15th-16th century, Tibet, Chemchok Heruka with consort, bronze (copper alloy) and cold gold, private collection, photo by Lempertz.
Chemchok Heruka is the Tibetan name for a form of Shri Heruka with three heads and six hands, 4 legs and 2 wings. He embraces his consort (who has one head, two arms and two legs) and holds a vajra sceptre in each right hand, a skull cup in each left hand (on paintings he may have different attributes). The faces are painted with cold gold and the hair and eyebrows with red pigment. They are adorned with crowns and princely jewellery inlaid with turquoise. They stand on two victims.
17th-18th century, Tibet, unidentified, (labelled Hevajra), gilt bronze with pigment, private collection, photo on Galerie Zacke
In Himalayan art there are various deities with wings known as herukas, most of them with three heads and six arms, usually depicted with a consort. Then there are deities such as Samvara and Hevajra who are not herukas but have an heruka form with one head and two arms, but no wings. The above has one head and two hands, in which he holds a skull cup and a flaying knife.
14th century, Tibet, Densatil or Densatil-style, Buddhakapala and Citrasena, gilt copper alloy, private collection, photo by Christie’s.
This meditational deity may be alone or with a consort. He has one head with three eyes, four hands, two legs. She has one head, two hands, two legs, one of them around his waist, and is naked. He wears the wrathful ornaments, including a five-skull crown and a garland of 50 severed heads, and holds a skull cup and a flaying knife in his main hands crossed over her back, a drum and a ritual staff in the remaining ones.
14th century, Tibet, Buddhakapala and consort, bronze (copper alloy), private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.
They each stand on a leg over a victim.
She holds a skull cup and a flaying knife.
17th-18th century, Tibet, Buddhakapala? (labelled Buddakepala), bronze with paint, at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg (Russia).
Each with one head, three eyes, two hands, the couple stands in a dancing pose, one foot on a victim. She is naked and holds a flaying knife and a skull cup. Buddhakapala normally has four arms, the main hands holding a flaying knife and a skull cup, the upper arms holding a drum and a staff. The above holds a vajra sceptre and a skull cup. He wears the flayed skin of a human over his back.
18th century, Tibet, Chitipati, painted terracotta, at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York (USA).
Apart from the dancing skeletons seen on bone aprons used for the Cham dance, there is another pair of dancing skeleton known as Chitipati (Shri Shmashana Adhipati in sanskrit). This ‘father and mother’ pair have a frightful skeletal form, with three eyes and protruding fangs. They stand in a dancing posture, are adorned with a skull crown and hold a skull cup and a skull-tipped stick. In some cases, she holds a long-life vase and a stalk of grain on a stick, as above. She wears a garland of skull and he wears a garland of freshly severed heads, as is often the case with paired deities with a wrathful appearance.
17th-18th century, Tibet or Himalayas, Citipati or Kinkara, gilt bronze (copper alloy), private collection, photo by Sotheby’s.
For the sake of comparison, this dancing skeleton is unlikely to be part of a Chitipati set since he is alone. Besides, he only has two eyes, isn’t adorned with wrathful ornaments, and his left hand doesn’t seem to have held any attribute. He wears an interesting cape with a cloud pattern, of the sort we have seen on Padmasambhava sculptures from more or less the same period.