Within the Tibetan Buddhist religion, there are many different icons that followers look towards in regards to myths and beliefs. Appearing in an aggressive and rather scary form, the wrathful deities have existed within this belief system for many centuries. Although these visions are revolting and unappealing in appearance, they are not meant to represent any evil or demon-like entities.
The purpose of these wrathful deities is to stand for all of the energy needed to eradicate evil. Don’t let the name fool you; these are peaceful gods. The name of the wrathful deities can be traced back to Sanskrit writings, where they are referred to as dharmapalas, which stands for “defender of the dharma.” In Tibetan text, they are called drag-gshed, which means “cruel, wrathful hangman.”
When speaking of wrathful deities, there is a group of eight dharampalas, which are significant to the religion. They defend Budhism and are categorized as Bodhisattva divinities, who are concerned with crushing any and all demons or conspirators against the Buddhist religion. The group of eight is often called the “Eight Terrible Ones.” The individual deities are:
1) Yamantaka, which means “Conqueror of Yama, or Death” in Sanskrit, as well as Gshin-rje-gshed in the Tibetan language.
2) Lha-mo, which means Goddess in Tibetan, as well as Sri-devi or Kala-devi in Sanskrit. This is the only wrathful deity that possesses feminine qualities. She is seen as a formidable goddess associated with the city of Lhasa.
3) Kubera (alson known as Vaisravana), which also translates into Rnam-thos-sras in Tibetan, as well as Sanskrit. This is the god connected to wealth and is the only wrathful deity that is not seen in an angry form.
4) Mahakala, which stands for “Great Black One” in Sanskrit, as well as Mgon-po in Tebetan.
5) Hayagriva, which stands for “Horse Neck” in Sanskrit, as well as Rta-mgrin in Tibetan.
6) Beg-tse, whose name is also translated as “Hidden Sheet of Mail” in Tibetan.
7) Yama is the god of death and is often portrayed as one who is clutching the Tibetan wheel of life. This god’s name is also presented as Gshin-rje within the Tibetan and Sanskrit language.
8) Tshangs-pa Dkar-po, which means “White Brahma” in Tibetan, as well as Sita-Brahma within the Sanskrit language.
So, how far back can these wrathful deities be traced? Records reveal that followers of the Buddhist religion were worshipping these deities as far back as the 8th century. It is said that a magician-slash-saint by the name of Padmasambhava was responsible of conquering the malevolent deities throughout Tibet and made them hold an oath towards protecting Buddhists and the Buddhist belief system. There are also traces of the wrathful deities within Hinduism.
Serving as protection against evil, images of the wrathful deities can be found within many households, as well as inside Tibetan Buddhist temples. They provide a daily reminder to resist evil influences. There are also many sculptures created to depict the wrathful deities, which can be used to assist various ceremonies. Many use these images to focus on the practice of Buddhist devotion and worship.