White Mahakala (Primary Title)

Unknown (Artist)

17th century
opaque watercolor on cloth
Eastern Tibet
Unframed: 23 1/4 × 14 7/8 in. (59.06 × 37.78 cm)
Framed: 37 1/2 × 24 in. (95.25 × 60.96 cm)
Mahakala’s primary function is as a Dharmapala, a Protector of the Buddhist Law (Dharma), but this enlightened tutelary deity takes dozens of difference variations and forms. When six-armed, he is an emanation of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara and a principal protector of the Geluk Order. When white, as here, he is additionally a wealth deity. Both roles are combined in this painting. Certainly he is fierce, ready to destroy enemies of the Dharma. Surrounded by an aureole of orange-red flames, with fangs, bulging eyes, and wildly flying hair, he stretched behind himself the flayed skin of an elephant and tramples two emanations of the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha. Some of his hands hold fearsome weapons, including a flaming trident similar to the one installed nearby, but his lower hands hold implements—a flaming jewel and vase—associated with his role in providing wealth, both worldly and spiritual. His crown of five skulls is also ornamented with jewels; a garland of severed heads intertwines with golden girdle chains; and his arms and ears drip with gold and precious stones. Below him are four wildly dancing dakinis (female embodiments of enlightened energy) and two forms of the wealth god Kubera. Above is a small red figure of the deity Vajrasattva.
Berthe and John Ford Collection, Robert A. and Ruth W. Fisher Fund
Image released via Creative Commons CC-BY-NC

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