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Mahākāla (Sanskrit) is a protector deity known as a dharmapala in Vajrayana Buddhism, particularly most Tibetan traditions, in Tangmi (East Asian Esoteric Buddhism) and in Shingon (Japanese Esoteric Buddhism). He is known as Dàhēitiān (大黑天) in Chinese and Daikokuten (大黒天) in Japanese.
In Hinduism, Mahākāla is a name of Shiva, as, for example, at the temple in Ujjain, which is mentioned more than once by Kālidāsa. Mahakala is also a name of one of Shiva's principal attendants (Sanskrit: gaṇa), along with Nandi, Shiva's mount, and so is often represented outside the main doorway of early Hindu temples.
Mahākāla is a Sanskrit bahuvrihi of mahā (महत्; "great") and kāla (काल; "time/death"), which means "beyond time" or death. The literal Tibetan translation is "Nagpo Chenpo" (Tibetan: ནག་པོ་ཆེན་པོ།), although when referring to this deity, Tibetans usually use the word Gönpo (Tibetan: མགོན་པོ།, Wylie: mgon po). The Sanskrit word nātha means "lord" or "protector".
All schools of Tibetan Buddhism rely on Mahākāla. He is depicted in a number of variations, each with distinctly different qualities and aspects. He is also regarded as the emanation of different beings in different cases, namely Avalokiteśvara (Wylie: spyan ras gzigs) or Cakrasaṃvara (Wylie: ’khor lo bde mchog).
Mahākāla is typically black in color. Just as all colors are absorbed and dissolved into black, all names and forms are said to melt into those of Mahakala, symbolizing his all-embracing, comprehensive nature. Black can also represent the total absence of color, and again in this case it signifies the nature of Mahakala as ultimate or absolute reality. This principle is known in Sanskrit as "nirguna", beyond all quality and form, and it is typified by both interpretations.
The most notable variation in Mahākāla's manifestations and depictions is in the number of arms, but other details can vary as well. For instance, in some cases there are Mahakalas in white, with multiple heads, without genitals, standing on varying numbers of various things, holding various implements, with alternative adornments, and so on.
Nyingshuk came from Khyungpo Nenjor, the founder of the Shangpa Kagyu, and spread to all the lineages—Sakya, Nyingma, and Gelug—as well as various Kagyu lineages. There are also terma lineages of various forms of Six-Armed Mahākāla. Nyinghsuk, though derived from the Shangpa, is not the major Shangpa one—it is in a dancing posture rather than upright, and is a very advanced Mahākāla practice.
Various Four-Armed Mahākālas (Skt. Chaturbhūjamahākāla, Wylie: mgon po phyag bzhi pa) are the primary protectors of the Karma Kagyu, Drikung Kagyu and the Drukpa Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. A four-armed Mahākāla is also found in the Nyingma school, although the primary protector of the Dzogchen (Skt: Mahasandhi) teachings is Ekajati.
The two-armed "Black-Cloaked Mahākāla" (Wylie: mgon po ber nag chen) is a protector of the Karma Kagyu school clad in the cloak of a māntrika "warlock". His imagery derives from terma of the Nyingma school and was adopted by the Karma Kagyu during the time of Karma Pakshi, 2nd Karmapa Lama. He is often depicted with his consort, Rangjung Gyalmo. He is often thought to be the primary protector, but he is in fact the main protector of the Karmapas specifically. Four-Armed Mahākāla is technically the primary protector. Six-Armed Mahākāla (Wylie: mgon po phyag drug pa is also a common dharmapala in the Kagyu school.
Pañjaranātha Mahākāla "Mahākāla, Lord of the Tent", an emanation of Mañjuśrī, is a protector of the Sakya school.
A rūpa of a six-armed Mahākāla
Mahākāla in Japan
Mahākāla (known as Daikokuten 大黑天) enjoys an exalted position as a household deity in Japan, as he is one of the Seven Lucky Gods in Japanese folklore. Mahākāla's association with wealth and prosperity gave rise to a strange custom known as Fuku-nusubi. This custom started with the belief that one who stole divine figures (gods and goddesses) was assured of good fortune, if not caught in the act of stealing. In the course of time, stealing of divine images became so common a practice in Japan that the Toshi-no-ichi or the ‘year-end-market’ held in the Asakusa Kannon temple became the main venue of the sale and disposal of such images by the fortune-seekers. Many small stalls were opened where articles including images of Mahakala were sold on the eve of New Year celebrations.
In Japan, this deity is variously considered to be the god of wealth or of the household, particularly the kitchen. He is recognised by his wide face, smile, and a flat black hat, in stark contrast to the fierce imagery portrayed in Tibetan Buddhist art. He is often portrayed holding a golden mallet, otherwise known as a magic money mallet, and is seen seated on bales of rice, with mice nearby (mice signify plentiful food).
Mahākāla in Hinduism
In some parts of Orisa, Jharkhand and Dooars, (that is, in the northern Bengal localites), wild elephants are worshipped as Mahākāla.
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- William Stablein. Healing Image: The Great Black One Berkeley-Hong Kong: SLG Books, 1991. ISBN 0-943389-06-2.
- William Stablein. The Mahakalatantra: ATheory of Ritural Blessings and Tantric Medicine Ph.D. Dissertation, Columbia University, 1976.
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- Martin Gimm Zum mongolischen Mahākāla-Kult und zum Beginn der Qing-Dynastie—die Inschrift Shisheng beiji von 1638 (2000/01)
- Elliot Sperling, rTsa mi lo-ts-ba Sangs-rgyas grags-pa and the Tangut Background to Early Mongol-Tibetan Relations, Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the 6th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Fagernes, 1992. vol. 2, Oslo: The Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture, 1994, pp. 801–824
- Todd Lewis. scribd. com/doc/13280877/Popular-Buddhist-Texts-From-Nepal-Narratives-and-Rituals-of-Newar-Buddhism Popular Buddhist Texts From Nepal Narratives and Rituals of Newar Buddhism. NY: SUNY Publication, 2000.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mahakala.|
- Outline of Mahakala Iconography - at HimalayanArt.org
- Buddhist Protector: Mahakala (All Forms) - at HimalayanArt.org
- Khandro.net: Mahakala
- Mahakala Thankas by Dharmapala Thangka Centre
- Category » Thangka-Thanka Arts » Mahakala Thangka Paintings NepalsCraft