Sign In
 
Forgot password?
Enter your username or email to reset and email yourself your password
Forgot your username? Click here
Sign In
Welcome . For your security, please choose your password.
Sign In
For privacy concerns, please view our Privacy Policy
Sign up
for saving your wish list, viewing past orders
receiving discounts and lots more...
Subscribe for Newsletters and Discounts
Be the first to receive our thoughtfully written
religious articles and product discounts.
By registering, you may receive account related information, our email newsletters and product updates, no more than twice a month. Please read our Privacy Policy for details.
.
Share
Share our website with your friends.
Email this page to a friend
By subscribing, you will receive our email newsletters and product updates, no more than twice a month. All emails will be sent by Exotic India using the email address info@exoticindia.com.

Please read our Privacy Policy for details.
|6
Your Cart (0)

The Many Forms of Mahakala, Protector of Buddhist Monasteries

Article of the Month - January 2005
Viewed 90255 times since 2nd Oct, 2008

...Continued from Page 1

« Previous Page

The Elephant Goad
The Elephant Goad

 

 

 

The other notable departure from the normal Mahakala iconography is the elephant goad held in the center left hand, the sharp point of which symbolizes penetrating awareness.

 

 

 

 

Two Elephants Under His Feet
Two Elephants Under His Feet

 

 

 

Also, in contrast to other Mahakalas, he stands on two elephants rather than one.

 

 

 

White Mahakala in Tribhanga, Central Tibet
White Mahakala in Tribhanga
Central Tibet
7th century

The elephant skin stretched at the back refers to the deity having torn asunder the pachyderm of ignorance.

Another interesting aspect of White Mahakala is that he is occasionally shown in the tribhanga posture. In this typical stance of the body, the head, torso, and legs slant in contrary directions. The legs and hips jutt to the right, the trunk to the left, and the neck and head then again gently to the right. It is a lyrical, dreamy, very graceful pose. The three curves formed by the body symbolize the three worlds, upper, lower and middle, better known in Sanskrit as triloka. This is also popularly known as the posture of three bends.

White Mahakala is popular for both mundane as well as spiritual reasons, ranging from the basic desire for wealth and prosperity to the ultimate attainment of the precious jewel, which is none other than the Buddhist Dharma.

 

Some Rare Forms of Mahakala

Mahakala Panjaranatha

We have observed above Mahakala's' special relationship with the Buddhist monastery (vihara). The ever-innovative Tibetan artist however was not content with the aforementioned visualizations of Mahakala. He was looking at the development of an icon which expressed specifically, in a forceful and hard hitting manner, the role of Mahakala as the powerful protector of Buddhist viharas. Thus developed in the canons of Tibetan Buddhist aesthetics a unique form of Mahakala known as Gur gyi mGon po, or the 'Great Lord of the Pavilion.'

Mahakala's Vow to Protect the Monastery of Nalanda
Mahakala's Vow to Protect the Monastery of Nalanda

 

Grinning wildly and with fiery eyes, this terrible image of the Great Black One stands heavily upon the body of a corpse. While he holds the normal skull cup and chopper in his two hands, supported across the crook of his elbows is an ornamental wooden stick, called the 'gandi' gong, which is used in Buddhist monasteries to summon the monks and nuns to assemblies. It is this intriguing aspect of his iconography which associates him exclusively with the viharas and it is believed to symbolize the vow he once made to the Buddha to protect the monastic community of Nalanda at Bihar and hence by extension all Buddhist retreats. Also, originally it was likely a shaman's staff used during application of protective charms (panjara), hence in this manifestation he also came to be known as Panjaranatha, or 'Lord of Charms." It is also conjectured that the rod denotes the one used to hold up outdoor tents and hence is a reminder that this awesome deity is the supreme savior of the essentially nomadic Tibetan people.

