Tibet, Mahakala – unusual forms

Some forms of Mahakala are rarely seen, and almost exclusively on paintings.

17th century, Tibet, Mahakala Kakaya karma, gilt copper alloy, private collection, photo by Sotheby's.

17th century, Tibet, Mahakala Kakaya karma, gilt copper alloy, private collection, photo by Sotheby’s.

This is the raven-headed form of Mahakala (with three eyes and flaming hair), also known as Kakamukha. He holds a flaying knife in his right hand and another object in the other (instead of the standard skull cup) .He is adorned with a five-skull crown, a garland of severed heads, bone jewellery, a Chinese-style flowing scarf.

Mahakala Kakaya karma, Tibet, 17th c., gilt c.a., 18,5 cm, raven head, 3 eyes, close up

He wears a tiger skin dhoti (the paws of the animal are showing below the garland of severed heads), a cross-belt with a raining-jewel pendant, and some kind of sash or belt ending with raining jewels.

Undated, Tibet, Bernag Chen, stone, at the New Delhi Museum.

Undated (15th century circa?), Tibet, Bernag Chen, stone, at the Tibet House Museum in New, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

Bernag Chen (“black cloak”) is a form of Mahakala proper to Tibet. He has one head with three eyes and flaming hair, two hands in which he holds a flaying knife and a skull cup, and two legs which stand on a victim. Surrounded with flames, he is adorned with the usual skull crown, garland of severed heads, bone jewellery, and wears a large cloak.

Undated, Tibet, Mahakala Vyaghra Vahana, wood, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (USA).

Undated, Tibet, Mahakala Vyaghra Vahana, wood, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (USA).

This more modern work depicts him in a similar form but he rides a tiger and holds a flaming sword.

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