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Vajrabhairava’s war dance

9 February, 2009 (05:00) | himalayas, modern, paintings | By: xensen

Dancing Vajrabhairava

I love this very blue blue meanie from The Dragon’s Gift: The Sacred Arts of Bhutan, a show that’s about to open at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

Despite appearances, he’s not really a meanie. He’s a wrathful deity and — so long as you are on the side of the true dharma — he’s your friend. Wrathful deities protect against malevolent forces. As a result, few images of wrathful deities were allowed to be removed from Bhutan for the exhibition, for fear of leaving the country unprotected.

Vajrabhairava is a wrathful form of Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom (you can see Manjushri’s peaceful head at the top of Vajrabhairava’s multiples heads in this image). He is shown here without his female partner. But, clearly, he is ready for her.

The painting depicts Vajrabhairava performing a war dance by which he transforms demons into protectors of the Buddhist doctrine. Backing up his lead performance is a captivating chorus of similar blue figures. His thirty-two outer hands carry various weapons, which are repeated in the hands of figures dancing around him. His main hands hold a chopper and a skull cup. With his sixteen feet Vajrabhairava tramples on all sorts of creatures to stop harmful influences in their tracks.


The wrathful deity Vajrabhairava, 1700–1800. Bhutan. Ink and mineral colors on cotton. Phajoding Monastery, Thimphu, Bhutan.