Himalayan Art Resources

Indian Adept: Three Groupings

Mahasiddha Religious Context

Three Groupings of Mahasiddhas:
1. Known & Iconographically Recognizable
2. Known & Unrecognizable
3. Unknown

Video: Mahasiddhas: Three Groupings

(This non-traditional method of dividing and explaining the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas into three groupings is for educational purposes that can apply to art history, iconography and religious studies).

1. Known & Iconographically Recognizable:
Only a small group of approximately twenty figures from the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas are both well known and identifiable by iconographic characteristics. From this group there are also the Eight Siddhas popular in art with the Sakya and Kagyu traditions along with related branch traditions. The known and iconographically recognized siddhas are shared between the most popular sets of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas.

Making the topic more complicated is the existence of multiple mahasiddhas withy the same name such as Nagarjuna, Virupa and Kanha. The Buddhist tradition generally conflates the different siddhas having the same name into a single person. Only smaller and less known practice traditions will make a clear separation between siddhas with the same name such as Virupa of the Hevajra system, Virupa of the Rakta Yamari, and Virupa of the Chinnamasta Vajrayogini system.

2. Known & Unrecognizable:
There are a large number of siddhas that are depicted in art as secondary figures such as in lists of lineage teachers, incarnation lineages, and those enumerated in one of the many different traditions of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas. This group can be very large because it includes the compilation of names from the many different listings of siddhas in the sets of eighty-four. A very important aspect of these known & unrecognizable siddhas is that they are well represented with writings found in the Tibetan Buddhist canon (kangyur. bka'-'gyur).

There are at least ten different systems for listing the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas with some more popular and others less popular or obscure. The two systems that are the most popular and the most commonly depicted in painting and sculpture, representing each of the eighty-four figures, are the Abhayakara Gupta (Abhayadatta) and the Vajrasana systems.

3. Unknown Mahasiddhas:
There are many siddhas that are simply unknown aside from their name. They could be obscure or rarely referenced. Many of these siddhas have no known writings, nor represented in any teaching, initiation or incarnation lineages. These siddhas are listed in the various enumerations of the Eighty-four Great Siddhas but very little or nothing is known about them or their lives.

Subjects & Topics:
- Definition & Appearance
- Five Contexts of Depiction
- Outline Page
- Study Guide
- Confusions
- Others...

Jeff Watt 11-2021

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