Nepal, Late Malla – wrathful figures

16th century, Nepal, Achala, gilt copper alloy with gems, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (USA).

Blue Achala, his upper fangs biting down his lower lip, half kneeling half crouching, brandishes a sword and holds a (missing) noose or lasso. His leopard skin loin cloth is held in place with a sash studded with gems, like his crown and other accessories, a celestial scarf with floral attachments flowing on each side of him.

17th century, Nepal or Tibet, Chandamaharoshana Achala (labelled Mahacandaroshana), gilt copper alloy, private collection, photo by Galerie Zacke.

Extremely rare in sculpture, this form of Blue Achala half kneeling half crouching and dressed in a tiger skin loin cloth may have two or four hands and is usually in embrace with his consort, who wears a bone apron and has both legs around his waist. In the two- hand form he brandishes a sword (broken here) in his right hand and holds a noose in the other; his consort holds a skull cup and there would have been a flaying knife in her missing hand. On the Nepalese paintings published on the Himalayan Art Resources website he has a garland of severed heads around his neck and she has a garland of skulls.

16th century, Nepal, Vajrabhairava, ekavira, gilt bronze, at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg (Russia).

The only form of Yamantaka with a buffalo head has 9 faces, 34 hands and 16 legs that tread on gods, birds and other animals. The central head at the top is Manjushri’s. His main hands clutch a flaying knife and a skull cup, the others hold a variety of wrathful implements and Brahma’s head with four faces.

17th century (1632), Nepal, Krodha Vighnantaka, stone, at the Berkeley Art Museum (USA), photo from the Pacific Film Archive.

Krodha Vighnantaka is depicted alone, in his three-head six-hand form, treading on Ganapati. His main hands do a gesture to subdue demons, the remaining right hands hold a visvajra on a stick and a lotus bud, the remaining left hands hold a solar wheel typical of Malla art and a lasso.

Circa 18th century (or earlier?), Nepal, Vajrapani, black stone, private collection, photo by Galerie Zacke.

Same deity, same aspect, with a flaming arch around him.

18th century, Nepal, Mahakala, stone, private collection, photo credits not quoted, published on pinterest.

Mahakala in is popular panjara nata form, a danda stick resting across his arms, a flaying knife and skull cup in his hands, squats on a victim atop a throne covered with a cloth and supported by two snow lions. His flaming hair is tied with a snake and adorned with an effigy of Akshobhya and a skull crown. he wears large floral earrings, a Late Malla style necklace, a garland of skulls, foliate bracelets and anklets.



Nepal, early Malla – wrathful figures

14th century, Nepal, White Achala, gilt copper alloy, at the Fondation Alain Bordier in Gruyère (Switzerland).

Half kneeling and half crouching, Achala brandishes a sword above his head and holds a lasso in the other hand, with the fingers doing a gesture to ward off evil.

14th century, Nepal, Vajrapani, gilt bronze (copper alloy) and pigment, at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford (UK).

A rare Vajrapani with a human face with three eyes, holding a vajra sceptre and a skull cup, standing on two victims, wrapped in a tiger skin loin cloth (the head of the animal against his left thigh), adorned with princely jewellery studded with gems, a festooned belt, a sacred thread and a garland of severed heads, standing under an arch decorated with vajra sceptres between two rows of thick beading.

13th or 14th century, Nepal, Hevajra, kapaladhara, gilt copper alloy, private collection, photo by Pundoles.

This meditational deity is usually depicted in embrace with a consort whose identity varies. He has several “eight-head and sixteen hand” forms, the most popular being Guhyasamaja Hevajara, who holds skull cups (kapaladhara aspect) containing animals in his right hands and skull cups containing deities in the other, his four legs standing on victims.

13th-14th century, Nepal, Samvara and Vajravarahi, gilt bronze with pigments, at the British Museum in London (UK).

Chakrasamvara, with four heads and twelve hands, embraces his consort with his main hands, in which he holds a vajra sceptre and a bell. His upper hands hold an elephant hide stretched across his back, the other hands traditionally hold a drum, an axe, a flaying knife, a vajra-handled stick to his right, a skull cup, a noose, Brahma’s head with four faces, a staff, to his left, some of them missing here.

