Vajrabhairava

DATE:
18th century
MATERIAL AND TECHNIQUE:
Gilt bronze
CLASSIFICATION:
Sculpture
DIMENSIONS:
13 1/2 × 9 × 6 in. (34.29 × 22.86 × 15.24 cm)
DEPARTMENT:
Arts of Asia
LOCATION:
305 BUDDHIST GALLERY
CREDIT LINE:
Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the Alconda-Owsley Foundation to honor Dr. Anne R. Bromberg
COPYRIGHT:
This work is in the public domain. Image courtesy Dallas Museum of Art.
OBJECT NUMBER:
1998.87

General Description

The Vajrabhairava Tantra, attributed to Shakyamuni Buddha (6th century BCE), is part of his transmission of the Tantras. Tantras are complex esoteric teachings meant for the rare disciples capable of understanding and practicing them. The characteristics of fearsome divinities such as Vajrabhairava may be understood as connoting higher truths, but they must not be taken in a literal, concrete man­ner. Surrounded by flames and skulls, Vajrabhairava and his female conterpart, or shakti, embrace in an ecstatic union that obliterates earthly dualities and reaches nirvana. They trample gods, humans, and animals underfoot. Vajrabhairava is bull-headed and grasps lethal weapons. The violence and sexuality of the sculpture, and its frightening dramatic power, are deliberate: the bronze image helps a devotee pass beyond his fear of suffering and death, and his attachment to worldly desires into a state of knowledge and pure being. A literal view would leave little room for understanding Vajrabhairava as a supreme manifestation of the Buddha’s wisdom, loving-kindness, and universal compas­sion. The deeper meaning involves the Buddhist conviction that loving-kindness and compassion are of little value unless they are guided by profound wisdom and backed by sufficient energy and power.

Adapted from

  • "Vajrabhairava," in_ Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection,_ ed. Bonnie Pitman (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2012), 103.

  • R. W. Clark, "Vajrabhairava," in The Arts of India, South East Asia, and the Himalayas, Anne R. Bromberg (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 173.

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