Hevajra Mandala

15th century
Nepal or Tibet
Distemper on cloth
54.5 x 44.5 cm - 21½ x 17½


Lithely dancing at the center of his sacredrealm, Hevajra clasps his dakiniconsort in a close embrace.[1] The union of their light and dark bluebodies is prominent against the crimson flaming aureole behind them. With one foot raised to touch his innerthigh, Hevajra balances gracefully atop a large kapala and prostrate human figure. His four hands, two of which are crossed around the back ofhis consort, hold characteristic implements including three vajras (thunderbolts) and a blood-filledkapala (skull cup). As if one giant flame, the deity'sorange hair rises upwards behind a bejeweled crown, uniting each of his threefaces into one. Calling to mindhis propensity for anger, a long necklace of multi-colored human heads hangsominously around his torso. Equallyintimidating, his dakini, who sitsfirmly on Hevajra's hips, tilts her head of fiery hair back in rapture andraises a karttrka (chopper) with herright hand. She wears only adelicate waistband and a garland of human skulls around her neck.

Surrounding the central couple, a group ofeight aspects of Hevajra are depicted dancing in separate niches that resemblethe petals of a lotus flower. Ofvarious colors, each deity has one head and four arms, wears a short dhoti, and is portrayed with a varietyof attributes. Beyond this centralcircle, each inhabiting one of the corners of the inner sanctum, four offeringgoddesses entertain with music and dance. Around the sanctum's perimeter, four entryways, each of which is protectedby a directional deity who stands beneath a set of pagoda-like gates, arefinely delineated. Outside thefour gateways of the mandala, acircle of eight cremation grounds represents the phenomenal world, and in eachcorner of the painting, an additional form of Hevajra and his dakini are embracing. Finally, the upper register includesfrom the left, a blue-skinned Buddha Vajradhara, holding two vajra at heart-level, and a series ofnine anthropomorphic aspects of black-skinned Hevajra, all in alidha (lunging) position. Similarly,the lower register is filled by nine aspects of red-skinned Hevajra, again allanthropomorphic and lunging in embrace, and Vajrapani at the far right corner.

Considered to be one of the most importantarchetype deities of the Vajrayana Buddhism, Hevajra presides over theHevajratantra.[2] The form taken by Hevajra in thispainting is rare, and bears many similarities to the Buddhist deity,Buddhakapala, who is often portrayed dancing with consort as well. Although both deities bear likeattributes, the light color, three heads, and free-flowing hairstyle of thecentral figure are in keeping with characteristic traits of Hevajra. This identification is furtherconfirmed by the presence of two-armed Hevajras in the upper and lowerregisters of the painting.


[1] Although the sadhanaprescription for Hevajra in this form calls for Vajravarahi as consort, thepresent dakini lacks a sow's head,and thus cannot be identified as Vajravarahi. Instead, it is likely that the presence of an unidentified dakini indicates a different ritualtradition.

[2] The Hevajratantra is contemplated in order to reach the innerfury-fire (tummo), an ultimate statesought especially by Himalayan yogis. Its supernova flames are capable of destroying the world of egotisticsuffering entirely. See Rhie andThurman (2000), p. 453.