Vajradhara, Nairatmya, and Mahasiddhas Virupa and Kanha

Vajradhara, Nairatmya, and Mahasiddhas Virupa and Kanha

c. 1450

Gum tempera and gold on cotton

Framed: 74.8 x 59.8 cm (29 7/16 x 23 9/16 in.); Overall: 57.5 x 50.2 cm (22 5/8 x 19 3/4 in.)

Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1960.206



Himalayan Gallery 237 Rotation: August 2020-March 2021


Mahasiddhas, or "Great Adepts," are revered in tantric Buddhism, for they are the first human transmitters of tantric texts. Unconventional practitioners who were not part of the institutional monasticism of medieval India, the Mahasiddhas experienced extended visualizations in which an enlightened being explained new ways to reach enlightenment.

The Mahasiddha Virupa, who transmitted the Hevajra Tantra, is depicted in the lower left as a brown-skinned Indian yogi seated on a black antelope skin, with a band around his waist and leg to help maintain yogic postures. He wears a delightful array of delicate flower garlands and jewels. He points to the sun, which he was able to halt in its tracks as a result of the power he developed through intense yogic and tantric practice. Above the sun is a small depiction of Hevajra with his consort Nairatmya.

Above Virupa is Vajradhara, a tantric Buddha who represents the essence of all Buddhas and is the ultimate practice image for the Mahasiddhas. Nairatmya, the consort of Hevajra, is seated at the upper right, and Virupa's disciple Kanha is at the lower right.

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