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Nepal - Brass - Height 34 cm width 27 cm - 17th–18th century

Mahâkâla (“Great Time” or “Great Black”) is one of the most important protective deities of the Buddhist pantheon. Besides being a defender of the doctrine, he also has the role of guardian of the temples, where it is common to find one of his effigies. The origin of his cult and iconography can be traced to Bhairava, the ferocious manifestation of the Hindu god Shiva.
In the Nepal Valley the cult of Mahâkâla became especially popular during the Malla period, also judging from the large number of images which can be attributed to it. His representations rarely correspond to the descriptions found in literature, and his iconography incorporates aspects of other Buddhist deities such as Samvara, Hevajra and Heruka. He is conceptually linked to Bhairava, who is worshipped all over the Valley  take for example the large temple dedicated to him overlooking the main square in Bhaktapur. Mahâkâla is also connected with him as far as more exterior aspects are concerned, such as the iconography and the name, given that Mahâkâla is one of the epithets of Bhairava. Some attributes of this image, the sword, the shield and the severed head, are the same as those of Bhairava, whilst the knife for skinning is a typical attribute of the iconography of Mahâkâla. Hence at times it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between the two deities (1) in the Valley.
Besides the items exhibited in his hands, Mahâkâla wears a number of macabre accessories: a garland of freshly severed human heads, necklaces and earrings made out of human bone, a decoration of skulls set on his diadem, and a tiger skin knotted around his hips as clothing. This statue is set on a lotus-shaped base hooked to a halo of flames and might have been placed close to a wall, perhaps inside a family chapel.

(1) Mary Shepherd Slusser, Nepal Mandala. A Cultural Study of the Kathmandu Valley, Princeton University Press, Princeton 1982, pp. 291-292.

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