Himalayan Art Resources

Mahakala: Shadbhuja [Shangpa] Page (Six-hands)

Shadbhuja [Shangpa] Mahakala Page | Shadbhuja Mahakala Main Page

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Subjects & Topics:
- Shadbhuja Mahakala (Shangpa) Definition (below)
- Shadbhuja Mahakala Main Page
- Mahakala Resource Page
- Mahakala Main Page
- Mahakala Outline Page
- Shadbhuja Mahakala Outline
- Shadbhuja & 75 Retinue Figures
- Shadbhuja (Early Paintings)
- Shadbhuja (Legs Straight)
- Sita Shadbhuja (White)
- Shadbhuja (Rinjung Lhantab)
- Shadbhuja Miscellaneous Forms
- Kshetrapala Main Page
- Kshetrapala Outline Page
- Shadbhuja Song Book (musical notations)
- Masterworks
- Confusions
- Others...

There are five principal retinue deities:
- Takkiraja (male, blue)
- Jinamitra (male, red)
- Raudrantika [Trakshe] (male, riding a horse)
- Kshetrapala (male, riding a bear)
- Shri Devi (female, riding a mule)

Types & Variations:
- White
- Green, One Face
- Green, Three Faces
- Lagon Yermed
- Yellow, Lophel, Three Faces, with consort
- Yellow, Gonpo Dribsel
- Red, Kandro Wangdu
- Sangdrub Chingka
- Blue-black, Saraha Tradition
- Very Black, Sangdrub
- Four Combined, Lhashi Drildrub
- Tul Shug
- Nying Shug
- Chogyur Lingpa Terma
- Others...

The Seventy-five Lords of Pure Lineage:
- Ten Guardians of the Directions, (Tibetan - chog yong chu)
- Eight Great Gods, (Tib. - lha chenpo gye)
- Eight Great Nagas, (Tib. - lhu chenpo gye)
- Eight Great Planets, (Tib. - za chenpo gye)
- Four Worldly Guardians, (Tib. - jig ten kyong wa shi)
- Twenty-eight Constellations, (Tib. - gyu kar nyi shu tsa gye)
- Nine Great Bhairavas, (Tib. - jig je chenpo gu)

Brought to Tibet by Khyungpo Naljor the founder of the Shangpa Kagyu School (Outline Page), this form of Mahakala became popular in the Sakya, Kagyu and Jonang traditions and was later adopted into the Gelugpa School, becoming the principal protector.

There are other six-armed forms Mahakala that are unrelated to this particular six-armed Shadbhuja Mahakala.

Shadbhuja Mahakala arises from the Eight-Chapter Mahakala Tantra belonging to the Kriya classification. The interlocutor or sponsor of the tantra was the deity Hayagriva. Mahakala is a general class of protector deities in Tantric Buddhism and primarily associated with the Anuttarayoga Tantras. In general Mahakala forms are wrathful emanations of Vajradhara Buddha. From among the different forms of Mahakala only this Shadbhuja form is an emanation of Avalokiteshvara.

Shadbhuja has a number of different forms recognizable by a variation in body colour, the addition of a consort, hand attributes and retinue figures. The most popular being the wealth deity White Mahakala practiced in all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Variations in appearance are found in the different traditions principally the leg postures of Mahakala, the Gelugpa preferring the more wrathful posture with the legs apart. The Tsarpa lineage of Sakya prefers Shri Devi with four hands so as not to confuse her with Magzor Gyalmo the younger sister or servant that has two hands. The colours and hand objects of the remaining retinue also vary according to individual traditions.

"The Lord of Pristine Awareness has six hands and a body dark blue in colour. The first two hold a curved knife and skullcup, the middle two a human skull mala and trident, the lowest two a damaru drum and lasso. Adorned with a tiger skin, garland of heads, bones and snakes, and small bells on the hands and feet. Standing in a manner with the two legs together pressing down on Ganapati. With three eyes, bared fangs, eyebrows, beard and hair flowing upward with Akshobhya as a crown. Anointed with a sindhura drop on the forehead. Supported behind by a sandalwood tree, dwelling in the middle of a blazing mass of fire." (Jonang Taranatha, 1575-1634).

A further 75 deities (see below), in Tibetan called 'gonpo' (mgon po. English: lords) make up the outer retinue. This enumeration hinging on the word 'gonpo' the common name used in reference to Mahakala, has led to the mistaken Western notion that there are 75 forms of Mahakala in Tibetan Buddhism. Iconographically there may be fewer forms but textually there can be an infinite number.

Lineage: Vajradhara, Jnana Dakini, Shri Shavaripa, Lord Maitripa, Mahasiddha Rahulagupta, Khedrup Khyungpo Naljor (founder of the Shangpa Kagyu School, 11th century), Nyamme Rinchen Tsondru, Bonton Kyergangpa (famous terton of the Hayagriva 'Secret Accomplishment' cycle of practice), etc.

Jeff Watt 4-2004 [updated 8-2016, 5-2017]