Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Mahakala, Protector of the Tent

ca. 1500
Central Tibet
Distemper on cloth
Image: 64 x 53 in. (162.6 x 134.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Zimmerman Family Collection, 2012
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 253
Mahakala is one of the most popular guardians in the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon. Here he tramples a corpse while wielding a flaying knife and a blood-filled skull cup, signifying the destruction of impediments to enlightenment. In the crooks of his elbows he supports a gandi gong, a symbol of his vow to protect the community of monks (sangha). His principal companions, Palden Remati and Palden Lhamo, appear to his left, and Legden Nagpo and Bhutadamara are at his right. At lower left is Brahmarupa blowing a thighbone trumpet. He is especially revered by the Sakya order, which commissioned this work. This tangka, one of the earliest and grandest of this subject, can be related to murals preserved in the fifteenth-century Kumbum at Gyantse monastery, central Tibet, likely painted under Newari direction.
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