Rubin Museum: Six Armed Mahakala Essay

942 words - 4 pages

As the protector of all Tibetan Buddhism, Mahakala is an object of meditation as well as the “protector of dharma.” Being a dharmapala which is a type of wrathful deity, his job is to quite the mind and to destroy and help one meditating reach a new level of awareness. His name translates from ‘Maha’ to ‘great’ and ‘kala’ meaning ‘black,’ which is why Mahakala is known as Great Time or Great Dark One, in Sanskrit.

On March 2nd, 2011, I traipsed to the corner of 242nd and Broadway, and hopped on the 1 train, embarking on a journey to the Rubin Museum to see the Embodying the Holy: Icons in Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Tibetan Buddhism. After about an hour train ride, I finally got off at the 18th Street station, and continued my way to the exhibit. Upon arrive to the museum at around 1:17 PM, I started walking around, and came across a very interesting looking statue.

With the exact dimensions of a height of 14 inches, a width of 8 inches, and a depth of 5 inches, this gilded copper alloy with stones stood above a platform, and took a marital, striding pose atop an elephant-headed figure that embodies the strength of the unenlightened mind. What caught my attention is that a middle aged man, who was talking to someone, that had appeared to be his son, started telling a story about how the statue was very symbolic. This artwork was called Six-Armed Mahakala, [Catalogue Number C2006.70.0 (HAR 65729)]. Upon hearing this, I used my BlackBerry to see if this statement had in fact been true, and in doing so, started learning that almost every aspect of this figure had a meaning, such as his color, three eyes, crown, and much more.

I wrote down my observations of Mahakala, and then started to write my paper in the museum. Little did I know, I came across a website that explored the symbolism of each aspect of the statue, and sparked a lot of interest. According to, an internet website, it explains the significance of each aspect of the Mahakala. The body is colored in a very dark blue, which is meant to symbolize Dharmakaya, which is the manifestation of Buddhas. The three eyes signify the knowledge of the past, present, and future, and the manifestation of the three bodies of the Buddha. The crown which he wears has five skulls that symbolize the five poises of anger, desire, ignorance, jealousy, and pride into the five wisdoms. The six arms of Mahakala symbolize the want to achieve sex Perfections. These perfections are generosity, patience, morality, diligence, meditation, and wisdom. There was an interesting aspect, which I had observed, that was similar to a bowl. Upon doing further research, this was called a kapila, which is a skull bowl filled with...

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