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Figure of Hayagriva

16th Century

copper repoussé with gilding and polychrome


In Tibet and Mongolia Hayagriva ("having the neck of a horse") is an important deity, an incarnation of Avalokitésvara, the Boddhisattva of compassion. His ferocious expression fits to his function as Dharmapala, guardian of the buddhist law, to exclude the evil spirits. He is especially venerated in Mongolia because of the link with horses. He can easily be recognized by the three horse heads in his hair and by the red color of his face and body. His special ability is to cure diseases, especially skin diseases , which is said to be caused by nagas. Hayagriva is depicted here with 3 faces, six arms and four legs, standing in Pratyalidasana, trampling with his feet two groups of four serpents. He is dressed in a wolf’s skin and covered with skinned human bodies and snake ornaments. He is decorated with a breastplate, bracelets and armlets. The three faces are painted in cold gold and polychromed. 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, the hands raised in a threatening gesture. This terrifying aspect expresses compassion’s fierce determination to help us overcome inner egotism and outer obstructions. The facial features, stylized hair and the strong relationship of Hayagriva with the region of Mongolia, all suggests that this sculpture is of Mongolian origin.

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