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Mahakala (महाकला)

Sanskrit. ‘Great Time’ or the ‘Great Black One’. The personification of Kala in a terrible form, associated with the destructive aspects of Shiva, and personified as a destructive form of Shiva. However, in some texts, Mahakala was initially a follower of Shiva and, according to Tantric Buddhism of the 10th century, he became his protector as well as a fierce Tibetan protector deity, who is worshipped in Lamaism. Besides this, he is also described as being the fierce form of Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, as well as one of the eight dharmapala, i.e. protectors of the Buddhist Law. According to the ancient writings of a Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, he may also be associated with Kubera or Kuvera (fig.), a Hindu wealth god known in Tibetan Buddhism as Jambhala (fig.), who in turn is mentioned as being a wealth-giving form of Avalokitesvara. This pilgrim described temple images of a seated god with a bag of gold, i.e. the attribute of many wealth gods, including Kubera, that were anointed with oil, which over time turned the statues black. Consequently, they were referred to as Mahakala and this may have led to the origin of the deity, whose image in Nepal, for instance, closely resembles that of Kubera. He is most commonly seen in the Buddhist art of Tibet, usually with a black or a deep dark blue complexion, and depicted as a figure with six arms, wearing a crown adorned with five skulls and standing on a human corpse. In his top two hands he holds an elephant skin, which he stretches across his back, the head with the trunk and tusks laying at his feet. In one of his top hands, he also holds a string of prayer beads made of human skulls, while in the other hand he clasps a trident, decorated with a vajra at the bottom of the handle. In his middle two hands, he holds a a bando, i.e. a small handheld double-sided drum (fig.), and a pasa, i.e. a lasso (fig.). In his bottom two hands, which he has in front of his body, he holds a kapala (fig.), i.e. a skull-cup, which contains a heart and symbolizes his power to destroy inner addictions and outer evil forces that obstruct the search for Enlightenment, and a kartika, i.e. a chopper with a curved, crescent-like blade and a vajra-handle. Some of these attributes, such as the trident, bando and prayer beads, are similar to those of Shiva (fig.), while others objects, i.e. the elephant skin and certain attributes, such as the pasa, are associated with Shiva's son Ganesha (fig.), and help point to Mahakala's origin as the personification of Shiva. However, he may also be portrayed with just four or two arms, and with other adornments characteristic to wrathful beings, including a necklace of skulls, a brahman cord in the form of a live snake as also worn by Shiva and Ganesha (fig.), an elephant goad (fig.), a bow or other weapon. In Japan, he is also worshipped as Makiakara-ten, i.e. he ‘Great Black One’, who is also known as Daikoku, the God of Wealth and one of the Seven Gods of Fortune (fig.), and in Tantric Buddhism, he may be depicted accompanied by crows or ravens, or with the head of a crow, one of his appearances known as Kahkamukha. His female counterpart is Mahakali. See also Kahkamukha and Kali.