Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Bear Imagery

Animals Mythical and Real

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
- Kshetrapala (Shadbhuja Mahakala)
- Mistress of Life (Begtse Chen)
- Hobsedug (Yutog Nyingtig)
- Domra (Eye Covering)
- Nine-headed Animals
- Confusions
- Others...

Video: The Himalayan Bear in Art

There are three deities that ride a bear. Two are male and one is female. None of them are central figures and all three are depicted as secondary or retinue figures. The three also function within the context of protector deity. The Kshetrapala is said to be based on an Indian Sanskrit text but it is more likely to be a product of Tibet and the 'Pure Vision' tradition. The Mistress of Life belonging to the Begtse Chen cycle of practice is also likely to be either from the Nyingma 'Revealed Treasure' or the 'Pure Vision' tradition. Hobsedug belonging to the protector section of the Yutog Nyingtig is also a 'Revealed Treasure.' It is likely that other deity figures related to the Himalayan bear will come to light in both the Nyingma 'Revealed Treasure' and from the iconography of the Bon religion.

Kshetrapala is one of five retinue figures belonging to the practices of Shadbhuja Mahakala (one face, six hands) originating with the Shangpa Kagyu Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Kshetrapala, wrathful with one face and two hands can typically be recognized by the brown or black bear that he sits or stands atop as a mount. For very wrathful rites and rituals Kshetrapala is practiced independently from the primary Shadbhuja Mahakala. In these fearsome situations Kshetrapala is often paired with a wrathful consort.

The consort for the deity Begtse Chen is the Mistress of Life, with a red face and blue body. In the right hand she holds aloft a curved sword and in the left she stabs with a 'purba' (Skt.: kila, Eng.: peg). As a mount she rides atop a bear who clutches a small human corpse between the jaws. The colour of the bear can vary between, brown, blue and black depending on the preferences of the artist.

Hobsedug, Master of Life: one of eight attendant figures in the retinue of Mahakala Gonpo Shanglon belonging to the 'Revealed Treasure' Tradition (terma) of the Yutog Nyingtig discovered by Yutog Yontan Gonpo. (See the Shanglon Main Page, Yutog Nyingtig Main Page).

"In the Northeast is the master of life Hobsedug, blue in color like hala [poison], very fearful, frightening, with one face and four hands, on the crown of the head is the head of a wild hawk. The first pair of hands hold a spear and a bag of poison. The lower pair [of hands] hold a fresh human head and a peg [purba]. [He] rides atop a nine-headed [female] bear." (page 334).

The domra is a special eye covering or eye mask used either for practical reasons such as protecting the eyes from snow blindness or strain, or used during specific meditation sessions. It would seem based on early literature that the domra is associated more with some early Kagyu teachers and practitioners.

Jeff Watt 4-2022

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