early 18th century
Distemper on cloth
83 3/ 8 x 57 3/4 in. (211.8 x 146.7 cm)
Purchase, Florance Waterbury Bequest, 1969
The ferocious aspect of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, Mahakala is shown as the Swift-Acting Lord of Pristine Awareness. He stands in a flaming mandorla, his six hands holding a skull cup full of gore; a chopper; a mala comprised of skulls, a drum, and a noose; and a trident-tipped staff. Draped over his shoulders is an elephant skin (ignorance); below his feet is the body of Vinayaka or Ganesha, here interpreted as the defeated creator of obstacles. Attending Mahakala are four yaksha “ministers.” Above, they are in red and blue; below they ride a bear and a horse and flank the protector goddess Palden Lhamo on her donkey. At top sits the celestial Buddha Amitabha, flanked by siddhas and Gelugpa patriarchs. Tangkas at this scale often replaced damaged wall paintings. This one was probably placed near a temple entrance.The inscription on the back reads:My humble salutations to the most loving, compassionate of all times—past, present, and future. The Great Protector, Mahakala, the fierce God who is inseparable from my Lama. To the Upper Tantric College, I present this tangka of the Great Protector, whose true spirit is ever present in the precious painting. . . . To you I pray that my good deeds be of service to all living beings from now until the time when all have achieved Buddhahood. May you the Great Protector always be near us and help us to follow the path to righteousness.
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