Art/ Collection/ Art Object


Pala period
11th–12th century
India (Bihar)
Black stone
H. 24 in. (61 cm); W. 11 3/4 in. (29.8 cm); D. 5 in. (12.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Samuel Eilenberg, in memory of Anthony Gardner, 1996
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 238
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.”
Inscription: Dr. B.N. Mukherjee identifies the inscription as being incorrect Sanskrit and in the proto-Bengali of Gaude script of the very late 12th or early 13th century. He provided the following transliteration and translation:
1. Deyadharmmoyah (should be deyadharmmoyam) danapati
2. Mumnala

Dr. S.P. Tewari identifies the language of the inscription as Sanskrit and the script as Nagari-Gaudiya of about the 12th century. His transliteration and translation are as follows:
1. Deya dharmmoyam Danapati
2. [Maha stambha rudrabhisekha] (reading is uncertain) This is the pious gift of Dahapati...
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