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The Buddhist deity Simhavaktra Dakini

Simhavaktra Dakini, the ferocious lion-faced guardian of Vajrayana Buddhism, is a female “sky-walker” who guides human beings along the right path. This powerful spirit can remove physical hindrances and spiritual obstacles such as pride and ego. When she is portrayed alone, like here, she dances gracefully; her right leg is raised and bent, and her left leg would usually be planted on a prostrate demonic figure, which in this case is missing. Originally she would have held a chopper (a curved, chopping knife) in her right hand and a bowl made from a human skull in her left. These are also missing. She is naked except for jewelry (originally inset with semiprecious stones), a tiger skin is wrapped around her waist, and human skin is knotted around her shoulders.

Together with Makaravaktra Dakini (a crocodile-headed dakini), Simhavaktra attends Penden Lhamo, the only female goddess among the Eight Guardians of the Dharma who protect the teachings of the Buddha. She is a special inner protectress of various lineages including the Gelukpa Order and its two leaders, the Dalai and Panchen Lamas. 

The size and quality of this piece indicate it was an imperial object made for the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) court in China. Learn more on the Asian Art Museum's education website.

Created by Asian Art Museum.

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  • mr pants teal style avatar for user Anthony Natoli
    How is the statue held up? It balances on one foot, so does the video conveniently hide a brace or other supports on the other side or lower (viewer's) left? At , the video shows the statue as nearly life-size, so the statue must be heavy, but I don't see any side or lower brace or support.
    (6 votes)
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  • mr pink red style avatar for user doctor_luvtub
    Is there a reason the scrolls inside this piece would not be removed and examined?
    (1 vote)
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    • leaf orange style avatar for user Jake Suzuki
      They could be inaccessible without damage being done to either the scrolls, or the statue itself. The scrolls could also be rather fragile. Then if you add in the fact that the scrolls are what gives the statue its spiritual heft, and thus it's cultural capital, then the benefits of leaving the scrolls in situ could well outstrip intellectual curiosity. Perhaps in the future if the statue gets a full restoration they'll be checked out.
      (3 votes)
  • mr pants teal style avatar for user Anthony Natoli
    What is the statue made of? Just lacquer and semi-precious stones, as indicated in the credits at ? Is it only lacquer, or lacquer over some other material? At , the video shows the statue as nearly life-size, so the statue must be heavy. Any information about how heavy it is?
    (2 votes)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user R3hall
    At the beginning, the refer to her as a "skywalker." Could this have been an ispiration to George Lucas when he coined the name "Luke Skywalker?" After all, Lucas embraces many of the far Eastern philosophies that helped him develop the concept of the Jedi.
    (1 vote)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Demian Choi
      A dakini is a type of witch or vampire. Even though they have Tantric rites of kama mudra and eating human flesh along with other rites, they are to lead to enlightenment and destruction of obstacles. The word "skywalker" is more of a psychological trance like state. Though there stories of dakinis flying like Yeshe Tsogyal.
      (1 vote)

Video transcript

this is Simba Vatra Dakini Simba vatra means lion faced or lion-headed and a Dakini is a Skywalker she's an inhabitant of the realm of the sky in the mind though this figure comes from 18th century China it is rendered in Tibetan style reflecting cross cultural and religious influences to fully appreciate the sculptures stunning details it helps to understand a bit about Tibetan Buddhism jeff durham assistant curator of himalayan art in tibetan buddhism there are two forces that lead towards enlightenment and they must be in proper balance one is wisdom or knowledge of reality and the other is compassion and one of the things that impresses me most about this object is that balance of compassion and ferocity is reflected in the posture that the docking he takes balance perfectly on her left leg while she raises her right arm towards her flaming hair it can look frightening it can look ferocious but we have to remember what that ferociousness is directed towards in the Tibetan tradition and these are obstacles to enlightenment such as lust anger ignorance this kind of thing every aspect of the statute contains deep meaning for example the intricate garment that she wears the garment is actually the flayed skin of a human being this is a symbolic device that indicates the stripping away of the veil of illusion from perception in other words she has transcended the limitations of the human condition she also wears bracelets armlets anklets and a necklace representing the five different elements and the five Buddha's taken together they symbolize both the cardinal directions of the cosmos for directions plus central axis and the components of ordinary human psychology lust hatred delusion pride and jealousy and if you'll look right on Simba viktoras forehead you'll see a wonderful gleaming third eye that indicates that she is able to see past the illusions of lost hatred and delusion usually encountered in Division this Dakini was considered more than an artistic representation one of the most important things to understand about Tibetan Buddhist sculptures is that we're not looking just at an art object here we're also looking at what the Tibetan Buddhists understand as a presence if you look on the back of simulacra da kini you'll see that there is a cavity it has been possible for our conservators at the museum to insert a small camera we've been able to look inside sim Nevarez flaming head and up there is what differentiates this object from any other sculpture this is a consecration deposit and it consists most probably of Scrolls of sutras that have been inserted into her head this sort of procedure in combination with a specific ritual apparatus transforms simba vatra from a representation into a living image you