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The Iconography of Harihari hari vahan Lokeshvara

Min Bahadur Shakya


Among the many forms of Avalokiteshvara the composite image of Hariharihari

vahan Lokeshvara is unique and is basically of Nepalese origin.In some instance the
name of this deity is ascribed four 'hari' according to Pandit Amoghvajra.But
Sadhanamala provides two sadhanas: Nos.33 and 34.In both sadhanas only triple 'hari' is
mentioned. The argument of Pandit Amoghvajra is that the composite image contains
four elements which refers to the name 'hari' as a name of snake,a lion, a worshipper o
votary of vishnu i.e Garuda. Henc the fourfold Hari signifies a snake, a lion, a Garuda
and the Vishnu.This composite image ,fourfold harivahan Lokeshvara is found only at
Kanak caitya Mahavihara or Janabahal where there are 108 forms of colour illustrations
of Lokeshvaras drawn by famous artist Siddhimuni Shakya
In stone or bronze images found in the Kathmandu valley the snake is lacking in
most cases. There are two stone sculptures of HHHV in Okubahal, and other two stone
sculptures are found in Swayambhu Caitya Park and Svayambhu museum.One bronze
image of HHHV is installed in Hiranyavarna Mahavihara of Patan. It is believed that
main image of of Changu Narayan temple is that of HHHV. But I have never seen
it.Local people say that the priest always covers the image of Lokeshvara with flowers
and can be seen only the image of Narayana on Garuda throne.

Now let us discuss what Sadhanamala has to say concerning iconographic features
of this deity:

The Sadhana no 33 describes thus:

"purvokta vidhanena sunyata bhavana antaram sita Hrih kara nispannam
hariharihari vahanodbhavam harharihari bhagvantam aryavalokiteshvaram sarvanga
suklam jatamukutinam santavesam, daksinakarena bhagavanmtam tathagatam
saksinam kurvantam, dvitiyenam aksamala/varada dharinam, tritiyenam dhukuhakam
lokam upadeshayantam, vamena danda dharam, dvitiyena krsnajinadharam, tritiyena
kamandaludharam, simhagarudavisnu skandha sansthitam atmana dhyatva Om hrih
eti mantram japet."
As described earlier after meditating on the emptiness, one should visualize oneself as
Lord Avalokiteshvara in the form of HHHV originating from white seed syllable Hrih,
white in all limbs with ten crown of matted hair in graceful robes.

He cited the Lord Tathagata as witness ( gesture) with one of his right hands, carries the
rosary in the second, and teaches deluded beings with the third.
He carries the staff in one of his left hands, holds Krishnajina in the second and the
kamandala in the third. He sits on the shoulder of Vishnu who in turn sits on Garuda.
Garuda in turn sits on the lion.

In the same text it is said that those who meditates on this form of Lokeshvara will have
power to benefit all sentient beings, he will be liked by all , he will have great wisdom, he
wll be healthy, wealthy and free from disaster. He will have power to neutralize poisons

III.Legends on the origin of the deity.

We have stated earlier that this form of avalokiteshvara is basically of Nepalese origin. It
is based on Svayambhu Purana text.A summary of the story can be cited thus:

When great bodhisattva Manjusri drained the laked called Nagadaha now Kathmandu
Valley all the Nagarajas especially Taksaka was very angry. Bodhisattva samantabhadra
descended from Sukhavati heaven according to the instructions of Avalokiteshvara.He
pacified them all except the Taksaka Naga. He killed many people and animals of
Kathmandu valley. Due to this act of violence he was afflicted with leprosy. He repented
his actions and began to pray Arya Avalokiteshvara in order to eliminate his sufferings.
due to strong devotion and confession to Lord avalokiteshvara he was cured of his
On the day while he was leisurely basking in nearby river, a hungry Garuda saw
him there.He alighted down and tried to devour Taksaka. Since Taksaka was the king of
Nagas, he had a great strength. They began to engage in a ferrocious battle, he soon
began to drag Garuda into river and intended to kill him. Garuda, finding himself about to
be killed, invoked his protector Vishnu who came there immediately to save him. As
Vishnu was about to cut off the head of the Taksaka with his Sudarshana Cakra i.e
whirling disc, Taksaka realizing his upcoming defeat, prayed for Avalokiteshvara for his
protection.Avalokiteshvara arrived there instantly flying over his lion vehicle. Vishnu was
ashamed to find Avalokiteshvara, the lord of compassion in front of him and instantly
bowed before him throwing awaying his whirling disc and paid homage.
Thereafter Taksaka and Garuda too retreated from the battle and joined to the
worship of Avalokiteshvara. After that Vishnu offered himself to Avalokiteshvara to be
his vehicle. In the mean time, the lion also offered himself to be the vehicle of Garuda in
turn. although Nagaraja is not mentioned in the Sadhanamala.

