Asian art

Buddhist Deity: Vajrapani

Buddhist Deity: Vajrapani

Bodhisattva Vajrapani is one of the earliest appearing protective deities in Mahayana Buddhism. Other two are Bodhisattva Manjusri and Avalokitesvara. Each of the Bodhisattvas symbolizes one of the Buddha's virtues: Manjusri portrays Buddha's wisdom, Avalokitesvara portrays Buddha's immense compassion, and Vajrapani portrays Buddha's power and protects the Buddha at the same time.

Legends associated with Buddhist deity Vajrapani

There are many legends associated with Vajrapani. Some of them are as follows

  • In early Buddhist legends, it is mentioned that Vajrapani was a minor deity who accompanied Gautama Buddha during his career as a wandering mendicant.

  • In some texts, he is mentioned as the king of the Trayastrimsa heaven of Buddhist and Hind cosmology and god of rain as depicted in the idols of then Gandharva.

  • It is also mentioned that Vajrapani helped Gautama Buddha escape from the palace at the time of his renunciation.

  • According to Xuanzang, the Chinese monk, and traveler, Vajrapani defeated a large serpent at Udyana.

  • In another version, it is stated that while the Nagas came to worship the Buddha and hear his sermons, Vajrapani took the form of the bird so that the Nagas were not attacked by their deadly enemies, the Garudas.

At the  parinirvana of the Buddha, Vajrapani dropped his vajra in despair and rolled himself in the dust.

Appearances and identifications

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The appearances of the Bodhisattva is quite different is almost every regions. This is mainly due to the cultural differences and localization of the deities. The appearances as seen in different countries are listed below:

Cambodia: The mid 10th-century monasteries found in Cambodia houses the statues of Buddha, Bodhisattva Prajnaparamita, and Vajrapani. It is seen that the people worship this triad formation. Among them, the iconography of Bodhisattva Vajrapani is portrayed in standing posture with four arms. India: The iconography of Bodhisattva seems to be different in India according to the period and also the location. During the Kushan period, the iconography of Vajrapani is portrayed wearing western attire. The Vajrapani is shown in the Buddhist art along with other deities. The Buddhist art depicts Vajrapani in the scenes where Buddha is likely to be converting the people when the Buddha confronts the opponents.

But as found in the Buddhist caves in Aurangabad, the iconography is totally different. The Vajrapani is depicted in standing posture on the lotus. He is adorned with a tall crown, two necklaces, a snake armlet and holds the vajra in his left hand.

Nepal: the iconography of Vajrapani in Nepal is portrayed as holding a vajra and lotus' stem in the right hand while the left hand portrays the posture of charity and argument.

Tibet: The Bodhisattva, Vajrapani has four forms with their own iconography. They are Vajrapani - Acharya, Nilambara - Vajrapani, Achala - Vajrapani, and Mahachakra - Vajrapani.

Vajrapani - Acharya: the Bodhisattva is represented with only one head with a third eye with hair raised. The Vajrapani is crowned by a skull with fiery expression. The neck is adorned with a necklace of snakes, and with the waistband made of tiger skin which is also covered with skulls. His right hand is lifted and holds a vajra. When the Vajrapani is shown in paintings, he is depicted in blue color and is encircled by flames with the images of small Garudas.

Nilambara - Vajrapani: this bodhisattva is depicted with one head having a third eye and four or six arms. The head is crowned with a crown made up of the skull. Sometimes the vajrapani is depicted with untidy hair bedecked with vajra and snake. About the arms, two hands are crossed to the breast in the mystical hand mudra. The second right hand is lifted up and carries a vajra.

Achala-Vajrapani: the Bodhisattva is depicted with four heads, four arms and four legs and is adorned with symbols of Vajra, sword, lasso and skull cup and trampling over demons.

Mahachakra - Vajrapani: the Bodhisattva is depicted with three heads and the third eye with six arms and two legs. The Bodhisattva is adorned with symbols of vajra, snake, skull cup and grigug. The Bodhisattva is followed by two other Bodhisattvas - Sarvanivarana and Samantabhadra.

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