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Shastradhara Hevajra

Weapon-holding Hevajra and Deities

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Shastradhara Hevajra :

This elaborate painting by Dinesh Charan Shrestha took more than a year to complete and is his most ambitious composition to date. It depicts the central image of Weapon-bearing Hevajra and his consort Nairatma, with the eight aspects of Bhairava (Skt. astabhairava) and the ‘Eight Mother’ goddesses appearing at each side; Guhyeshvari Kali at the top centre, flanked by the four Newar aspects of Vajrayogini; and with the ten-armed form of Buddhadakini Vajravarahi at the bottom centre, who are flanked by red Kumara and white Ganapati with their consorts.

Hevajra, the ‘Joyful Vajra’, is most commonly represented in his sixteen-armed aspect as ‘skull-bearing’ Kapaladhara Hevajra, but here he is shown in his form as ‘Weapon-bearing’ Shastradhara-Hevajra.

Hevajra is blue-black in colour, with eight faces, sixteen arms, four legs, and appears in sexual union with his blue two-armed consort, Nairatma, whose name means ‘No Self’. Hevajra stands upon a silver-white moon disc and a multicolored lotus, with two of his legs in ardha-paryanka posture, and two in alidha posture. With his four feet he tramples upon the ‘four maras’, who personify the factors that ensnare beings in cyclic existence or samsara, and are traditionally represented by the four great Hindu gods; Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Indra.

Yellow Brahma represents the ‘mara of the five aggregates of personality’ (Skt. skandha-mara): form, feeling, perception, motivation and consciousness. Brahma has four-arms and four white bearded faces, with his first pair of hands he holds a lotus and supports Hevajra’s outer right foot, and with his second pair of hands he holds a sacred text and a rosary (not visible).

Green Vishnu represents the ‘mara of emotional defilements’ (Skt. klesha-mara), and appears in his four-armed aspect holding his attributes of a white conch and a club in his left hands, and a chakra and a lotus in his right hands. With the lotus-holding palm of his upper right hand he supports the inner left foot of Hevajra.

White Shiva (Rudra) represents the ‘mara of death’ (Skt. mrityu-mara), and he is depicted here in his two-armed aspect with both of his hands palms-folded in anjali-mudra as he supports the inner right foot of Hevajra.

Red Indra represents the ‘mara of the son of the gods’ (Skt. devaputra-mara), which personify non-virtuous actions such as divine pride and lust. Indra is shown lying upon his back, with his first pair of hands supporting the outer left foot of Hevajra, and his second pair of hands holding his attributes of a vajra and a lotus.

Hevajra’s main face is black, wrathful and laughs fiercely; his first right face is white like jasmine, and his first left face is red and fearful. These three faces respectively represent his unchangeable vajra nature (black), purity (white), and compassion (red); his destruction of the three poisons of anger, ignorance and desire; and the purities of his mind (dharmakaya), body (nirmanakaya), and speech (sambhogakaya). On either side of these three central faces are two pairs of terrifying faces, which are ‘black like bees’ and symbolize his annihilation or victory over the four maras. Above his principal face is his eighth face, which is smoke-colored and has a distorted and wrathful expression, symbolizing the terror that he instills in all maras or demonic enemies.

Each of his eight faces has three bloodshot eyes, bared canine teeth, twisting tongues, and tawny hair-locks that stream upwards above the five-skull crowns that adorn each of these heads. Collectively these eight faces represent the ‘eight liberations’ or methods of release from cyclic existence, and their twenty-four eyes represent the twenty-four sacred sites (Skt. pithasthana) of ancient India, which are symbolically incorporated into the ‘Body Mandalas’ of Highest Yoga Tantra deities, such as Chakrasamvara and Vajrayogini.