IV.Some Misconceptions of Hindus

Concerning this composite image of the deity some Indian scholars speculated that that
Buddhist dominated Hindu deities.Such iconographic features can be found in numerous
cases especially Tantric Buddhist iconology. Benoytosh Bhattacharya writes in the
introduction of the book "Nispannayogavali"

" Except probably Ganesh and Sarasvati in some isolated sadhanas, no Hindu
deity was ever given the pricipal place in the mandala, and whenever Hindu
deities were accepted they received either a subordinate position or a
humiliating role."[p.20]

He further remarks that the Buddhists showed their animosity against the Hindu gods
such as Brahma, Vishnu, Siva and Indra who were reckoned as four Maras and several
Buddhist deities can be seen trampling them under their feet.The severed head of Brahma
is carried by a number of Buddhist deities especially Cakrasamvara.
Bhattacharya emotionally remarks that it is a matter of satisfaction however, that the
Hindus never disgraced any gods belonging to the alien faith in this manner. On the
contrary, they placed Buddha amongst the ten Avataras of Vishnu. (Nispannayogavali,
p.21).According to him, it was Buddhists who humiliated the Hindu gods and goddesses.

V.Refutation of Misconception

Concerning Bhattacharya's argument on placement of Buddha amongst ten Avataras of

Vishnu they are not expressing their respect to Buddha but humiliated. The concept of
Ten avataras of Vishnu is one of the most humiliating piece of literature for Buddhists. In
ninth Avatara Lord Buddha was depicted as the embodiment of evils as found in the
personality of Vishnu.
It should be noted that he judged and presented his view based on external iconographic
features only. Bhattacharya neglected the features of iconology in their inner and secret
meaning of Buddhist tradition especially Vajrayana in particular of which he is well
aware of.

In Vajrayana, the icons are the physical manifestation of the enightened qualities. In the
enlightened state of Cakrasamvara, the head of Brahma which stand for desire for
creation ( craving) or attachment to the phenomenal world is severed. It never meant that
the deity Cakrasamvara severed the head of Brahma. People misunderstand this inner
meaning and thinks that the Hindu gods are humiliated.

Concerning humiliation, Hindu gods are better treated in Buddhist liturature than in
Hindu sacred scriptures.
How Hindu gods are treated in sacred Puranas of Hindus is illustrated in the following
lines. For instance,
1. Indra, the king of gods is the one who raped Ahilya, the consort of the sage
Gautami as described in the Sacred Ramayana.In numerous instances he is described as
sensual god for which he has often been an object of scolding from Narada, the sage and
Three Great Gods as well.
2. As for Brahma he is depicted as immoral god who raped his own daughter.
3. Similarly, the God Shiva is no exception. He is well known for his eccentric and
folly behavior.How was he worshipped in the form of phallus is itself a most humiliating
story in Svasthani vrata katha of Hindu literature.It is funny that Hindus liked this story
and feel no shame.The story of Ardhanarishvara is equally funny and it obviously depicts
the sensual nature of Mahadeva.
4. Vishnu again is popular for his tricky talents rather than the compassionate one.
It is said that once Lord Vishnu, due to fear of Asura Kalayavan hid under the sleeping
chamber of Mucukunda, the Asura. As a result two Asuras fought themselves until both
of them died. Many more examples can be cited from numerous saced scriptures of
Hindus.In one instance, he even raped to the consort of Jalandhara, the Asura King in
disguise of Jalandhara.

On the otherhand these deities are better treated in Buddhist literature.Buddhists

have no motivation to humiliate Hindu gods as they did themselves according to
numerous Purana literature.Some examples can be cited:

1. When Buddha attained Perfect enlightenment under Bodhi Tree. He meditated for
49 days without a food. Thinking that the sentient beings of this world immersed
in the fire of lust, hatred, and ignorance cannot grasp his profound teaching thus
he was for the time being reluctant or hesitating to turn the wheel of dharma. In
the mean time due to clairvoyant power of Sikhi brahma and Indra, out of
compassion for sentient beings, requested Lord Buddha to turn the wheel of
dharma.Consequently, Buddha Shakyamuni agreed and turned the wheel of
dharma at Sarnath. For this, Buddhists are ever grateful to Sikhi Brahma and
2. In Guranakarandavyuha Sutra, it is stated that Lord Avalokiteshvara emanated
Vishnu from his heart,Mahadeva from forehead, Brahma from his shoulders and
so forth. Lord Avalokiteshvara even predicted Mahadeva that he would be a
Buddha called Bhasmeshvara in future.
3. Indra is a popular deity in Buddhist literature. In prajnaparamita scripture he is
frequently mentioned as interlocuter concerning perfection of Wisdom. It seems
that Indra is a Bodhisattva versed in perfection of wisdom doctrine.
From above citations it can be proved that Bhatacharya's hypothesis is mistaken and
was a just an emotional statement.


In Kathmandu Valley too, the followers of brahmanical faith followed the same
mistaken view as Bhattacharya's. Due to this mistaken view they remained isolated
from the contact of sacred buddhist scriptures .Although most educated people of the
world both East and West have come to understand the importance of Buddha's
teachings for peace, humanity and deveopment so called elite Brahmanical Pandits
do not seemed to have understood its importance and on the contrary,even prohibited
to study Buddhist scriptures, for their followers. How sad !

Due to this biased and mistaken views on the nature of Buddha dharma, even in these
modern days Buddhism could not flourish in Kathmandu valley among non-Newars
especially among Brhamans and Ksetris.

We, Buddhists can just wait until they realize its importance for the betterment of
humanity and peace.