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For Mahakala Temple, see Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga. For the dinosaur genus, see Mahakala (dinosaur).

Mahākāla (Sanskrit: Mahākāla, Devanagari: महाकाल) is a deity common to Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. According to Hinduism, Mahākāla is the consort of Hindu Goddess Kali and most prominently appears in Kalikula sect of Shaktism.[1][2][3] Mahākāla also appears as a protector deity known as a dharmapala in Vajrayana Buddhism, particularly most Tibetan traditions, in Tangmi (East Asian Esoteric Buddhism) and in Shingon (Japanese Esoteric Buddhism). He is known as Dàhēitiān (大黑天) in Chinese and Daikokuten (大黒天) in Japanese. In Sikhism, Mahākāla is referred to as Kal, who is the governor of Maya.


Mahākāla is a Sanskrit bahuvrihi of mahā (महत्; "great") and kāla (काल; "time/death"), which means "beyond time" or death.[4] The literal Tibetan translation is "Nagpo Chenpo" (Tibetan: ནག་པོ་ཆེན་པོ།), although when referring to this deity, Tibetans usually use the word Gönpo (Tibetan: མགོན་པོ།Wylie: mgon po).[citation needed]


According to Shaktisamgama Tantra, the spouse of Kali is extremely frightening. Mahakala has four arms, three eyes and is of the brilliance of 10 million black fires of dissolution, dwells in the midst of eight cremation grounds. He is adorned with eight skulls, seated on five corpses, holds a trident, a drum, a sword and a scythe in his hands. He is adorned with ashes from the cremation ground and surrounded by numbers of loudly shrieking vultures and jackals. Among his side is his consort Kali and they both represents the flow of time. Both Mahakala and Kali/Mahakali represents the ultimate destructive power of Brahman and they are not bounded by any rules or regulations. They have the power to dissolve even time and space into themselves and exist as Void at the dissolution of the universe. They are responsible for the dissolution of the universe at the end of Kalpa. They are also responsible for annihilating great evils and great daemons when other gods, Devas and even Trimurtis fail to do so. Mahakala and Kali annihilates men, women, children, animals, the world and the entire universe without mercy because they are Kala or Time in the personified form and Time is not bound by anything and Time does not show mercy, wait for anything or anyone.[5]

Mahākāla is typically black in color. Just as all colors are absorbed and dissolved into black, all names and forms are said to melt into those of Mahakala, symbolizing his all-embracing, comprehensive nature. Black can also represent the total absence of color, and again in this case it signifies the nature of Mahakala as ultimate or absolute reality. This principle is known in Sanskrit as "nirguna", beyond all quality and form, and it is typified by both interpretations.[6]

All schools of Tibetan Buddhism rely on Mahākāla. He is depicted in a number of variations, each with distinctly different qualities and aspects. He is also regarded as the emanation of different beings in different cases, namely Avalokiteśvara (Wylie: spyan ras gzigs) or Cakrasaṃvara (Wylie: ’khor lo bde mchog). Mahākāla is almost always depicted with a crown of five skulls, which represent the transmutation of the five kleśās (negative afflictions) into the five wisdoms.

The most notable variation in Mahākāla's manifestations and depictions is in the number of arms, but other details can vary as well. For instance, in some cases there are Mahakalas in white, with multiple heads, without genitals, standing on varying numbers of various things, holding various implements, with alternative adornments, and so on.


Six-Armed Mahākāla[edit]

Nyingshuk came from Khyungpo Nenjor, the founder of the Shangpa Kagyu, and spread to all the lineages—Sakya, Nyingma, and Gelug—as well as various Kagyu lineages. There are also terma lineages of various forms of Six-Armed Mahākāla. Nyinghsuk, though derived from the Shangpa, is not the major Shangpa one—it is in a dancing posture rather than upright, and is a very advanced Mahākāla practice.

The White Six-Armed Mahākāla (Skt: Ṣadbhūjasītamahākāla; Wylie: mgon po yid bzhin nor bu) is popular among Mongolian Gelugpas.

Four-Armed Mahākāla[edit]

Various Four-Armed Mahākālas (Skt. Chaturbhūjamahākāla, Wylie: mgon po phyag bzhi pa) are the primary protectors of the Karma Kagyu, Drikung Kagyu and the Drukpa Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. A four-armed Mahākāla is also found in the Nyingma school, although the primary protector of the Dzogchen (Skt: Mahasandhi) teachings is Ekajati.

Two-Armed Mahākāla[edit]

The two-armed "Black-Cloaked Mahākāla" (Wylie: mgon po ber nag chen) is a protector of the Karma Kagyu school clad in the cloak of a māntrika "warlock". His imagery derives from terma of the Nyingma school and was adopted by the Karma Kagyu during the time of Karma Pakshi, 2nd Karmapa Lama. He is often depicted with his consort, Rangjung Gyalmo. He is often thought to be the primary protector, but he is in fact the main protector of the Karmapas specifically. Four-Armed Mahākāla is technically the primary protector. Six-Armed Mahākāla (Wylie: mgon po phyag drug pa is also a common dharmapala in the Kagyu school.