His divine form embodies the ‘nine dramatic sentiments’ of classical Indian dance and drama: three of body – erotic, heroic, repulsive; three of speech – mocking, wrathful, terrifying; and three of mind – compassionate, dignified and serene. His naked body is adorned with gold ornaments, the ‘six bone ornaments’, a billowing green silk scarf, a loosened tiger-skin loincloth, and a long garland of freshly severed heads. His tawny hair streams upwards and his radiant red inner aura is encircled with a swirling mass of fire.

With his two principal arms crossed right over left in vajra-humkara-mudra he embraces his consort as he holds a golden vajra and ritual bell in front of his heart, symbolizing the unity of his skillful means (method) and pristine awareness (wisdom). In the Indo-Tibetan tradition he holds a sword, arrow, wheel, club, trident, and hook in his other seven extended right hands; and a lotus, bow, khatvanga, skull, jewel, threatening forefinger, and a rope-noose in his other left hands. However, in this traditional Newar image his seven extended right hands hold a triangular-bladed iron phurba or shakti-dagger, a sword, a crescent-tipped arrow, an iron hook, a lotus-topped club, a wheel or chakra, and a curved knife. And with his other seven extended left hands he holds a silver artemisia leaf, a golden rosary, a pink lotus, a bow, a triple-skull khatvanga, a rope noose, and a skull-cup full of blood. Each of these hand-held attributes represent aspects of his skillful means and wisdom in destroying or transforming the ‘demonic enemies’ of mental and emotional defilements. His sixteen arms represent the ‘sixteen emptiness’s’ that are listed in the Mahayana Sutras, and his four legs represent his triumph over the four maras.

His consort or prajna Nairatma is blue in colour, with one face, three eyes, two arms and two legs. She is beautiful, lusty, as youthful as a sixteen-year-old, and in the bliss of sexual arousal she presses every part of her naked body against Hevajra, with her left leg extended and her right leg wrapped around his waist. Her head is inclined backwards as she gazes into Hevajra’s eyes with a fiercely passionate expression, with her long black hair hanging freely down her back. She is adorned with a five-skull tiara, a garland of fifty dry white skulls, and the ‘five bone ornaments’ that represent the five ‘method’ perfections of generosity, discipline, patience, effort and meditative concentration. As she herself is an embodiment of perfect wisdom, her forehead is not adorned with the cemetery ash that represents the sixth ‘perfection of wisdom’ or prajna. With her left hand she offers a skull-cup full of blood to the mouth of her lord, and with her extended right hand she circles a curved knife towards the ten directions.


The Astabhairavas with the Astamatrikas

Bhairava (Tib. Jigs-byed), the ‘Terrifier’, is the wrathful Hindu aspect of the ‘Great God’ Mahadeva Shiva, whose eight manifestations (Skt. astabhairava) have control over the eight directions, and likewise each have eight other manifestations, creating an assembly of sixty-four Bhairavas. The Eight Bhairavas appear here with their consorts, the ‘Eight Mothers’ (Skt. astamatrika), who each has a specific colour and vehicle or mount, and hold their individual attributes in the upper two of their four hands.

The Bhairavas are all extremely wrathful in appearance, with three round red eyes, bared fangs, upward blazing facial hair, and tawny hair-locks that curl upwards. Four-armed, pot-bellied and powerful, they each sit in sattva-paryanka posture as they crush the male skull-bearing yellow corpse that serves as Bhairava’s common vehicle and crouch upon his moon disc and pink lotus seat. Each of the astabhairava wears a tiger-skin loincloth, a billowing silk scarf, a five-skull crown, gold and bone ornaments. One of the eight great nagarajas or serpent-kings serves as their sacred thread, and they all abide amidst a blazing mass of awareness fire. They each hold a skull-cup of blood before their heart with their first right hand as they embrace the hip of their consort with their first left hand, and with their second pair of hands they wield aloft an iron sword and a shield.

The sequence of the eight Bhairavas and Matrikas circle in a clockwise direction, beginning with Asitanga Bhairava and Brahmayani in the bottom right corner (east).

