Himalayan Art Resources

Mahakala: 75 Forms (Video Transcript)

Mahakala: 75 Forms

Video: 75 Forms of Mahakala

'So I just want to touch on a topic that we have briefly spoken about in the past, and that's this notion that keeps spreading among scholars, art historians, Buddhist practitioners, that somewhere out there, there are 75 different forms of Mahakala.

Now this does not exist. It never has existed. It's actually made up. It's made up [an error] by a scholar in a book that was published in 1956. It's called Oracles and Demons of Tibet by Rene De Nebesky-Wojkowitz. And in that publication, he relied a lot on many different types of Tibetan literature. He relied on Gelugpa, Nyingma, and actually on Jonangpa as well. And in there, he discusses at length the standard sort of Gelugpa six-armed Mahakala, one-faced, six-armed, coming from the Shangpa Kagyu tradition [originally promoted by] Kedrub Khyungpo Naljor.

And, in reading these texts as he did, this Rene De Nebesky-Wojkowitz, he talked about the six-armed Mahakala and described it in detail, translating from the root text that he had, which I think was [also] the Rinjung Lhantab of the 4th Panchen Lama [Tenpai Nyima, 1782-1853]. And in there, it describes Mahakala, one face, six arms, and then a [further] retinue of five deities, a close retinue, Shri Devi, Kshetrapala, Jinamitra, Raudrantika, and Takkiraja. So this is a close immediate retinue. But then in the text, it mentions in Tibetan, it says there are seventy-five 'gonpo', [the] Tibetan word 'gonpo,' G-O-N-P-O in English spelling.

So, this [word] 'gonpo' is casually used in Tibetan language and among Buddhists to reference Mahakala. So you mentioned 'gonpo,' then oh, maybe [colloquially] you mean Mahakala. So, in this text of the six-armed Mahakala, it mentions 75 'gonpo.' And then it goes on to enumerate who they are. And then it starts [begins] with the Ten Guardians of the Directions, the Eight Great Gods, the Eight Great Nagas, the Eight Great Planets, the Four Worldly Guardians, the Twenty-eight Constellation Deities, and the Nine Great Bhairavas. Now, these are all not even secondary, these are tertiary retinue deities for the one-faced six-armed Mahakala.

And, the word 'gonpo' here is merely a translation of the Sanskrit word 'lord' [natha]. So it means the 75 Lords of Pure Lineage who are in the third ring of retinue figures. But Rene De Nebesky-Wojkowitz thought that this word 'gonpo' always meant Mahakala. So he translated it as Mahakala. So, since then, since 1956, everything, everything that we see in English and all these art books are all relying on this text [publication] and saying that there are 75 Mahakalas. Where in fact it doesn't exist. It does not exist in a Tibetan system, a Tantra, a Buddhist system. There's no system. There are no 75 Mahakalas. So hopefully this will be a beginning to an end of this wrong [erroneous] information. Thank you.' (Jeff Watt, YouTube, September 17th, 2020).

HAR Team [added 12-2023]

Five Secondary Figures:
- Takkiraja (male, blue)
- Jinamitra (male, red)
- Raudrantika [Trakshe] (male, riding a horse)
- Kshetrapala (male, riding a bear)
- Shri Devi (female, riding a mule)

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