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Mahakala, Protector of the Tent

Artist/maker unknown, Tibetan

Made in central Tibet, Tibet, Asia

Early 15th century

Colors on cloth; cloth mounting

Image: 38 1/4 × 26 1/4 inches (97.2 × 66.7 cm) Mount: 54 1/2 × 30 inches (138.4 × 76.2 cm) Framed: 64 × 39 1/2 × 2 1/2 inches (162.6 × 100.3 × 6.4 cm)

Curatorial Department:
South Asian Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Stella Kramrisch Collection, 1994

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This particular form of the deity Mahakala is the enlightened protector of the Hevajra tantras, a cycle of teachings personified by the tiny blue deity Hevajra in the central roundel of his crown. Mahakala’s fierce appearance and grisly attire represent the means to overcoming negativities on the spiritual path. For example, the five skulls in his crown represent the transformation of the five poisons of ignorance, attachment, aversion, pride, and jealousy into five wisdoms. The deity also tramples a contorted male figure, demonstrating the submission of the ego. Vibrant primary colors, little sense of depth, and two-toned scrollwork distinguish this style, brought to Tibet by Nepalese artists, from other Tibetan works partaking of a more Chinese visual lineage.

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