About the Artwork

This composition depicts Vajrayogini (Tib. Dorje Naljorma) in her form as Naro Khandroma or 'Naropa's Dakini'. Vajrayogini belongs to the Highest Yoga Tantra class of deities and is the principle female yidam deity or dakini in the Vajrayana Buddhist pantheon. As the consort of Chakrasamavara she is of equal importance in both the Tibetan and Newar Buddhist traditions. In the Newar tradition Vajrayogini has four main aspects, each of which has her own special temple within the Kathmandu Valley. And these four temples are located at the sacred sites of Sankhu, Parping, Bijeshvari, and Guhyeshvari.

Sankhu temple is dedicated to the aspect of Vajrayogini as Naro Khandroma who is associated with the Indian Mahasiddha Naropa; although the presiding four-armed deity of Sanku Temple is now commonly known as Khadgayogini or Ugratara. The temple is perched in a pine forest high above the ancient 'conch-shaped' Newar town of Sankhu, and is accessed by a steep ascent of stone steps. The background landscape of this painting depicts the forest temple of Sankhu and the sacred water tank that is situated halfway up its ascent, with its makara-headed waterspouts, which are known in Newari as 'hetimanga'. In the lower left corner the Indian Mahasiddha Naropa appears blowing upon his antelope horn, with his cave and a stupa appearing behind him.

Vajrayogini abides within a dharmodaya or 'reality source', which is composed of two intersecting triangles that form an inverted three-dimensional double tetrahedron, with its open top appearing as a six-pointed star. Within this dharmodaya rests the pink lotus and golden sun disc upon which Vajrayogini stands, with her left foot trampling upon the head and heart of black Bhairava, and her right foot pressing upon the breasts of red Kalaratri. Bhairava, the 'terrible', is a wrathful aspect of Shiva and his head and heart represent the 'seats of ignorance and aversion'. Kalaratri, the 'black night', is a wrathful manifestations of Parvati or Uma (Shiva's consort), and her breasts represent the 'seat of desire'. Bhairava is blue-black in color with three eyes and four arms. Kalaratri is naked and ruby red in color, with three eyes, two arms, and an emaciated body. Vajrayogini leans towards the left in alidha-posture, with her left leg bent and her right leg extended. She is radiant and ruby-red in color like a pomegranate flower, and her divine form shines with the brilliance of a hundred thousand suns. From each pore of her skin emanate rays of wisdom light, which blaze like the fire at the end of an aeon. She has one face, two arms, and her head is inclined back with her three eyes gazing upward towards the heavenly realm of the dakinis.

Her right arm is extended downward as she holds a vajra-handled curved knife that she circles towards the ten directions, with her index finger raised in the threatening tarjani gesture. Her raised left arm is bent upward as she holds a tilted skull-cup full of blood, which she continually pours into her open mouth.

Balanced at an incline across her left shoulder is her tantric staff or khatvanga, which is equal in height to her own body and represents her consort, Heruka Chakrasamvara. The khatvanga's golden shaft is sealed at its base with a half-vajra, while its upper shaft bears the attributes of a crossed-vajra, a golden nectar vase, three impaled heads, and a crowning half-vajra. A long white silk ribbon is tied around her khatvanga's upper shaft, which billows freely to represent the teachings of the various Buddhist vehicles or yanas.

Seated upon a white moon disc and a pink lotus amidst the clouds in the upper left corner is white Vairocana Buddha, the 'Lord of the Tathagata Buddha Family' to which Vajrayogini belongs. A fierce dragon writhes amidst the central clouds, and in the upper right corner is red Vajradharma, who manifests as the 'speech' aspect of the Primordial Buddha Vajradhara in the 'mother-tantra' practices of Vajrayogini.

This painting was made by the Newar artist Sukha Raj, who based this composition upon an original composition by Deepak Joshi, who is one of the most respected and knowledgeable Newar Buddhist artists of Nepal.

© text by Robert Beer

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