Nepal, Late Malla Chakrasamvara

16th century, Nepal, Samvara, stone, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (USA).

In The Art of Nepal, Pratapaditya Pal describes this Samvara has having four heads and six hands, in which he holds a vajra sceptre and a bell (main hands), the hide of an elephant (upper hands), a drum (middle right hand), a water pot (looking rather like a skull cup) and a staff (middle left hand). The four-head form of this deity normally has 12 arms and the three-head form with six hands has the head of a donkey.  We did see a 1-head and 6-hand form of Samvara with his consort, holding an elephant hide, vajra and ghanta, drum and skull cup. This is another aspect that may not correspond to any textual source.

16th-17th century, Nepal, Chakrasamvara, gilt copper, private collection, photo by Sotheby’s.

This masterpiece depicts Chakrasamvara with 4 heads (each with 3 eyes), 12 hands, 2 legs. He holds a vajra sceptre and a bell in his main hands, an elephant hide is missing from his upper hands; the remaining left hands hold a (missing) skull cup, a ritual staff, a noose, a small trident – possibly a later addition as he would normally hold Brahma’s head; the remaining right hands hold a drum, a vajra-handled flaying knife, a (missing) axe, another trident. Following the Luipa tradition, his consort has both legs around his waist; she holds a skull cup and a flaying knife.

The deity’s distinctive hair adornments are a visvajra (showing behind the crown’s central panel), a crescent moon, a sun disc often replaced by a skull (as above) in Malla art, a lotus finial topped with a wish-granting jewel.

Circa 16th century, Nepal, Chakrasamvara, gilt copper alloy with pigments, private collection, photo by Sotheby’s.

On this example the visvajra is placed on top of the chignon to support the jewel and there is an effigy of a buddha at the front of his chignon.

Early 17th century, Nepal, Chakrasamvara, gilt copper alloy with turquoise and clear stones, private collection, photo by Christie’s.

A sculpture complete with its flaming mandorla, decorated with skulls and vajra sceptres and topped with a triratna (triple gem).

18th century, Nepal, Chakrasamvara and Vajravarahi, gilt copper, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (USA).

The elephant hide in his upper hands has been preserved here. They wear the habitual tiger skin dhoti and garland of severed heads for him, bone apron and garland of skulls for her, as well as long sashes made of raining jewels. He has a Chinese-style scarf with serpentine ends. The main hands hold the preceptive vajra sceptre and bell.

The remaining right hands hold, from top to bottom, a flaying knife, a drum, an axe, a trident which seems specific to Nepal (in Tibet that implement is usually a vajra-handled stick). The remaining left hands hold a skull cup, a ritual staff (khatvanga), a noose, Brahma’s head with four faces.

There is a large vajra finial on his chignon and the artist has placed the skull to his left and the crescent moon on the other side.

17th century, Nepal, Vishavrupa Samvara, stone, at the National Museum, Kathmandu, published in The Circle of Bliss by John C. Huntington and Dina Bangdel.

The universal form of Samvara, with 17 heads and 72 arms, in embrace with his consort.

 

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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.

 

Tibet, Chakrasamvara – 12 hands (7)

Undated (circa 16th century), Tibet, Chakrasamvara, gilt copper alloy with pigment and turquoise inlay, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

The visvajra and crescent moon in his headdress are features also seen on Kalachakra sculptures but the latter would have 24 hands. The above has four heads and 12 hands, in which he normally holds the hide of an elephant, a drum, a skull cup, an axe, a noose, a flaying knife, Brahma’s four heads, a vajra stick and a staff, instead of which the above figure holds a scorpion (second left hand from the top).

Undated (16th century circa), Tibet, Chakrasamvara, private collection, photo by Da Cang auctions.

Like many paired deities with a wrathful appearance, they stand on Red Kalaratri and Black Bhairava, who embody ego and ignorance.

17th century, Tibet, Chakrasamvara, gilt copper alloy, private collection, photo by Christie’s.

Vajrayogini wears a garland of skulls, a bone apron, and holds a skull cup and a flaying knife.

In some cases there is a human skull in his headdress, opposite the crescent moon.

17th century, Tibet, Chakrasamvara, gilt bronze (copper alloy) with turquoise inlay, at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg (Russia).

He wears a garland of freshly severed heads.

18th century, Tibet, Chakrasamvara, gilt bronze (copper alloy), private collection, photo by Sotheby’s.

There is a flaming jewel on top of his chignon.

Tibet, Chakrasamvara – 12 hands (6)

15th-16th century, Tibet, Chakrasamvara, gilt copper, private collection, photo by Sotheby’s

The main deity in yoga tantra, Chakrasamvara has many forms, with 1 or 4 heads, 2 or 12 hands, but always two legs, usually standing on Kalaratri and Bhairava (ego and ignorance).

Undated (circa 15th century?), Tibet, Chakrasamvara, copper alloy and pigment, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

Following the Luipa tradition, on this sculpture Vajrayogini has both legs around Chakrasamvara’s waist. They are adorned with bone jewellery studded with turquoise, a garland of severed heads for him, a garland of skulls for her. In Tibet, the 12-hand form of this deity normally holds a vajra sceptre and a bell in his main hands and the hide of an elephant in his upper hands. When depicted with his consort he holds a ritual staff, a skull cup, a noose, Brahma’s head (missing here), a drum, an axe, a knife and a vajra on a stick (or a trident) in the other hands. The consort holds a flaying knife and a skull cup.

