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Herukas and Classes of Spirits

c. 19th century
Artist/maker unknown, Tibetan
The term "Heruka"--like its etymological cousin "Herculean"--denotes a type of deity. In a Buddhist context, a Heruka is a heroic, wrathful form adopted by a deity to assist devotees in breaking through ignorance. The monk portraits at the top of this painting represent individuals who promoted teachings about, and worship of, the central deity, whose peaceful form is Vajradhara (seen kissing his consort in the top center). The wild figures surrounding the central couple represent entire classes of spirits associated with mortal and spiritual dangers-such as epilepsy, cannibalism, and delusion-that can be controlled through proper worship of the appropriate Heruka.

Object Details

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