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A thangka of Chaturmukha Mahakala
A thangka of Chaturmukha Mahakala


A thangka of Chaturmukha Mahakala
Tibet, 15th century
The four-faced deity striding in alidhasana on two prostrate figures over a lotus base at center, holding a chopper and skull cup in his primary hands and a flamed sword and trident in his upper hands, clad in a tiger skin and adorned with beaded festoons and a garland of severed heads, the four wrathful faces with flaming beard and brows, bared fangs, and third eye, surmounted by a skull tiara, surrounded by female attendant figures in different colors, other forms of Chaturmukha Mahakala and various Buddhist deities, with the Sakya lineage of teachers at top
20½ x 18¾ (52 x 47.7 cm.)

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Lot Essay

The central deity, Chaturmukha Mahakala ("Four-faced Mahakala"), is the second of the principle protector deities in the Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. There are five forms of Chaturmukha Mahakala, and this painting depicts all of them. With the white and red faces on either side of the central blue face, the central deity can be identified as the Accomplishment form of Chaturmukha Mahakala. The diminutive Approximation form with green faces is located to the right of the central figure's head, while the Demon Faces form with the elephant and lion faces is located to the right of the trident. The other two forms, Performing Activities and Four Families, are at bottom center and bottom left, respectively.

Because most of the lineage teachers can be identified, it is possible to roughly date the age of the painting. As Khedrubje Geleg Palzang (1385-1438), student of Tsongkhapa, is located towards the end of the lineage without subsequent teachers after him, it can be assumed that this painting dates from not long after his death. According to Jeff Watt, this is the earliest known painting of this subject.

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