Hayagriva (Buddhism)

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Hayagriva statue in Samye Ling. Note the green horse's head on top of his head.

In Tibetan and Japanese Buddhism, Hayagrīva ("having the neck of a horse") is an important deity who originated as a yaksha attendant of Avalokiteśvara or Guanyin Bodhisattva in India.[1] Appearing in the Vedas as two separate deities, he was assimilated into the ritual worship of early Buddhism and eventually was identified as a Wisdom King in Vajrayana Buddhism.[1]

In Tibet, Hayagriva was promoted especially by Buddhist teacher Atiśa[2] and appeared as a worldly dharmapala.[1] His special ability is to cure diseases, especially skin diseases even as serious as leprosy, which is said to be caused by nāgas.[citation needed]

Hayagriva statue beside a country road in Japan.

In Japanese Mahayana Buddhism, Hayagriva is considered as a Avalokiteśvara with wrathful form (Batō Kannon 馬頭觀音, lit.Hayagrīva-Avalokiteśvara) , one of the six Avalokiteśvaras intended to save the sentient beings of the six realms: deities (deva), demons (asura), human beings, animals, hungry ghosts, beings of hell. Hayagriva's sphere is realm of animals (or beings whose state of mind are animal-like). In Folk religion in Japan, Hyagriva was also worshipped as the guardian deity for horses because of its name Horse-head (Batō). The horse was symbolized as a vehicle, not as one of Hayagriva's heads.

Buddhist iconography[edit]

Hayagriva, known as Batō Kannon in Japan.

In his simplest form Hayagriva is depicted with one face, two arms and two legs. Everything about him is wrathful - a scowling face with three glaring eyes, a roaring mouth with protruding fangs, a pose of warrior’s aggressiveness, a broad belly bulging with inner energy, a sword raised threateningly in his right hand (poised to cut through delusion), his left hand raised in a threatening gesture and snake ornaments. This terrifying aspect expresses compassion’s fierce determination to help us overcome inner egotism and outer obstructions.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Lopez 2013, p. 346.
  2. ^ Hugo Kreijger (2001). Tibetan Painting: The Jucker Collection. Serindia Publications, Inc. pp. 106–. ISBN 978-0-906026-56-4. Retrieved 23 June 2012.