Tibet, 15th century
Rubin Museum of Art
Rahula, the Tibetan protector deity, is based on the Indian deity Rahula, an ancient god, a demigod of the cosmos, related to the eclipse of the sun, moon, and other planets. In the ancient tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, Rahula became popular as a protector of the “revealed treasure” teachings. In Buddhist depictions he is portrayed with the lower body of a coiled serpent spirit and an upper body with four arms and nine heads, adorned with a thousand eyes. In the middle of the stomach is one large, wrathful face. The face in the stomach is actually the face and head of Rahula. The nine stacked heads depicted above are the nine planets that Rahula has eclipsed—or, rather literally, swallowed—and they now symbolically appear on top of his own face and insatiable mouth. At the crown of the stack of heads is the head of a black raven.
Jeff Watt, director and curator, Himalayan Art Resources