About the Artwork

This powerful thangka of Mahottara Heruka (Tib. Chemchog Heruka), or Mahashriheruka, meaning the 'Great Glorious Heruka', was painted by Chewang Dorje in 2003. Mahottara is the lord or 'unified form' of the eight meditational deities of the Drupa Kagye (Skt. astamahasadhana) or 'Eight Great Sadhana Teachings'of the Nyingma Mahayoga transmissions. He is also the wrathful progenitor of all the hundred peaceful and wrathful deities of the zhitro or bardo mandala.

Mahottara is also known as Mahashri Heruka, meaning 'Great Glorious Heruka', who is extremely wrathful and dark brown in color, with twenty-one faces, forty-two arms, and eight legs. He stands leaning to the left in alidha posture, with his four in-drawn right feet and his four extended left feet pressing down on the disc of an eight-pointed golden chakra or discus. Crushed between this chakra and his red sun disc are eight worldly gods and eight animals. The four gods under his right feet lie upon their fronts with a white lion, a black dog, a red camel, and a grey elephant above them; and the four gods under his left feet lie upon their backs with a brown bull, a black horse, a red makara, and a green naga-serpent appearing above them. The patterned orb of his red sun disc rests within the upward-pointing petals of a pink lotus and the larger downward-pointing petals of a multicolored lotus, which in turn rests upon the golden surface of a vajra-rock formation.

His powerful brown body is adorned with the 'ten attires of the charnel grounds': his forehead, cheeks and chin are smeared with cemetery ash, fresh blood, and human fat. A flayed elephant-skin is stretched behind his back, a flayed human-skin is draped around his neck, and a loosened tiger-skin loincloth is bound around his waist. His body and limbs are adorned with writhing serpents, his heads are adorned with five-skull crowns, and he wears two garlands of fifty severed heads around his neck. He possesses vajra-wings, and abides within a blazing mass of pristine-awareness fire. His body and limbs are also adorned with both the 'six bone ornaments' and the 'eight golden ornaments', and his long garlands of severed heads are entwined with the coiling serpents that form his sacred thread.

Mahashriheruka's female consort is Akashadhatvishvari, the 'Queen of the Realm of Space', who is also known as Khrodeshvari, the 'Wrathful Queen', and in Tibetan as Namshyalma (gnam zhal ma). She is extremely fierce and deep blue in color, with nine faces, eighteen arms, and four legs. With her two right legs extended and her two left legs wrapped around her lord's waist she presses every part of her body against his, her heads tilted backward in the passion of their 'face to face' sexual union. Her naked body is adorned with the 'five bone ornaments', serpents adorn her golden bracelets and anklets, and each of her heads is adorned with a five-skull crown. She wears a leopard-skin loincloth, a garland of fifty dry white skulls, and a garland of fifty freshly severed heads. Each of her nine wrathful faces has three round eyes, a gaping mouth, a twisting tongue, and upward-blazing hair. Her faces are arranged in three ascending tiers of three dark blue, red, and light blue faces, although her three right or rear faces cannot actually be seen in this painting.

© text by Robert Beer

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