Pañjaranātha Mahākāla "Mahākāla, Lord of the Tent", an emanation of Mañjuśrī, is a protector of the Sakya school.

Mahākāla in Hinduism[edit]

According to Hinduism, Mahakala refers to the ultimate form of Shiva, as he is the destroyer of all elements. There is nothing beyond him, no element, no dimensions, not even time. That is why he is maha (greater) kaal (time). Kaal is also the time of death, so it can also be reference as the bringer of the greatest death, death of all that is. [7] In some parts of Odisha, Jharkhand and Dooars, (that is, in northern Bengal), wild elephants are worshipped as Mahākāla.[8] [9][10]

In Hinduism, Mahākāla is the name of Paramashiva or the ultimate form of Godhead, as for example, at the temple in Ujjain, which is mentioned more than once by Kālidāsa. The primary temple, place of worship for Mahākāla is Ujjain. Mahakala is also a name of one of Shiva's principal attendants (Sanskrit: gaṇa), along with Nandi, Shiva's mount and so is often represented outside the main doorway of early Hindu temples.

Mahākāla in Japan[edit]

Main article: Daikokuten
Japanese Daikokuten

Mahākāla (known as Daikokuten 大黑天) enjoys an exalted position as a household deity in Japan, as he is one of the Seven Lucky Gods in Japanese folklore.

The Japanese also use the symbol of Mahākāla as a monogram. The traditional pilgrims climbing the holy Mount Ontake wear tenugui on white Japanese scarves with the Sanskrit seed syllable of Mahākāla.

In Japan, this deity is variously considered to be the god of wealth or of the household, particularly the kitchen. He is recognised by his wide face, smile, and a flat black hat, in stark contrast to the fierce imagery portrayed in Tibetan Buddhist art. He is often portrayed holding a golden mallet, otherwise known as a magic money mallet, and is seen seated on bales of rice, with mice nearby (mice signify plentiful food).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Mahakala the husband of Kali". Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  2. ^ Bhattacharya Saxena, Neela (2011). "Gynocentric Thealogy of Tantric Hinduism: A Meditation Upon the Devi". Oxford Reference. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199273881.003.0006. (subscription required (help)).  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  3. ^ Johnson, W. J (2009). "A Dictionary of Hinduism". Oxford Reference. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198610250. (subscription required (help)).  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  4. ^ Mookerjee, Ajit (1988). Kali: The Feminine Force. New York: Destiny
  5. ^
  6. ^ Bowker, John (2000). "The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions". Oxford Reference. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acref/9780192800947.001.0001. (subscription required (help)).  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  7. ^ Snyder, William H. (2001). Time, Being, and Soul in the Oldest Sanskrit Sources. Global Academic Publishing. ISBN 9781586840723. 
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ Bhattacharya Saxena, Neela (2011). "Gynocentric Thealogy of Tantric Hinduism: A Meditation Upon the Devi". Oxford Reference. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199273881.003.0006. (subscription required (help)).  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  10. ^ Johnson, W. J (2009). "A Dictionary of Hinduism". Oxford Reference. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198610250. (subscription required (help)).  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  11. ^ Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Pratapaditya Pal. (1988). Indian Sculpture: 700-1800. pp. 180.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ladrang Kalsang (author), Pema Thinley (trans.) The Guardian Deities of Tibet. Delhi: 1996 reprinted 2003, Winsome Books India, 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.
  • William Stablein. Healing Image: The Great Black One Berkeley-Hong Kong: SLG Books, 1991. ISBN 0-943389-06-2.
  • William Stablein. The Mahakalatantra: ATheory of Ritural Blessings and Tantric Medicine Ph.D. Dissertation, Columbia University, 1976.
  • Emi Matsushita, Iconography of Mahākāla. M.A. Thesis, The Ohio State University, 2001. Link of full-length Thesis: http://etd. ohiolink. edu/send-pdf. cgi/Matsushita%20Emi. pdf?osu1141933891
  • Martin Gimm Zum mongolischen Mahākāla-Kult und zum Beginn der Qing-Dynastie—die Inschrift Shisheng beiji von 1638 (2000/01)
  • Elliot Sperling, rTsa mi lo-ts-ba Sangs-rgyas grags-pa and the Tangut Background to Early Mongol-Tibetan Relations, Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the 6th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Fagernes, 1992. vol. 2, Oslo: The Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture, 1994, pp.  801–824
  • Todd Lewis. scribd. com/doc/13280877/Popular-Buddhist-Texts-From-Nepal-Narratives-and-Rituals-of-Newar-Buddhism Popular Buddhist Texts From Nepal Narratives and Rituals of Newar Buddhism. NY: SUNY Publication, 2000.

External links[edit]