The deity Hevajra is the chief deity of the Tantric Buddhist path to enlightenment. Unlike the two other major schools of Buddhism, Theravada and Mahayana, the Tantric school believed that, with serious application and the guidance of a religious teacher, an initiate could achieve enlightenment in this life. Hevajra in fact is the personification of enlightenment here and now. The cult of Hevajra flourished in Cambodia between the tenth and thirteenth centuries, only to disappear with the collapse of the Angkor Empire.

A principal exercise in the path to knowledge of the highest truth is meditation, and Hevajra served as a focal figure in the practice of meditative immersion in which the adept focuses all his mental energy on a deity, thereby transferring to himself the characteristics of the deity.

This work is a three-dimensional mandala, or cosmic diagram, of Hevajra. The base is in the shape of an eight-petalled lotus with Hevajra in the centre, originally surrounded by seven 'dakini' or 'yogini', minor female divinities in Tantric Buddhism, and one erect figure. Typically this Hevajra figure has sixteen arms fanned out like wings and eight heads arranged on three levels in the order of three, four and one head at the top. The hands each hold the correct attributes as ascribed to Hevajra by the Tantric texts. On the right are to be found, reading from bottom to top: elephant, horse, ass or dog, camel, human being, 'sarabha' (a fantastic beast), and a cat. The left hands are holding a number of undifferentiated human figures. According to the texts, these are personifications of the four elements of earth, water, fire and air, and the heavenly bodies of sun and moon. The uppermost head represents Vairocana, the most important of the Five Cosmic Buddhas. The four heads below represent the other four Cosmic Buddhas (or Tathagatas), each of whom presides over a specific direction: Akshobhya to the east, Ratnasambhava to the south, Amitabha to the west, and Amogasiddhi to the north. Hevajra's dance posture symbolises the dynamics of the process of enlightenment, which includes trampling underfoot the four chief evils, personified here by a four headed prostrate figure.

In this mandala, Hevajra is surrounded by six dancing figures, and one erect figure offering lotus buds. In most Hevajra mandalas, there are eight dancing 'dakinis', one for each of the eight quarters. The most important source of our knowledge of the Hevajra cult is the 'Hevajratantra' which lists the 'dakinis' and their attributes. This particular mandala is unusual in having the erect figure which is on the eastern quarter of the mandala. The other 'dakini' are: Savari of the Southeast who holds a monk in her right hand, a fan in her left; Cauri of the South, who holds a drum in her right, a wild boar in her left [MISSING]; Candali of the Southwest, who holds a wheel in her right and a plough in her left; Vetali of the west, who holds a tortoise in her right and a skull in her left [MISSING]; Dombini of the Northwest who holds a vajra in her right and points with her left; Ghasmari of the North who holds a snake in ther right and a bowl in her left; and Pukkasi of the Northeast who holds a lion in her right and an axe in her left.

Literature: See Wibke Lobo 'The Figure of Hevajra and Tantric Buddhism' in MILLENIUM OF GLORY, Sculpture of Angkor and Ancient Cambodia', edited by H. Jessup and T. Zephir, National Gallery of Art, Washington, and Thames and Hudson, 1997

Asian Art Dept.

AGNSW 13 February 2001


  • Title: Hevajra mandala
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: late 12th century
  • Location: Cambodia
  • Physical Dimensions: 39.0 x 23.5 cm
  • Type: Sculpture
  • Rights: Goldie Sternberg Southeast Asian Art Purchase Fund 2001
  • Medium: bronze
  • Signature & Date: Not signed. Not dated.
  • Cultural Origin: Khmer

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