th century, and common to the Gelug tradition of Central Tibet. The same Gelug tradition holds in high esteem the practice of Vajrabhairava as taught by the founder Je Tsongkapa Lobzang Dragpa.

The snout-like red nose is rare to find on wrathful 'raksha' deities of other religious schools such as the Sakya, Kagyu or Nyingma, and rare to find in the works of other painting traditions.

In summation, based on the analysis above, the red snout-like nose on 'raksha' figures can generally be used to identify a painting of the New Menri style of the 17th century through to the present and belonging to the Gelug religious tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

Jeff Watt 10-2021

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