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Mahakala of 'Tshal, 15th century

Tibet, 1400-1499
Bronze inlaid with turquoise
6-3/4 in. (17.1 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation, from the Estate of Jennifer Jones Simon
M.2010.1.47.S
© 2012 Norton Simon Art Foundation

Not on view

Mahakala, whose name means “great time” or “death,” was adopted by Buddhists in the tenth century as a manifestation of the compassionate bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Mahakala is a dharmapala, or protector of the Buddhist faith; his fierce visage and belligerent attitude frighten away any threat. His eyes bulge out of their sockets, his snarling mouth parts slightly to reveal his teeth and his head bears a crown of skulls. Whether standing or seated, Mahakala tramples a prone figure that represents a vanquished obstacle. The Mahakala on the left holds a skull cup and a piece of fruit, while the one on the right wields a ring of skulls, a drum and a knot of writhing serpents in his outer hands, and a curved knife known as a chopper and skull cup to his chest.


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