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    Sale 2024

    Indian and Southeast Asian Art

    16 September 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 557

    A blackground thangka of Mahakala Bram-Zehi


    Price Realised  


    A blackground thangka of Mahakala Bram-Zehi
    Tibet, 17th century
    The deity depicted as an elderly man seated on a lotus throne holding a trident a jewel-filled vase in his left hand, a sword at his right hip and a bone trumpet in his right hand, with retinue figures in the foreground and protector deities above, all in a mountainous landscape with a temple to the left and charnel grounds to the right, with Tibetan inscriptions in gold
    28 3/8 x 19¾ in. (72 x 50.2 cm.)

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    Brahmarupa is Chaturmukha Mahakala (the Four-faced Great Black One) appearing as an Indian Brahmin. His main attributes are a bone trumpet, a sword, a garland of skulls, a trident and a vase filled with jewels. Below him are four Brahmins making offerings or displaying gestures with their left hands while blowing horns held in the right hands. They represent ignorance, desire, jealousy and hatred. At the bottom are four wrathful female attendants holding swords, fire, smoke, and a tree branch. Each of these figures is named in a golden inscription.

    At the top center is the primordial Buddha Vajradhara with Saraha holding an arrow below and Virupa with his hands in the teaching gesture. At the upper left are the Indian scholars Nagarjuna, Dignaga and Dharmakirti. At the upper right are Aryadeva, Asanga and Vasubhandu. These six are called the Six Ornaments of the Southern Continent. Along the bottom are four wrathful female attendants holding swords, fire, smoke, and a tree branch. There are name inscriptions below most of the deity and human figures depicted. To the left is a temple and to the right are the charnel grounds.

    Brahmarupa Mahakala is associated with the Manjuvajra Guhyasamaja cycle of Tantric practice, where he is commonly depicted as a retinue figure. The idea of a Brahmarupa Mahakala was very appealing to the Great 5th Dalai Lama, who in the 17th century created new rituals centered on this deity. These practices necessitated paintings and sculpture, for which a new iconography for Brahmarupa Mahakala was developed independent of Sakya tradition ritual texts and practices. This painting is likely to be Gelugpa in origin.


    Sotheby's New York, 28 October 1991, lot 169

    Pre-Lot Text



    A. Heller, Tibetan Art, 1999, p. 197, cat. no. 110
    N. Bazin, Rituels tibétains, 2002, p. 119, cat. no. 62.


    Rituels tibétains, Musée Guimet, Paris, 2002