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A dharmapāla (Wylie: chos skyong) is a type of wrathful god in Buddhism. The name means "Dharma protector or defender" in Sanskrit, and the dharmapālas are also known as the Defenders of the Law (Dharma), or the Protectors of the Law.


In Vajrayana iconography and thangka depictions, dharmapālas are fearsome beings, often with many heads, many hands, or many feet. Dharmapālas often have blue, black or red skin, and a fierce expression with protruding fangs. Though dharmapālas have a terrifying appearance and countenance, they are all bodhisattvas or buddhas, meaning that they are embodiments of compassion that act in a wrathful way for the benefit of sentient beings.

Tibetan Buddhism[edit]

In Tibet, principal Dharmapalas include:

  • Mahakala (Tib. Nagpo Chenpo)
  • Mahakali
  • Yama (Tib. Shinje)
  • Yamantaka (Tib. Shinje Shed)
  • Hayagriva (Tib. Tamdrin)
  • Vaisravana (Tib. Kubera)
  • Shri Devi (Tib. Palden Lhamo)
  • Ekajaṭī (Tib. ral chig ma)
  • Rāhula (Tib. gza)
  • Vajrasādhu (Tib. Dorje Legpa)
  • Brahma (Tib. "Tshangs Pa")
  • Maharakta (Tib. tsog gi dag po, mar chen)
  • Kurukulla (Tib. rig che ma)
  • Takkiraja (Tib. du pai gyal po)
  • Prana Atma (Tib. Begtse)
  • Dorje Legpa and Dorje Ta-og (Sera monestary)
  • Dorje Shugden (A fully enlightened dharma protector, similar in appearance to Ta-og and Legpa, with a body mandala. This Dharmapala is highly controversial. Historically, this practice was taught by Pabongkha and Trijang Rinpoche. It is still used by Shar Gaden monestary, the Ganden Tripa, the New Kadampa Tradition, and miscellaneous western adherents of modern-day buddhism.)

In Tibet, most monasteries have a dedicated dharmapāla which was originally comparable to a genius loci. The many forms of Mahakala, for example, are emanations of Avalokiteshvara. Kalarupa, Yamantaka is considered by practitioners to be emanations of the Buddha of Wisdom (Manjushri).

The main functions of a dharmapāla are said to be to avert the inner and outer obstacles that prevent spiritual practitioners from attaining spiritual realizations, as well as to foster the necessary conditions for their practice.[1]

Shingon Buddhism[edit]

In Japanese Shingon Buddhism, a descendent of Tangmi, dharmapālas such as Acala and Yamantaka are classified as Wisdom Kings. Other dharmapālas, notably Mahakala, belong to tenbu (devas), the fourth hierarchy of deities.

Related deities[edit]

In Tibetan Buddhism, there are two other classes of defender, the lokapālas and kṣetrapalas. Papiya,[2] Guan Yu and Hachiman are also known as defenders.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Heart Jewel: The Essential Practices of Kadampa Buddhism, pages 71-3, Tharpa Publications (2nd. ed., 1997) ISBN 978-0-948006-56-2
  2. ^ 曼荼羅 GIALABA


  • Kalsang, Ladrang (1996). The Guardian Deities of Tibet Delhi: Winsome Books. (Third Reprint 2003) ISBN 81-88043-04-4.
  • Linrothe, Rob (1999). Ruthless Compassion: Wrathful Deities in Early Indo-Tibetan Esoteric Buddhist Art London: Serindia Publications. ISBN 0-906026-51-2.
  • De Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Rene (1956). Oracles and Demons of Tibet. Oxford University Press. Reprint Delhi: Books Faith, 1996 - ISBN 81-7303-039-1. Reprint Delhi: Paljor Publications, 2002 - ISBN 81-86230-12-2.

External links[edit]