Mahottara Heruka



18th–19th century
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General Description

Mahottara Heruka is the wrathful form of Buddha Samantabhadra, who represents the fundamental goodness of human nature. Each of the aspects of Mahottara Heruka represents the transformation of internal states and essences that are the primary subjects of Tantric practice. In this thangka, a painted cloth used in shrines or displayed outdoors at religious festivals, Mahottara Heruka has nine wrathful heads, eighteen arms, and eight legs. He is dark blue, as are his three central heads. Three heads on his right are white, and the left heads are dark red. Mahottara Heruka stands in union with his consort who is light blue, with one face, two arms, and two legs. They stand upon a red solar disk that rests on a white lunar disk on top of a broad lotus throne. Beneath their feet are archetypal demons in human form. Under the solar and lunar disks are a large variety of gods, demons, ghosts, men, and animals, each embodying powers and qualities that Mahottara Heruka is able to control. Together with the archetypal demons, they represent all the aspects of samsara, the realms of mortality and mis­ery that are to be transcended by Buddhist practice.

Mahottara Heruka holds a skull cup in his first left hand and a vajra (thunderbolt) in his right, demonstrating his perfection of both wis­dom (skull cup) and compassion (vajra). Each of his other hands gently holds aloft a different buddha or bodhisattva. These represent all the peaceful deities in the Buddhist pantheon. Mahottara Heruka himself embodies all the wrathful deities of the pantheon. In this way, Mahottara Heruka is understood to encompass the entire pantheon of peace­ful and wrathful deities. By worshipping or engaging in the practice of any bud­dha or bodhisattva, one is worshipping or practicing one aspect of Mahottara Heruka. However, the worship or practice of Mahottara Heruka alone includes the entire pantheon.

Adapted from

  • "Thangka with Hevajra," 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), 102.

  • R. W. Clark, "Mahottara Heruka," in The Arts of India, South East Asia, and the Himalayas, Anne R. Bromberg (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Have: Yale University Press, 2013), 185.

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