Hevajra in History and Mythology

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The continent of Asia has given birth to a vast array of gods, goddesses, demons, monsters and men who have stood the test of time. The incredible richness of Asian mythology can be reflected in their geography; Asia is home to a diversity of geographical regions. In the north of the Indian subcontinent lies the rugged Himalayan mountains, in the south are the vast agricultural plains of the river Ganges. In addition to this, Asia has high plateaus, low-lying coastal regions, rainforests and deserts. The geography and climate is extreme.

Perhaps this is why Asian mythology is so rich and diverse. The land’s local deities grew to significance and their worship spread across the continent and, today, the world. The underlying feature of the belief systems that emerged from Asia is the desire to transcend the chaos and unpredictability of the world in order to find nirvana, spiritual ecstasy.

Hevajra was a ‘Yidam’, or a tutelary god who was worshipped in Mongolia, Cambodia, Thailand and Tibet. Depictions of him usually shown him with four legs and eight heads, but there have been variations with him having five or seven heads and sixteen or twenty arms, and two or four legs. In addition to this, in sculpture, his body is painted blue and all his heads are usually painted different colours.

In Tibet, Hevajra was a ‘high patron deity’, the equivalent of a Buddha. He was also a form of the Buddha Aksobhya and a member of the vajra family (in Tantric Buddhism, the vajra is the male principle representing pure knowledge).  It is believed by scholars that this deity was invented in or around the 10th century but that he had roots in the deity Trailokyavijaya. According to Giuseppe Tucci, “Since the vajra is the symbol of nonexistentiality beyond time and space, it was easy to extol it and to transpose it into another symbol, a representation which could be taken as a support of concentration”.

Our main source of knowledge regarding Hevajra comes from the Hevaira-tantra, in which Hevajra is a supreme divinity and which was not translated into Chinese until the eleventh century, thus representing a development later than that of Shingon Buddhism. It is believed that Hevajra had a dual role in mythology – partly subservient, reflecting his krodha ancestry, and partly supreme, anticipating his future as a high patron deity in Tibet.

Bibliography:

Priest, Alan (1937) A Collection of Cambodian Sculpture, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Woodward Jnr., Hiram W. (1981) Tantric Buddhism at Angkor Thom, Ars Orientalis, Freer Gallery of Art.

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