 

 

 

Mahakala Panjaranatha (Lord of the Pavilion), Tibet
Mahakala Panjaranatha (Lord of the Pavilion)
Tibet.
circa15th century
Stone

The significance vested with this stick can be realized from the fact that it is also called the 'gandi stick of emanation,' and it is believed that all of Mahakala's other forms emanate from this rod. They are thought to emerge into the world from two sets of doors, and it is a tribute to the Tibetan artistic genius that these two gates are often minutely carved and painted at the two ends of the stick (see accompanying illustration). The Panjaranatha form can thus be thought of as the fundamental or original form of Mahakala, being the source of all the other manifestations, including the four- and six-armed incarnations.

Another peculiarity of this deity is that he is depicted with his knees bent, almost seated on his haunches, as if about to rise. This posture is defined in the Sadhanamala; Mahakala is said to be rising from the body of the ghost (pretasanastham utthitham) on which he was seated in yogic meditation. Also, his physical form is dwarfish (vamana) and often squat, adding to the grotesqueness of the visualization. The short stature shows that Mahakala possesses a compact power.

Panjaranatha is the preserver of the Sakya order.

Mahakala as the Wise Brahman (mGonpo Bramzei)

Brahmanarupa Mahakala, Tibet
Brahmanarupa Mahakala
Tibet
Circa 18th century

The saga of Mahakala's iconographic journey continues, taking us among other places, to Mongolia. It was the thirteenth century. Sakya Pandita (1182-1251), the founder of the Sakya order, was on a trip to Mongolia. Accompanying him was his nephew Phags pa (1235-89). The latter remained at the court after his uncle went back to Tibet. Phags pa impressed the emperor Khubilai Khan with his wisdom and learning skills and was appointed the imperial tutor. The monarch requested the monk to initiate him in the teachings of the Hevajra Tantra. Unfortunately, Phags pa, young as he was, had still not set his eyes on the sutra. He requested the emperor to postpone the discussion for the next day. That night the revered lama lay sleepless in despair since he did not have with him a copy of the sacred text. At that instant there appeared, to his astonishment, an old white haired Brahman, who asked Phags pa to light his lamp and lay before him the coveted sutra. The monk was thus able to initiate the king, who then happily embraced the folds of the Dharma.

The elderly Brahman was none other than the great Mahakala, who in this form is known as 'Brahmanarupa Mahakala'. Iconographically he is depicted with a long beard (symbolizing the wisdom of experience) and holding up a human thighbone trumpet to his mouth. Harvested from the charnel fields, and being a characteristic attribute of yogis and yoginis associated with the cremation ground, the sound of the trumpet is said to appease wrathful deities but instal fear in the hearts of evil spirits. Tibetan shamans, of both Buddhist and Bon traditions, employ the thighbone trumpet in many rituals of exorcism and weather control. The instrument's threatening drone is said to unhinge the powers of malignant spirits, or of the nagas and those weather gods who either vengefully withhold or unleash the elemental powers of thunder, wind, hail, and rain.

Mahakala Maning - The Black Eunuch (mGon po maning)

Mahakala Maning, Tibet or Bhutan
Mahakala Maning
Tibet or Bhutan
circa 19th century

 

 

 

In this manifestation Mahakala is the avowed guardian of the Nyingmapas. He holds a fresh and throbbing human heart in his left hand, and also a garland strung with the same macabre organs. His right hand holds the trishula and the gandi-staff is pushed into his waist belt. The term 'maning' (eunuch) used in Mahakala's name here means genderless or without genitals. It has also been translated insufficiently as hermaphrodite. In any case, research on this aspect of Mahakala has been speculative and much needs to be done to bring out the true meaning behind this strange but breathtaking visualization.

 

 

 

The Four-Headed Mahakala (mGon po zhal bzhi pa)

Four Headed Mahakala
Four Headed Mahakala

 

 

 

Here, Mahakala has, in addition to the central face, one face each to the right and left and another above these three. His four hands in addition to the skull cup and chopper hold the wisdom sword and khatvanga respectively. Mahakala's quartet of faces symbolizes the four kinds of mindfulness:

1). Mindfulness of the body.
2). Mindfulness of sensations.
3). Mindfulness of the mind.
4). Mindfulness of phenomena.

The Four-Headed Mahakala is the special protector of the Nyingmapas.

