Mahakala – A Wrathful Deity 

“Wrathfulness is a way of depicting the formidable energy of compassion that cannot bear the sufferings of beings. There is no trace of hatred or anger in it”.


Mahakala is the enlightened guardian of dharma, the Buddhist teachings. The name Mahakala comes from Sanskrit and can be understood as „The Great Black One” („maha” – great, „kala” – black/death). Blackness represents the Emptiness that constitutes ultimate reality (sunyata in Buddhism philosophy).

Terrifying characters such as Mahakala play a significant role in Tibetan iconography as their awe-inspiring features represent awakened energy that destroys the confusion standing behind the ego. They are often surrounded by flames – powers strong enough to burn all the obstacles on the way to awakening to ashes. They stand firmly on the lotus flower and the sun trampling human figures symbolizing clinging on to the ego with their heavy feet.

The garland of freshly chopped human heads symbolizes the defeat of the non-enlightened ways of functioning of the mind. The tiara on his head, consisting of 5 skulls, symbolizes the five main emotions: hatred, lust, jealousy, laziness and pride – transformed into five pearls of wisdom: patience, compassion, loving-kindness, generosity and awareness of the equality of all beings.

Mahakala’s head symbolizes the absolute truth.  He holds a vessel full of blood of the ego (kapala) at his chest height which symbolizes the comprehension of Emptiness. With his right hand, he is bearing a knife that cuts off all the obstacles on the way to enlightenment. The union of wisdom and compassion is represented with his two arms. The inseparable space and awareness are represented by his two legs.

When we look closer at his face each detail of it holds a piece of powerful information within. His face is contorted in a grimace of anger and cruelty to emphasize his reluctance to the samsaric world surrounding us. Mahakala’s third eye on his forehead is the eye of wisdom that enables the recognition of the enlightened forms and distinguishes them from demons. Together with the remaining two eyes, they form a trinity that symbolizes the perfect knowledge of the Past, Present and Future. The overwhelming compassion for the intense suffering of beings causes his hair to bristle upwards in a blazing mane.

Don’t let his fierce face mislead you! The main motivation of Mahakala is to grant us love and his protective force originating in enlightened spaces that he has access to. The beings that he appears for are suffering because of hatred and other mental poisons. They are trapped in samsara often with no idea about the real source of their suffering and the ways to liberate themselves.  The wisdom-wrath and love of Mahakala and other similar deities have the power to reduce pain. Simply, it is a way in which the peaceful free nature of primordial wisdom manifests.

As you can see Tibbethian forms are saturated with symbolism which at first contact may seem like a quite complicated language of hidden meanings where each form, attribute and colour has its meaning. It doesn’t change the fact that the beauty of the Tibbethian forms can be acknowledged even without explaining their complex language of symbols. Their power can be received and heal your energy even without a deeper understanding.

Mahakala is one of my favourite Buddhist forms that I fell in love with from the very first contact. I truly and deeply believe that it carries a wonderful and strong energy inside and that this energy can penetrate the space in which the painting is present. It can transform and favour people that are the owners of this piece of art. I decided to create copies of the Buddhist Mahakala out of pure love for this form of art and respect for its powerful potential. I intend to bring you the possibility to interact with the intact iconography of this breathtaking form and let the richness of its symbols reinforce your surroundings bringing in the energy of the deity.

May it serve you well!

Marta Kupsch

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