14th century, Nepal, chaturbhuja Mahakala, gilt copper alloy, private collection, photo on Himalayan Art Resources.

Mahakala in his four-hand form, holding a (broken) sword in his upper right hand, a skull cup and a flaying knife in his main hands, a (broken) staff in the upper left hand, seated on a suffocating victim, his right foot placed on a lotus stemming from the base. This iconography seems to have been favoured in Nepal. In Tibet the hands are often placed differently and hold a lotus bud (or a coconut) shaped like a human heart instead of a flaying knife.


Pala India, a few wrathful deities (2)

8th-10th century, India, Acala, copper alloy, private collection, photo by Hanhai auction.

We are familiar with this extremely wratfhul form of Achala/Acala (blue-black on paintings) who bites down his lower lip and has no victim under him when half kneeling and half crouching. Clad in a tiger skin loin cloth held in place with a festooned belt, he wields a flaming sword above his head and holds a noose at heart level, wound twice around his raised forefinger. His tall Pala-style chignon is decorated with foliate ornaments that match his low tiara and topped with a lotus and jewel finial. A necklace and various snakes adorn his body.

11th-12th century, Eastern India, Achala, bronze with silver and copper inlay, published in the on-line essay Cast for Eternity on

This ‘life-like’ example includes an intricate jewellery design (the stones missing) and the use of silver and copper for the eyes, teeth, accessories, lotus base. His tiger skin dhoti is held in place with a very ornate belt with a pendant ribbon that fans out over the tall lotus base. He wears a sash across his chest and a silver sacred cord. The various elements of the base are well separated and include an embroidered cushion, petals alternately inlaid with silver and copper, and some particularly large beading at the bottom.

12th century (possibly earlier), India, Kurkihar, bronze, at the Patna Museum (India), photo from the Huntington archive.This smiling yaksha-like creature with a moustache and a thick mane of serpentine locks tied with a cobra snake is adorned with a beaded necklace and more snakes. Since the base is missing we don’t know if he was part of a set or if he was alone. In early Indian Buddhist art, both Hayagriva and Yamantaka (Yamari) appear as dwarfish attendants to a main deity and without the attributes later given to them in Tibetan art, which makes it difficult to identify this isolated figure. Hayagriva is associated with Avalokiteshvara and Yamantaka with Manjushri and the iconography is sometimes the same: the attendant raises his right hand towards the main deity while leaning on a vajra-tipped stick with his left arm. The above is quite different and remarkably full of spirit and personality.

Tibet, Achala – various forms

On paintings, Achala may have white, blue, black or red skin. White Achala is described as having one head with three eyes, orange flaming hair, two hands and two legs. Blue Achala usually has black hair and he may have 2 or 4 heads and 2 or 4 hands.

13th-14th century, Tibet, Achala, bronze (copper alloy), private collection, photo from the Huntington Archive on

In sculpture, it is not always possible to distinguish between the 2-head and 2-hand blue form of Achala and the white form, although generally speaking the former is depicted with his mouth closed, the upper fangs biting the lower lip.

16th c. cir?, Tibet, Achala, blue, gilt c.a.+stones, Densatil style, private on HAR

Undated, Tibet, Blue Achala, gilt copper alloy and stone inlay, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

They both brandish a flaming sword with the right hand and a have noose or lasso wound around the forefinger of the left hand.

Same as before, copper alloy, same as before.

and both forms may be standing on Ganapati, or half kneeling on the lotus base, but only Blue Achala may have a human form as on the two items above. This Pala revival work depicts him with a knee-length lower garment held in place with a belt. The previous ones wears the usual tiger skin dhoti.

14th century, Tibet, Achala, copper alloy with stone and silver inlay, private collection, photo by Christie’s.

This is a rare example of Blue Achala with one head and four arms, standing on Ganapati (who holds a pot), an effigy of Akshobhya in front of  his flaming hair bunch, adorned with snakes, holding what looks like an arrow in his lower right hand. His eyes and urna are inlaid with silver, his crown and earrings with gemstones (most of them missing).

Circa 15th century, Tibet, Achala, private collection, photo by Arts of Asia.

The gaping mouth and orange flaming hair correspond to the white form of this meditational deity.

Circa 14th century, Tibet, Black Achala, bronze, cold gold and pigment, private collection, photo by Christie’s.