 

 

 


The Two-Armed Mahakala

Mahakala (AD1661), Stone
Mahakala (AD1661)
Stone
Svayambhu Mahachaitya Museum, Nepal

 

 

 

 

 

The two-armed Mahakala is most popular in the Newar Buddhism of Nepal. In the Mahakala Tantra he is described as the form by which the sufferings of sentient beings are removed. Such images are placed in the entrances to many bahals (monasteries) with Mahakala on the left as one enters and Ganesha on the right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kartridhara Mahakala
Kartridhara Mahakala

 

 

 

 

 

 

He may also be holding his chopper aloft in which case he is referred to as 'Kartaridhara (Holder of the Chopper) Mahakala.'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mahakala of the Black Cloak, Tibet
Mahakala of the Black Cloak
Tibet.
circa 16th century

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, there is the misshapen and squat two-armed, black-cloaked (Bernag chen) Mahakala, who is particularly the protector of the Karma Kagyu School.

 

 

 

 

 

Mahakala as 'Great Time' - The Symbolism Behind His Color

Mahakala's typical blackness symbolizes his all-embracing, comprehensive nature, because it is the hue into which all other colors merge; it absorbs and dissolves them. Just as all colors disappear in black, so do all names and forms melt into that of Mahakala. Black is also the total absence of color, again signifying the nature of Mahakala as ultimate reality. This in Sanskrit is named as nirguna (beyond all quality and form). Either way, Mahakala's dark complexion represents his transcendence of all form. Kala however also means time. Etymologically, 'kala' means that which absorbs everything within itself (kalayati iti kala). Thus Mahakala is the cosmic nature of time, into which we will all dissolve in the course of time. He is the transcendent-time (maha-kala), absolute, eternal, measureless, and ever present.


References and Further Reading

  • Bangdel, Dina., and John C. Huntington. The Circle of Bliss Buddhist Meditational Art: Chicago, 2003.
  • Berger, Patricia & Terese Tse Bartholomew. Mongolia The Legacy of Chinggis Khan: San Francisco, 1995.
  • Bunce, Frederick W. Numbers Their Iconographic Consideration in Buddhist and Hindu Practices: New Delhi, 2002.
  • Bhattacharya, N.N (ed). Tantric Buddhism - Centennial Tribute to Dr. Benoytosh Bhattacharya: New Delhi, 1999.
  • Beer, Robert. The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs: Boston, 1999.
  • Colin, Didier. Dictionary of Symbols, Myths & Legends: London, 2000.
  • Cooper, J.C. An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols: London, 1999.
  • Danielou, Alain. The Myths and Gods of India: Vermont, 1991.
  • Getty, Alice. The Gods of Northern Buddhism: New Delhi, 1978.
  • Jansen, Eva Rudy. The Book of Buddhas (Ritual Symbolism Used on Buddhist Statuary and Ritual Objects): New Delhi, 2002.
  • Kalsang, Ladrang. The Guardian Deities of Tibet: Dharamsala, 2000.
  • Keown, Damien. Oxford Dictionary of Buddhism: Oxford, 2003.
  • Landaw, Jonathan., and Weber, Andy. Images of Enlightenment (Tibetan Art in Practice): New York, 1993.
  • Linrothe, Rob & Jeff Watt. Demonic Divine Himalayan Art and Beyond: New York, 2004.
  • Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Rene De. Oracles and Demons of Tibet: Delhi, 1996.
  • Oleshey, Gomehen. & Tenzin Khempo Sangyay (tr. by Keith Dowman). Deities and Divinities of Tibet (The Nyingma Icons): Kathmandu.
  • Pal, Pratapaditya. A Collecting Odyssey: Chicago, 1997.
  • Pal, Pratapaditya. Art of Tibet. Los Angeles: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1990.
  • Pal, Pratapaditya. Art from India, Nepal, and Tibet: New Delhi, 2001.
  • Pal, Pratapaditya. Himalayas An Aesthetic Adventure: Ahmedabad, 2003.
  • Rhie, Marylin M. & Thurman, Robert A.F. Wisdom and Compassion: The Sacred Art of Tibet. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996.
  • Rhie, Marylin M. & Thurman, Robert A.F. Worlds of Transformation Tibetan Art of Wisdom and Compassion: New York, 1999.
  • Vessantara. Meeting the Buddhas (A Guide to Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Tantric Deities), Birmingham, 1993.

