Mahakala as The Supreme Protector of Buddhist Monasteries

Mahakala as The Supreme Protector of Buddhist Monasteries

Item Code: TL49
Tibetan Thangka Painting
Size of Painted Surface 20.5" X 29.0"
Size with Brocade 31.0" X 44.0"
Mahakala Panjaranatha is one of the most popular Dharma protectors in Tibetan Buddhism. His Tibetan epithet gur gyi has commonly been translated as Lord of Tent/Net. That's why he is also known as Lord of Pavilion. This form of Mahakala is not only a benefactor and protector of the monastic tradition, but is also an exoteric form of ishta devata of the Mother Tantras, such as Hevajra and Chakrasamvara. Arising from the syllable HUM, the visualization describes Mahakala as the powerful embodiment of wrath, with the colour of blue he transform all negativities and hindrances into this form of Adamantine Mahakala. Panjaranatha Mahakala is described in the 18th chapter of the Vajra Panjara Tantra, which is a commentarial exegesis of the Hevajra Tantra.

He is the main deity of the Shakyapas. His omnipotence is invoked against powers of evil. He is a symbol of the fierce power of Akshobhya who reduces to dust demons and forces adverse to Dharma. He is the Great Mahakala with one ferocious face, in contradistinction to Junior Mahakala with four faces. He is represented with a body of dark-blue, one face, three eyes, two hands, hair standing on end and a crown of skulls with central Buddha head; jewels and snakes. He is standing as a squat compact figure upon a corpse. He holds a vajra chopper and a white skull bowl full of the blood and guts of demons turned into elixir. He carries across the crooks of his elbows an ornamented wooden gandi gong, used in Buddhist monasteries to call the monks to assemblies, symbolizing his vow to protect Nalanda monastic university and hence by extension all Buddhist monasteries. Gandi, moreover is used for beating the hours in monasteries. It is a terrifying club which punishes everyone offending the sanctity of the word. He watches over the fulfillment of vows and promises, and thereby guarantees faith. The supreme vow is pursuing supreme enlightenment. If a person does not fulfill this Vow, he will be devoured by the dark world of instincts that pull him away from redeeming light. He is surrounded by his messengers (dutas), who are hags, jackals, a flock of crows, birds, and other animals of prey; Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Siddhas, other forms of Mahakala and Palden Lhamo etc. The ornaments worn so elegantly on his blue body and gigantic head include jewel-encrusted gold crown, necklace, earrings, and anklets, accompanied by an equally elaborate set of delicately detailed armbands, legbands, and bracelets, all of carved human bone. Floral white scarf, garlands of severed human heads and snakes and the chalk-white four-skull crown complement the bone ornaments and his glowing eyeballs and gleaming teeth. Each of these specifically symbolizes the conquest of a particular type of obstruction of enlightenment.

Mahakala takes terrific forms and conquers the most horrible realms of existence. As a fierce manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion, Mahakala helps beings overcome all negative elements, especially spiritual ones, personified and symbolized by the panoply of fearsome creatures over which he becomes Lord. He wears his grisly ornaments to show his indefatigable determination to redeem even the horrible. This particular forms of Mahakala, easily recognized by the wooden gong he carries across his arms. This form seems to have connection with the myth wherein Mahakala promised Shakyamuni Buddha himself that he would always protect the Buddhist monasteries and community. As mentioned above the wooden gong (gandi) he holds was used since most ancient times to summon the monks and nuns to assemblies.

Around the upper borders are two wrathful deities, Vasudhara, Vajrasattva, Ushnishvijaya, Vajradhara, a Bodhisattva, Chenrezig and Green Tara. Along the bottom, from left are blue-complexioned wrathful deities with at centre Bodhisattva Samantabhadra attended by Naga king and devotees. The bottom right corner depicts a devotee couple with folded hands.

This is a powerful manifestation of Mahakala. The drawing and colour-combination are brilliant. The painting is very much suitable for sadhana and ritual.

Select Bibliography

Alice Getty, Gods of Northern Buddhism, Tokyo, 1962

J.C. Huntington and D. Bangdel, The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art, Ohio, 2004

Lokesh Chandra, Transcendental Art of Tibet, Delhi, 1996

Marylin M. Rhie & Robert A.F. Thurman, Wisdom and Compassion: The Sacred Art of Tibet, Thames and Hudson, 1996

Marylin M. Rhie & Robert A.F. Thurman, Worlds of Transformation: Tibetan Art of Wisdom and Compassion, New York, 1999

Rob Linrothe & Jeff Watt, Demonic Divine: Himalayan Art and Beyond, New York, 2004

This description is by Dr. Shailendra K. Verma, whose Doctorate thesis is on "Emergence and Evolution of the Buddha Image (From its inception to 8th century A.D.)".

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