 

18th century, Tibet, Chakrasamvara, gilt copper alloy, at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City (USA).

 

 

Tibet, Chakrasamvara – 12 hands (5)

Labelled 11th century, Western Tibet (also labelled China, 17th century), Chakrasamvara mandala, brass, Kashmir school, is or was at the Lima Lakhang in Lhasa, published by Ulrich von Schroeder.

This rare works depicts the 4-head and 12-hand form of Chakrasamvara standing on Kalaratra and Bhairava and embracing with his consort, who has one leg around his waist. He holds a vajra sceptre and a bell in his main hands crossed over Vajravarahi’s back, the hide of an elephant in his upper hands, a trident, an axe, a knife, a vajra stick in the remaining right hands; a (partly broken) skull cup, Brahma’s four heads, a broken implement and a noose in the remaining left hands. She holds a knife and, presumably, a skull cup (not visible here). His head is topped with a visvajra and a crescent moon, they wear three-skull crowns and bone jewellery, a garland of severed heads for him, a garland of skulls for her. Their faces are painted with cold gold and pigments, the hair dyed with blue pigment. The flaming arch and halo behind them are decorated with pots topped with a skull cup and wrathful deities standing on a victim.

15th century, Tibet, Chakrasamvara, gilt bronze (copper alloy), private collection, photo by Sotheby’s.

On this example the crescent moon is on the other side of his chignon and the visvajra is at the front. He holds the usual implements in his main hands, possibly the extremities of an elephant hide in the upper ones, a drum, an axe, a flaying knife, another implement (which should be a trident but doesn’t look like one) in the remaining right hands; a staff with a head and three skulls, a skull cup, a noose, Brahma’s four heads in the remaining left hands. She wears a bone apron with raining jewel pendants, bone jewellery and a garland of skull. He wears a tiger skin dhoti, the head of the animal resting over his left thigh, bones jewellery, a garland of human heads and a bone apron with heads and raining jewel pendants.

Same as before with turquoise inlay, private collection photo by Bonhams.

The elephant hide is often missing and all that remains are the extremities of the animal in Chakrasamvara’s upper hands. The above has a full hide across his back.

Undated (circa 16th century?), Tibet, Chakrasamvara, gilt copper alloy and pigments, at a mountain sanctuary, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

17th-18th century, Tibet, Chakrasamvara, bronze, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

Tibet, Chakrasamvara – various forms (3)

17th century, Tibet, White Chakrasamvara (labelled Amitayus), gilt copper alloy with turquoise inlay, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston (USA).

Rarely seen in sculpture, the white form of Chakrasamvara has one head with three eyes, two hands, two legs, and is always seated with the consort (on paintings they may be standing).  She holds two skull cups and he holds two long-life vases.

16th century, Southern Tibet or Nepal, Chakrasamvara, copper alloy, at the Art Institute of Chicago (USA).

This rare works depicts another form, with one head and four arms, standing with his consort, her legs wrapped around his waist. He holds a drum and a ritual staff in the upper hands, a vajra sceptre and a bell in the main ones across her back. Vajrayogini wears an intricate bone apron fastened with a belt with raining jewels and a garland of skulls. He wears a long garland of severed heads around his neck.

Undated, Tibet, Chakrasamvara, copper alloy, at the Tibet House museum in New Delhi, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

A very similar image, possibly from the same period and which may also have had a tall plinth below.

14th-15th century, Tibet, Chakrasamvara, gilt copper alloy, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

This Densatil-style sculpture depicts him with four heads and six hands. The upper ones hold the legs of an elephant (whose hide he usually wears across his back), the middle ones hold a bell and what looks like a noose (although one would expect a thunderbolt sceptre), the remaining hands hold a drum and a skull cup.

 

Tibet, Chakrasamvara – Sahaja Heruka (4)

Late 15th century, Tibet, Chakrasamvara, gilt copper with pigment and stone inlay, private collection, photo by Christie’s.

This form of the deity has one head and two arms and stands with the consort, Vajrayogini, their legs in the same position (as in the Newar tradition).

His hair is tied in a chignon topped with a wish-granting jewel and he usually has a visvajra and a crescent moon in his headdress.

She holds a skull cup and a flaying knife, and wears a leopard skin loin cloth and a garland of skulls; he wears a tiger skin and a garland of freshly severed heads and holds a vajra sceptre and a bell across her back.

Undated, Tibet, Chakrasamvara, copper alloy with pigment and cold gold, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

On this more archaic work the low skull-tiara reveals a large visvajra in his headdress and a small crescent moon to his left-hand side.

16th century, Tibet, Chakrasamvara, gilt copper, is or was at the gTsug Lakhang, published by Ulrich von Schroeder.

His consort has both legs around his waist, a Tibetan variant attributed to the teachings of various Mahasiddhas such as Luipa and Maitripa (as explained by John C. Huntington and Dina Bangdel in The Circle of Bliss, Serindia Publications, Chicago, 2003).

Between the 15th and 17th century it is not uncommon for deities, whether seated or standing, to have billowing scarves forming an arch around them.

Undated (16th-17th century?), Tibet, Chakrasamvara, gilt metal and pigment, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.