Wrathful Deities

Shocking in their fierce horrific appearance, with fangs dripping blood and bulging eyes rolling in their sockets, depictions of wrathful deities are a prominent characteristic of Himalayan Buddhism. They are expressions of the dual nature of the divine in which complementary energies—peaceful and wrathful—are manifested visually. Meditation on wrathful deities and their mandalas is meant to harness and transform energy, primarily in an effort to remove potential obstacles on a practitioner’s path toward enlightenment. Representations of these deities often include macabre imagery: ornaments made of skulls, intestines, and severed heads; seas of blood; and charnel ground scenes. Much of this violent imagery has to do with the traumatic act of trapping and slaying the ego, the primary impediment to enlightenment.

Thirteen-deity Mandala of Vajrabhairava
Tibet, 16th century
Ground mineral pigment on cotton
Rubin Museum of Art
C2005.16.40 (HAR 65463)