This is Black Achala, with three heads, four legs, six hands..

 … in which he holds a sword and a lotus (upper hands), a vajra sceptre and a wheel of dharma, a skull cup and a flaying knife (main hands).

He wears the usual tiger skin dhoti and is adorned with snakes and a garland of fifty severed heads.



Mongolia, wrathful forms (2)

16th century (or later?), Mongolia, Hayagriva, gilt copper repoussé, private collection, published on

This is Red Hayagriva, who has three heads, each with three eyes and three horses’ heads in his flaming hair. Five of his six hands would normally hold a sword, a ritual staff, a vajra, a lasso of intestine, a spear, the other hand does a wrathful gesture. He may have 6 or 8 legs, the above has six, the right ones bent at the knee, the left ones held straight. He wears a human hide and an elephant hide over his back, a tiger skin loin cloth around his waist – the tail of the animal dangling at the front – and is adorned with snakes.

17th-18th century, Mongolia, Achala, gilt copper and painted details, private collection, photo by Rossi & Rossi.

Achala with one head, with three eyes and the upper fangs biting the lower lip;  two hands, holding a flaming sword and a lasso; 2 legs, one kneeling and the other crouching. His flaming hair is tied with a snake. He wears a tiger skin dhoti knotted at the front, the head of the animal ‘devouring’ his right knee.

Undated (17th-18th century?), Mongolia, Black Jambhala, gilt copper alloy, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

Black Jambhala, normally ithyphallic and without earrings, stands on the elephant-headed god of wealth while holding a mongoose in his left hand and a skull cup filled with gems in the other. He wears the 8 naga ornaments (snakes) and some jewellery. The artist has given him a human face, with a thin moustache. The darker tone of the cold gold applied to the face is a feature typical of Mongolian works.



Pala India, a few wrathful deities (2)

12th century, India, Achala, copper alloy, private collection, published on

Half kneeling and half crouching, Achala wields a sword and holds a lasso that hovers over his shoulder. His eyes are inlaid with copper, his fangs with silver, his tall chignon is dyed with red pigment. His leopard skin loin cloth (incised with large circles) is held in place with a heavy belt decorated with a floral buckle.

11th century, Northern India, Hevajra, brass with cold gold and pigments, is or was at the gTsug Lakhang, published by Ulrich von Schroeder.

Heruka Hevajra, who protects agains the demons (maras), is seen here in his one-head  version, with two hands and two legs, one of them resting on a victim, the other in the air with the knee resting on a lotus sprouting from the pedestal – an arrangement seen on Tibetan sculptures a few centuries later.

He holds a thunderbolt sceptre in his right hand, a bell (instead of the usual skull cup) in his left hand, and has a ritual staff propped against his left shoulder. His tightly-fitting leopard skin loin cloth is held in place with a festooned belt. He wears a garland of human heads.

12th century, Northern India, Hevajra, brass with cold gold and pigments, is or was at the gTsug Lakhang, published by Ulrich von Schroeder.

A similar iconography, with the left hand missing, the orange paint on his hair likely to be more recent. He is accompanied by two attendant female deities.

Undated, India, Hevajra, copper alloy, private collection, Holly Auctions on Himalayan Art Resources.

Tibet, Achala (12)

12th-13th century, Tibet, Achala, copper alloy (brass), metal inlay and pigments, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

Achala, sword in hand, adorned with snakes and jewellery including a coral-inlaid necklace, his face painted with cold gold, his teeth inlaid with silver, the eyes with copper, stands on Ganapati, who seems to be lifting his head to look at us.

13th century, same as before.

Tibetan artists often used copper (instead of silver) for the eyes of wrathful deities. The above also has a copper-inlaid nipple, and silver-inlaid teeth.

He has syllables incised on his back and the Achala mantra is engraved on the back of the pedestal.

Undated, Tibet probably, Achala, copper alloy, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

12th century (or later copy?), Tibet, Achala, copper alloy, private collection, published on

On this sculpture and the previous one the lasso he holds in his left hand has a vajra tip. The arch behind him has serrated flames with an incised contour and is topped with a stupa and ribbons.

Undated, Tibet, Achala, copper alloy, at the Palace Museum in Beijing, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

A similar type of flaming arch, topped with a triple gem.