Fierce deities are the wrathful forms of enlightened Buddhas, Bodhisattvas or Devas. It is believed that with their powers they are able to destroy the obstacles to enlightenment. Therefore, they are also known as Krodha-Vighnantaka, or "fierce destroyers of obstacles".
The fierce or wrathful deities first appeared in India during the late 6th century. The source of these deities was the Yaksha imagery and henceforth, it became a central feature of Indian Tantric Buddhism by the late 10th or early 11th century.
Fierce deities are a notable feature of the iconography of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. In non-Tantric traditions of Mahayana Buddhism, these deities act as guardians against demons and foster the sentients to listen to the teachings of the Buddhas.
In Vajrayana Buddhism, the deities are considered to be fierce and terrifying forms of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. It is also believed that enlightened beings take on these forms in order to protect and help confused sentient beings. In this tradition, the deities also represent energy and power that is needed in order to transform negative energies into wisdom and compassion.
Fierce deities as depicted in Buddhist arts
Fierce deities are depicted as terrifying, demonic looking beings in Buddhist arts. The deities are adorned with humans skulls and other ornaments associated with the charnel ground. These deities are also often depicted with sexually suggestive attributes.
As Rob Linrothe mentions, the sensual and fierce imagery represents Poison as its own antidote, harnessed obstacles as the liberating force and explains that these are the metaphors for the internal yogic processes to gain enlightenment.
Some of the Fierce Deities
Yidams have various forms- being peaceful, fierce and semi-fierce, having both fierce and peaceful aspects. Fierce deities can be divided into male and female categories. The male category consists of Herukas who adopt fierce forms to express their detachment from the world of ignorance. Other deities that include in this category are Yamantaka, Cakrasamvara, Mahkla, or Vajrakilaya. The female category includes Dakinis. Dakinis is depicted in Buddhist arts as independent deities and also sometimes portrayed along with Heruka. The most common dakinis known are Vajrayogini and Vajravarahi.
In Indo-Tibetan Vajrayana traditions, Yidams are divine forms of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. In this tradition, the tantric practitioner who wished to gain personal transformation initiates the mandala of a particular chosen deity or Ia-devat. He then practices complex meditations/sadhanas on the deity with the objective of gaining personal transformation. This Deity Yoga practice is central to tantric forms of Buddhism such as Tibetan Buddhism.
As believed in East Asian Buddhism, Wisdom Kings or Vidyaraja as in Sanskrit are the divine manifestations of the Buddhas. These deities act as protectors, messengers and also the defenders of the Dharma. In East Asian Vajrayana and Chinese Esoteric Buddhism, the five wisdom kings are believed to be the manifestation of the Five Tathagatas.
In Buddhist arts, Wisdom Kings are depicted with blue skin with multiple arms. Sometimes they are depicted having many faces and even with many legs. They often hold weapons in their hands. They are portrayed having adorned with skulls, snakes or animal skins and wreathed in flames.
The Protectors are also called as Dharmapala who are powerful beings. They protect the Buddhist religion and community from inner and outer threats and obstacles to their practice. The Protectors may include Garuda, Naga, Yaksha, Gandharva, or Asura. The Protectors also include the Lokapalas or Four Heavenly Kings and Ksetrapalas or Protectors of the region.
The Eight Dharmapalas are understood as to be the defenders of Buddhism. They are believed to be the supernatural beings who are supposed to wage war without any mercy against the demons and enemies of Buddhism.
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