1. Asitanga Bhairava (bottom right), meaning ‘the dark-limbed’, is blue in colour and abides in the east. On his left knee sits the matrika Brahmayani or Brahmani, the female counterpart of Brahma, who is yellow in colour and sits upon her white goose vehicle. With her upper hands she holds the attributes of a rosary and book.

2. Ruru Bhairava, meaning ‘the wild dog’, is red in colour and abides in the southeast. On his left knee sits the matrika Maheshvari or Rudrani, the female counterpart of Rudra-Shiva, who is white in colour with three eyes, and sits upon her white bull vehicle. With her upper hands she holds the attributes of a damaru and trident.

3. Canda Bhairava, meaning ‘the fierce’, is blue-black in colour and abides in the south. On his left knee sits the matrika Kaumari, the female counterpart of Kumara, who is red in colour and sits upon her blue peacock vehicle. With her two upper hands she holds the attributes of a rosary and three peacock feathers.

4. Krodha Bhairava (upper left), meaning ‘the wrathful’, is orange in colour and abides in the southwest. On his left knee sits the matrika Vaishnavi, the female counterpart of Vishnu, who is green in colour and sits upon her red garuda vehicle. With her two upper hands she holds the attributes of a golden wheel or chakra and a club.

5. Unmatta Bhairava (upper right), meaning ‘the frantic or mad’, is white in colour and abides in the west. On his left knee sits the boar-faced matrika Varahi, the female counterpart of Varaha - the boar incarnation of Vishnu. She is fierce, tusked, three-eyed and red in colour and sits upon her black buffalo vehicle. With her two upper hands she holds the attributes of an iron sickle and a fish.

6. Kapala Bhairava, meaning ‘the skull’, is green in colour and abides in the northwest. On his left knee sits the matrika Indrayani or Indrani, the female counterpart of Indra, who is golden-orange in colour with a horizontal third eye. She sits upon Airavati, Indra's great white elephant vehicle. With her two upper hands she holds the attributes of a golden vajra and a silk victory banner.

7. Bhisana Bhairava, meaning ‘the frightening’, is yellow in colour and abides in the north. On his left knee sits the matrika Chamunda, who is extremely emaciated, fierce, three-eyed and red in colour, and sits upon her yellow male corpse vehicle. With her two upper hands she holds the attributes of a curved knife or chopper and the severed head of a demonic enemy.

8. Sanhara Bhairava (bottom left), meaning ‘the destructive’, is light red in colour and abides in the northeast. On his left knee sits the matrika Mahalakshmi, who is three-eyed and flesh-colored, and sits upon her roaring white lion vehicle. With her two upper hands she holds the Newar attributes of a golden mirror (darpana), and a golden vermilion powder container (sinhamu).


At the top centre is the secret Newar tantric goddess Guhyeshvari Kali, who is powerful, semi-wrathful and dark-blue in colour. She stands in dancing bow-and-arrow posture with her left foot pressing on a brown jackal that rests upon the wrathful four-armed form of black Bhairava, who lies prone upon the disc of her lotus pedestal. Guhyeshvari has eight arms and ten heads that are arranged in four tiers, with the first tier having the heads of a horse, a makara, her main human face, a garuda, and an elephant. The second tier has a boar, a tiger, and a monkey head. The third tier has a white lion’s head, and the fourth tier the yellow human head of this goddess. Each head has three eyes, upward streaming hair, and is adorned with a five skull crown. With her first two hands she makes the bindu-kapala-mudra in front of her heart, with her three extended right hands hold a curved knife, a club, and a sword; while her left hands hold a severed head, a rope-noose, and a shield. She wears gold and bone ornaments, a tiger-skin loincloth, a garland of severed heads, and abides within a blazing aura of awareness fire.

On either side of Guhyeshvari appear the four aspects of Vajrayogini, the consort of Chakrasamvara, who is an equally important yidam deity in her own right. She is youthful, beautiful and red in colour with three eyes, and her naked form is adorned with the six bone ornaments, a five skull crown, and a long garland of fifty dry white skulls. Her attributes are a curved knife, a skull-cup of blood, and a tantric staff or khatvanga.

