Three-legged deities

Tibet, 18th century, copper alloy, dharmapala with three legs, private collection.

China or Tibet, 18th century, copper alloy, originally labelled ‘dharmapala with three legs’, at the American Museum of Natural History.

This deity has five heads with three eyes, flaming hair, six hands and three legs resting on two skulls and a skull cup filled with flesh. He is adorned with wrathful ornaments (skull crown, garland of freshly severed heads, tiger skin, snakes) and carries ritual implements such as a thunderbolt and bell, a flaying knife, two skull cups filled with blood, and a missing attribute.

Undated, Tibet, copper alloy, at the American Museum of National History.

Undated, Tibet (or China?), copper alloy, probably a 19th century copy of an ancient Dali Kingdom sculpture, at the American Museum of Natural History.

A more modern one with nine heads, each with three eyes and a small skull on the forehead,  the upper three topped with a half-vajra finial, 16 arms holding ritual implements (bell, drums. shell) and severed heads, the upper ones holding stretched human hides, and three legs resting on three skulls. There is a human head hanging upside down around his waist and there is a skull on each of his knees. The base, with a human hide and an animal hide instead of lotuses, is not of Tibetan origin, it is an imitation of 6th to 7th century Indian bases used for other wrathful deities.

same as before.

same as before with turquoise inlay.

This one has four heads with three eyes,  flaming hair, 8 arms, three legs standing on three skulls. He is adorned with snakes, skull crowns and a garland of freshly severed heads, and carries various ritual objects such as a lasso, two rosaries, and two skull cups. There is a knot of eternity on the arch behind him above his right shoulder. The single-lotus base design corresponds to 18th century works.

They were originally labelled ‘Tangut protectors’. The Tangut or Tanghut were people of mixed ethnical origins, including  Tibetans, with a common language and culture. They have been relabelled ‘Trailokyavijaya’.

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