« Previous Page

Post a Comment
 
Post Review
  • Thank you for the excellent article about Mahakala. How is about Manjushri ?
    by Ha Nguyen on 28th Jan 2012
  • Thank you for an inciteful article I was looking for a better Image of the four armed mahakala than appears in "THe Myth of Freedom _ Chogyam Trungpa." which has a detailed description on working with negitivity through the principals of the four armed mahakala
    by Windhorse on 25th Nov 2009
  • excellent article, do u have more detail about mahakala history n story thanks
    by wilsontzr on 12th Sep 2006
  • Thank you for the beautiful article. I was guided to find the sanskrit name for Destiny and we called the card game we produced Mahakala Destiny. I felt completely overwhelmed when I found out recently the history and significance of Mahakala, and so grateful for the meaning and insight. I will connect this site to our website www.mahakala-destiny.com. May we use some of the images from this site when we update ours? Love, Lesley
    by Lesley Matzopoulos on 19th Mar 2005
  • Excellent article about Tibetan Buddhism; very minute and profoundly documentated, with wonderful coloured images. A real joy for spirit, soul and eyes. Thank you very much.
    by Cristina, Romania on 19th Jan 2005
  • Thank you for this great article! The illustrations are superb as always!
    I took the liberty to introduce it to the Daruma Forum too:

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Darumasan-Japan/message/690

    Gabi Greve
    by Gabi Greve on 19th Jan 2005
Testimonials
Hello Vipin K., thanks a lot for replacing the 4th volume of the Srimad Bhagavatam and sending me a faultless copy of the book so fast. The faulty pagination (missing and mixed up pages) is due to the bookbinding, of course, you are not to blame. Your customer service is excellent. And as your selection of books is extraordinary, I'm already looking forward to the next books that will reach me, perfectly packed and in best condition as always. ;-)
Walter
I really found this site to be very well designed, and the number of items amazing. From my careful inspection of the high resolution photos, the quality of work appears to be outstanding.
Sanjay, USA
The statue was delivered today. It is exceedingly beautiful. My thanks to the creator of the statue for such a lovely idol and to yourselves for the great service.
Shashi
I'm so proud of your Company, it's so rare to have a good service after sales.... I will recommend you to all my friends.
Colette, Canada
I am a repeat customer of your store. I have bought several items from you and like the quality and service. Please keep up the good work of providing Puranas and Vedas.
Raghavan, USA
This is a beautiful website - and very customer friendly - easy to find your way around.
Sonia, UK.
Fantastic service! Delivery in Italy in two days!
Francesca Verna
Your custom service is great, especially Vipin. Vipin helped me locate a lost package. that was so nice!!!! I love this company. I love the cotton skirts with ruffle on the bottom. I also love how that when we place items in the shopping cart, the computer system allows them to remain in the cart until we are ready to purchase them. They don't disappear like with other on-line stores shopping cart system. Your the Best!!!
Heather Davis, USA
A true treasure vault of Bharatiya samskruti knowledge books! Thanks for this service.
Shashikant, USA
Very nice website, easy to use. Your one of the few Indian website that have an extensive collection of CD's that will ship to America.I think Indian website should expand themselves into the global community China sure has. China's market growth had to do with supply and demand. The same thing could happen to India, you just have to open the doors of India and let it happen. At least you seem to be doing that.
Donald, USA
Subscribe to our newsletter and discounts
Share with friends
Related Links
"The Bhagavad Gita, while describing the qualities of a wise person says…. This verse is vividly illustrated in the story of king Rantideva occurring in the Srimad Bhagavatam…. He did not believe in hoarding, was above all attachments and was highly patient…. They were all trembling due to starvation and thirst….bowed to the dogs and their owner…. What I want is only this: That I be able to go and live in the hearts of all beings and undergo sufferings on their behalf, so that they may become free from all miseries."
An Example of Living Vedanta: The Story of King Rantideva
"Actually, the one who worships Bhagwan Vishnu should get rich and the one who worships Shiva should become an avadhuta like Him…. Then he works hard again to acquire wealth. I render all his efforts futile…. However, Bhagawan Vishnu is not like that, it takes longer to please Him…. As a consequence, they later harassed the great God Himself…. On the seventh day, he bathed in the holy waters of Kedarnath and began to cut his head with an axe to offer into the fire…. The boy bowed respectfully before the demon and asked…. No one who commits sin against a great person can be safe and happy in this world."
Shiva and Vishnu: A Unique Aspect of Their Worship
"Here is a fragment from one of the most poignant episodes of Indian history…. This piece of history is from the Mahabharata…. She was dying with shame but inside, like a true kshatrani (woman of the warrior race), she was burning with anger…. I have heard that women who follow dharma were never brought before a public court….Greed is the destroyer of dharma. I do not desire a third boon…. Draupadi was as forgiving as mother earth herself…. Just then Arjuna saw his dear friend Bhagawan Krishna approaching him…. “Leave him, leave him. He is a brahmin and worthy of our worship. Their mother should not cry, like I have at the death of my children."
Analyzing the Eternal Dimensions of Dharma Through Itihasa (History)
"We assume that our happiness is the result of an interaction with external objects…. Suppose that an individual is deprived of sleep and food and pleasurable objects for a long time and then all of them are simultaneously offered to him…. Actually, seeking the answer to this question is the most significant pursuit in life…. The veil comes up again and the duality returns…. In this background, we can now analyse the nature of dukha (grief)."
Ananda: Understanding the True Nature of Happiness
"Whenever he gets the time, he should go and live amongst people who have given up worldly life…. A wise person should serve his body and family only to the extent that is functionally necessary…. The person who lays claim on the surplus wealth is nothing but a thief…. He should share all objects of enjoyment with everyone, right down to dogs, sinners…. Such is the attachment to one’s wife….How despicable is this body, which if buried is going to become the food of worms, or excreta if eaten by animals….Since a son is to thus revere his elders even after their death, what to say that he is expected to serve them when they are alive…. The person wishing to follow the path of dharma should steer clear of the five forms of Adharma."
Narada Teaches Yuddhishtra a Householder’s Dharma
Show More
Others Viewing
वीर हनुमान शाबर मन्त्र:   Veer Hanuman - Shabar Mantra
वीर हनुमान शाबर मन्त्र: Veer Hanuman - Shabar Mantra
अवतार सिंह अटवाल (Avatar Singh Ataval)
Paperback
$25.00
वीर हनुमान शाबर मन्त्र:   Veer Hanuman - Shabar Mantra
Temple Musical Instruments of Kerala
Temple Musical Instruments of Kerala
$28.50
Temple Musical Instruments of Kerala
India and Europe (Selected Essays by Nirmal Verma)
India and Europe (Selected Essays by Nirmal Verma)
$30.00
India and Europe (Selected Essays by Nirmal Verma)
Indo-Islamic Architecture (An Old and Rare Book)
Indo-Islamic Architecture (An Old and Rare Book)
Ziyaud-Din-Desai
Paperback
$20.00
Indo-Islamic Architecture (An Old and Rare Book)
मन्त्र सागर: Mantra Sagar (Collection of Mantras)
मन्त्र सागर: Mantra Sagar (Collection of Mantras)
डॉ. रामेश्वर प्रसाद त्रिपाठी 'निर्भय' (Dr. Rameshwar Prasad Tripathi 'Nirbhay')
Hardcover
$20.00
मन्त्र सागर: Mantra Sagar (Collection of Mantras)
Plain Clove-Brown Tusha Stole with Needle-Embroidery By Hand
Plain Clove-Brown Tusha Stole with Needle-Embroidery By Hand
Pure Wool
6.8 ft x 2.3 ft
$135.00
Plain Clove-Brown Tusha Stole with Needle-Embroidery By Hand
Show More
TRUSTe online privacy certification
Language:
Currency:
All rights reserved. Copyright 2016 © Exotic India