In the top left she appears as Vidyadhari or ‘knowledge-holding’ Vajrayogini, whose sacred site is associated with the Bijeshvari Temple near Swayambhu in the Kathmandu Valley, where the Indian mahasiddha Maitripa attained her realization in this flying form. She is also known as Akash or ‘sky-going’ Vajrayogini, who leaps into space with her raised left leg held in the crook of her left arm, as she tilts her skull-cup to drink the fresh blood that pours from it. A naked female bhairavi lies upon the disc of her lotus pedestal, holding the dakini attributes of a skull-cup and curved knife in her hands.

In the upper mid-left she appears as Naro Khechari or ‘Naropa’s Dakini’, whose sacred site is situated above the old Newar town of Sankhu, where the Indian mahasiddha Naropa gained realization of her in this form. She stands leaning towards the left in alidha posture with her left and right feet pressing upon the four-armed forms of black Bhairava and his emaciated red consort, Kalaratri. As Vajrayogini (Tib. rdo rje rnal ‘byor ma) her Anuttarayoga Tantra practice is of special importance in the Sakya, Gelug and Kagyu schools, although within the Kagyu traditions she more frequently appears in her aspect as Vajravarahi (Tib. rdo rje phag mo), the ‘Adamanite Sow’.

In the upper mid-right she appears as Urdhvapada or ‘raised foot’ Vajrayogini, whose temple is located at Pharping in the Kathmandu Valley, which is an important sacred site for Buddhist practitioners. She stands leaning towards the left with her legs wide astride, with her right foot pressing upon the form of Shiva’s consort Maheshvarai, who appears in the form of a naked female ascetic or bhairavi.

In the top right she appears in her six-armed form as Khandaroha Yogini, who is one of the four direction yoginis that encircle the central dais of Vajrayogini’s five-deity mandala. Red Khandaroha abides in the east and traditionally holds a skull-cup, curved knife, damaru and khatvanga in her four hands, but she appears here with six arms holding a curved knife and skull-cup in front of her heart, with a damaru, rope-noose, lotus and bell in her other four hands, with her khatvanga resting in the crook of her left arm. She stands in alidha posture, with her two feet trampling on two female bhairavis, who lie prone upon her sun disc and lotus pedestal.

At the bottom centre of this composition is the unusual form of Buddhadakini Vajravarahi, who stands in dancing bow-and-arrow posture upon the female form of a yellow bhairavi that lies on the back of a fish above her sun disc and lotus. She is youthful, nubile and red in colour with three eyes and ten arms, and above each of her ears appears the squealing head of a sow. She wears bone ornaments, a long garland of skulls, a loosened tiger-skin loincloth, and a billowing green silk scarf. In her five right hands she holds a damaru, rosary, vajra, axe and curved knife; and in her five right hands a skull-cup, rope-noose, sacred text, and trident. The khatvanga, which represents the 'essence of her consort Chakrasamvara', is not held by this goddess.

At the left and right of Buddhadakini are the two ‘sons’ of Shiva and Parvati, red Kumara and white Ganapati, who appear with their female counterparts, Kumari and Lakshmi, seated at their left sides. Kumara has two piecing eyes and six arms, and sits upon his peacock vehicle with his lower left hand embracing Kumari. He holds a skull-cup, a vina and rosary in his three right hands, and a water-pot and three peacock feathers in his other two left hands.

Ganapati is white with ten arms and five elephant heads, and he sits upon his roaring white lion vehicle with his lower left hand embracing golden Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, who is often worshiped with Ganesha. Each of his five elephant heads have three eyes and are adorned with five-skull crowns, and coloured yellow, white (centre), red and blue, with another white head above. With his five right hands he holds a small stone Shiva lingam, make the varada-mudra of supreme generosity, and hold a club, trident and sword. And with his other left hands he holds a lotus, a chakra, a rope-noose, and a ‘jewel ear of grain’.

© text by Robert Beer

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