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Mahakala
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Mahakala


Description Conservation Exhibitions Provenance Credit
Description The wrathful deity Mahakala supports followers of the Buddhist teachings, warding off external threats to their well-being and helping them overcome internal obstacles to their spiritual goals. With his curved knife, he destroys forces such as ignorance and hatred, impediments to enlightenment that are symbolized by the blood that fills his skull cup. The five skulls in his crown symbolize the transformation of the five mental afflictions (delusion, hatred, pride, desire, and jealousy) into the five types of wisdom belonging to a Buddha. His garland of severed heads—understood to consist of fifty heads, regardless of the number represented—relates to the fifty letters of the Sanskrit alphabet (the language of many Buddhist texts) and symbolizes the pure speech of a Buddha. Artists created this remarkable sculpture by hammering sheets of metal to form the body and attaching hands, feet, and ears cast from molds. Within the shrine for which it was most likely made, Mahakala's gilded body would have glimmered in flickering candlelight, enhancing his dramatic features.
Conservation
Date Description Narrative
8/20/2015Examinationexamined for technical study; x-ray
Exhibitions
  • Desire and Devotion: Art from India, Nepal, and Tibet in the John and Berthe Ford Collection. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara; Albuquerque Museum, Albuquerque; Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham; Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong. 2001-2003.
  • Ferocious Beauty: Wrathful Deities from Tibet and Nepal. 2016-2017.
Provenance C.P. Ching Gallery, Hong Kong; purchased by John and Berthe Ford, Baltimore, October 31 1996; given to Walters Art Museum, 2015.
Credit Gift of John and Berthe Ford, 2015

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Creator
Period
15th century
Medium
gilded copper alloy with paint and semiprecious stones
(Sculpture)
Accession Number
54.3099
Measurements
H: 13 3/4 × W: 8 3/4 × D: 6 in. (34.93 × 22.23 × 15.24 cm); Base H: 2 5/8 × W: 9 15/16 × D: 6 7/8 in. (6.6 × 25.3 × 17.4 cm); H on base: 16 9/16 in. (42 cm)
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