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Mahakala

Period:
Pala period
Date:
11th–12th century
Culture:
India (Bihar)
Medium:
Black stone
Dimensions:
H. 23 in. (58.4 cm); W. 11 3/4 in. (29.8 cm); D. 4 1/2 in. (11.4 cm)
Classification:
Sculpture
Credit Line:
Gift of Samuel Eilenberg, in memory of Anthony Gardner, 1996
Accession Number:
1996.465
  • Description

    Mahakala is a wrathful manifestation of Shiva Bhairava, taken up in an Esoteric Buddhist context as a fierce manifestation of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara as guardian of the dharma (Buddhist law) and the sangha (community of monks and nuns). He is shown here enthroned on a lotus cushion—another supports his pendant foot—wielding a sword and trident and displaying a skull cup (kapala); his missing fourth hand likely held the flaying knife. He wears a skull diadem with radiating flames. A skull garland is slung around his waist, and snakes form his sacred cord and armbands. A kneeling couple, presumably the donors who commissioned the icon, make an offering below. A Sanskrit inscription in proto-Bengali script identifies them: it states, in part, “this is the pious gift of Dahapati.”

  • See also
    What
    Where
    When
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
    MetPublications
39600

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