In the four corners around Sabhujamahakala are depicted, from left to right, Ksetrapala on the boar; the two-armed Mahakala in his aspect of Gur-gyi-mgon-po, holding the tent-pole; the four-armed Mahakala in his aspect of 'pressed heart' and holding the kapala against its heart; and the four-armed Srimatidevi on her mule.
The upper border depicts from left to right Vajradhara, three mahasiddhas and ten monks. The row below gives three jina Buddhas, Prajnaparamita, Buddha Sakyamuni, possible Tse-ring-ma, Amitabha, Bhaisajyaguru, two jina Buddhas and Avalokitesvara with the lotus. The left border shows three forms of Mahakala and a form of Sri Devi. The right border starts with an unidentified deity, next an acolyte with birds-head and the acolyte Sha-za-nag-po with the lion-head. Near the feet of Sadbhujamahakala the four lokapalas, each dressed in a pure Tibetan garment. The border below depicts probably mGon-po-beng-dka'-ma holding the staff; the red Jinamitra; the black Takkiraja; Tra-kshad on horse and holding spear and bowl; the naked Yama on the buffalo; and Vaishravana. The lower border gives the dasadiklokapalas, or the deities of the ten directions, each riding its specific vehicle.
According to Tibetan iconographic texts there are, depending on the various classifications, seventy-two or seventy-five forms of Mahakala. He is mainly worshipped by followers of the Sa-skya-pa and later dGe-lugs-pa schools, however the bKa'-gdamps-pa and rNying-ma-pa traditions added certain forms to their pantheon as well. Popular is the six-armed form of Mahakala, as the one under discussion. It is therefore possible that this painting belongs to the Sa-skya-pa sect, although the monks at the upper border lack their specific cap. They seem to have more in common with the followers of the bKa'-gdamps-pa school. Thus it is, not to be excluded that the present painting belongs to the latter tradition, which might be adjusted by its relative early date.
The thang-ka is painted in a completely pre-Nepalese style. Artists from Nepal were only asked to come to Tibet by the Sa-skya-pas near the end of the 12th century. In due course they created a specific 'Sa-skya-pa' painting school, strongly influenced by a Nepalese idiom. A fine example is in the Fournier Collection. The painting is published in Gilles Beguin Arts esoterique de l'Himalaya; La donation Lionel Fournier, Paris, 1990, as catalogue number 26. The painting is dated to the 15th century and is clearly later than the painting under discussion. The latter has stylistic more in common with another painting in the same collection, published on page 270, dated to the 12th to 13th centuries. Comparing it further to several other published Tibetan post-Pala thang-kas, one can find many similar elements in style, iconography and the colour scheme. Therefore it seems plausible to date this slightly primitive but charming painting towards the end of the 13th century or very beginning of the 14th century.
See colour illustration