White Mahakala

late 18th-early 19th century

Rubin Museum of Art

Rubin Museum of Art
New York, United States

This painting of the six-armed, white form of Mahakala shows the wealth deity holding in his main hands a wish-granting jewel and a skull cup containing a vase filled with various jewels. Immediately above him is a form of Buddha Vajradhara specific to practices associated with this wealth deity, holding a triple jewel and a mongoose, imagery also associated with wealth in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

Here the artist has filled the canvas so profusely with jewels, foliage, rich textiles, golden ornamental frames, and offerings that the black ground on which it was painted has almost disappeared. That dark ground is visible only in the bottom corners, which also include depictions of wrathful offerings such as rampant yaks, sheep, horses, and dogs painted in the gold outline that is traditional for this genre.

The back of the painting contains a pair of handprints, blessing the object. These are often made by incarnate lamas or other important religious figures as part of a painting's consecration.


  • Title: White Mahakala
  • Date: late 18th-early 19th century
  • Date Created: late 18th-early 19th century
  • Physical Dimensions: 16 x 11 1/4 in.
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Rubin Museum of Art, Gift of the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, F1997.29.1
  • Medium: Pigments on cloth
  • Place of Creation: Central Tibet
  • Exhibition History: Rubin Museum of Art, "Masterworks: Jewels of the Collection" (02/06/13 - 01/13/14), The Gallery at Park Avenue Bank, New York, NY, "A Shower of Jewels: Wealth Gods from the Rubin Museum of Art" (05/17/07 - 07/13/07), Rubin Museum of Art, "Perfected Beings, Pure Realms" (10/02/04 - 10/16/06), Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH, "The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art" (02/08/04 - 05/09/04), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA, "The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art" (10/05/03 - 01/11/04), Tibet House Cultural Center, New York, NY, "Worlds of Transformation: Tibetan Art of Wisdom and Compassion" (04/27/99 - 09/25/99)

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