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Mahakala comes from the Sanskrit maha (great) and Kala (death or time) which translates that he is a deity beyond time. In Tibet, he is also called the Nagpo Chenpo, or the Great Black One, and is revered as guardian and protector. He is affiliated with the Hindu god Shiva. According to tradition, he dwells in the cremation grounds. In this thangka, he is depicted with two arms and two legs. On his sides is a vulture and a lion, colored black to symbolize darkness or death. Mahakala is surrounded by bright flames, representing the fire of dissolution.
As in this piece Thangka Painting Two Armed Mahakala, he is depicted with a wrathful and fierce expression that signals his might and power to overcome negativity along the path of enlightenment. His skin is blue that represents the eternal Dharmakaya. He sports an aflame beard and eyebrows to signal his transformative power to turn the five negativities into five pearls of wisdom. These negative afflictions are represented by the five skulls on his crown (attachment, aversion, ignorance, pride, and jealousy). Mahakala wears a necklace adorned with human heads. His three eyes represent the power to see in the past, present, and future and it can also stand for the three bodies of the Buddha. In his left hand is a skull cup representing the power to crush worldly attachment while the other hand is a blade with a Vajra handle which he could cut off ignorance. He stands on a lotus throne (on a corpse) with a sun disk (signify his illumination and enlightenment). On his waist is a tiger skin that represents purification while the snakeskin is his sign of purification from hate. He can also be seen trampling a being, not because of terrorizing them but as a sign that his power could go at lengths that can subdue the world if it means destroying obstacles to enlightenment. At the bottom are a black figure and a set of offerings to symbolize patrons of the deity.