29. 南诏国晚期或大理国 银 四臂大黑天立像
A Silver Statue Of A Standing Four-Armed Mahakala Holding Trident And Other Implements.
Period: Late Nanzhao Kingdom (AD 653 - 902) or Dali Kingdom (AD 937 - 1253)
Height: 46.9 cm
A silver standing Mahakala with four arms and a strong and sturdy body. The bearded face shows a very ferocious and savage expression and the mouth is agape revealing two upturned fangs ever-ready to devour everything which is malevolent and hideous. He has huge frightening eyes and bulbous nose and his scowling expression shows his extreme rage and wrath. The forehead is adorned with a headband with three skulls. He wears a necklace with fi ve severed heads or skulls which could symbolize the transformation of the fi ve poisons of anger, desire, ignorance, jealousy and pride into the fi ve wisdoms. He further wears a garland of six severed heads or skulls across his belly. His hair is tied up in a high chignon with a scrolling cloud appearance. His upper right hand holds a towering trisula (trident) coiled with a snake and with a skull below the middle prong. This trident symbolizes his power over the three kayas (i.e. the spheres of desire, form and formless). It is also used to pin down and destroy evil or negative forces and to uphold goodness. The lower right hand holds a kapala or bowl fi lled with blood to quench his thirst and it symbolizes the subjugation of Mara or the evil ones. The upper left hand holds a damaru (hand-drum) which symbolizes his power over dakinis. The lower left hand holds the rope to bind those who break vows or to catch and restrain the deviant, sinner or those who go astray. His head, arms, wrists, body and legs are coiled with snakes and he is covered with celestial scrolling streamer with ruyi-patterned ends. He wears a short dhoti (loincloth) revealing his firm and muscular knees and legs and his dhoti is fastened with a prominent bow at his abdomen. This bow is similar to that of Acuoye Guanyin.
Mahakala basically means “The Great Black One”. In The Long Roll of Buddhist Images by Zhang Sheng Wen drawn sometime between AD 1173 – 1176, a similar figure is depicted which is labeled and described in Chinese as “大聖大黑天神” [Da Sheng Da Hei Tian Shen] (see page 234 of “The Sculpture and Painting Arts of Nanzhao and Dali Kingdoms”). The Chinese characters are translated in English to mean “The Great Holy God Mahakala”. There are two rock carvings of similar Mahakala found in Midala Grottoes in Luquan County, Yunnan and in Shi Zhong Si Grottoes in Jianchuan County, Yunnan (see pages 171 and 90, ibid.).
Mahakala is important to his devotees as he protects them from dangers and against bad and evil influences which hinder their path of cultivation to enlightenment. Mahakala’s typical blackness represents his all-embracing, pervasive and comprehensive nature. This is because black is the powerful colour into which all other colours merge and are dissolved, absorbed and ultimately become one blackness. As all colours disappear in black, so in true essence, all names, forms and matters melt and convert into that of Mahakala. Conversely, black can be regarded as the absence of colour thereby reflecting the other nature of Mahakala in essence. Many have revered and invoked Mahakala to help them transcend all forms and matters and even time. He is absolute and truly benevolent and ever-present for his devotees. His compassion in reality is boundless or measureless although he is portrayed as fierce and wrathful. All these very helpful, appealing and special attributes and features of Mahakala made him a very popular tantric Buddhist deity during Nanzhao and Dali Kingdoms. This can be gathered from many Mahakala figures discovered which were cast in statues; made in the form of rings for wearing (see pages 476, 484, 486 and 487); carved into the said rock surfaces; and depicted in the said drawing. The presence of Mahakala images in Yunnan shows strong Vajrayana Buddhist influence in Yunnan during the material time.
Mahakala’s popularity is not surprising as he is also regarded as a manifestation of Guanyin (in Yunnan context, Acuoye Guanyin) by being Guanyin’s wrathful emanation. In Yunnan, Acuoye Guanyin was manifested in kind, gentle and compassionate form for supplication whereas Mahakala was manifested in the opposite fiery and wrathful form to battle, crush and get rid of evils and obstacles placed along the path of cultivation. It is a duality to cater to the wishes, needs and expectations of the devotees. On a higher plain, Acuoye Guanyin and Mahakala were worshipped to maintain good fortune, peace and harmony for the rulers and people of Nanzhao and Dali Kingdoms and to ward off evil and their enemies so that they could be triumphant and victorious. As such, there was a relatively long period of peace, harmony and prosperity during Nanzhao and Dali Kingdoms. The Chinese could not effectively control and subjugate them. It was the Mongols who finally succeeded in attacking and breaking down the defense line in mountainous regions to conquer Yunnan in around AD 1253. There is no known publication of other Yunnanese Mahakala statues made in this size and of silver. This is the tallest known Mahakala statue from Yunnan. The casting of this very fine and beautiful silver statue with very complex and complicated features and with many arms holding different attributes is a testament to the high level of artistry and sophistication attained by Yunnanese at the material time.