Mahakala, Protector of the Tent, Distemper and gold on blue silk, Tibet

Mahakala, Protector of the Tent

ca. 1650
Distemper and gold on blue silk
Image: 29 x 20 1/2 in. (73.7 x 52.1 cm)
Overall: 30 1/4 x 21 3/4 in. (76.8 x 55.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Bequest of Nina Bunshaft, by exchange, and funds from various donors, 2006
Accession Number:
Not on view
This black-ground painting is a visualization image of Mahakala as Panjarantha, the enlightened protector of Buddhism. He tramples a male corpse beneath his feet and displays a flaying knife (kartrika) in his right hand and a skull cup (kapala) in his left, implements for cutting through delusions and ignorance. A ritual wand (gandi) is balanced in the crooks of his arms. Panjaranatha is understood as the “original” Mahakala from which all other manifestations emanate. Several of the latter, along with the deity’s associates, surround him, including Brahmarupa (the “lesser Mahakala,” at left), blowing a thighbone trumpet, and Palden Lhamo (Mahakala’s consort), riding her mule. In the upper corners are two hierarchs of the Sakya lineage, over which Mahakala presides as their principal protector, and below his fearful retinue dances macabrely.
[ Arnold H. Lieberman , New York, until 2006, sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Rugs and Ritual in Tibetan Buddhism," October 7, 2010–June 26, 2011.