The Wrathful Deities of Bhutan

by Zachary Collier

The wrathful deities are form that Buddhas or Bodhisattvas (gods) may take to scare off demons, subdue demons, or remind people to be good. They most often stand in the warrior pose (Pratyalidhasana), are surrounded by flames, have razor sharp fangs and a protruding belly. A third eye in the center of their forehead signifies insight and wisdom. The five skull crown represents changing the five poisons to the five wisdoms.

Vajrakilaya is an extreme wrathful form

Vajrakilaya is an extreme wrathful form

Chana Dojre

Chana Dorje (also known as Vajrapani) is one of the 8 "important" Bodhisattvas and is the god of power and energy, rain and thunder, and snakes. Chana Dorje also protects people from the Naga, which are beings found in lakes and rivers and make people sick.

Chana Dorje is the bodhisattva of power

Chana Dorje is recognizable by his blue color, snake necklace, five skull crown, and tiger skirt. He holds the dorje (vajra or "diamond thunderbolt") high with his right hand in the tarjani mundra, a threatening gesture signifying that he's ready to hurl a thunderbolt from the dorje. He is commonly worshipped and depicted along with the Bodhisattvas of compassion and wisdom as part of the Rig Sum Gompo trinity.

Dorje Drolo

Dorje Drolo is one of the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche. This is the wrathful form he took while riding his flying tigress to Taktsang (Tiger's Nest) to meditate in it's caves.

Dorje Drolo is a wrathful form of Guru Rinpoche

Dorje Drolo is a wrathful form of Guru Rinpoche

He is recognizable by his red color, dorje in his right hand and Phurba (ceremonial dagger) in his left hand, and he is standing on a tiger. He does not adorn the five skull crown like other wrathful deities. He does, however, wear a sash of human skulls around his body.


Mahakala is one of the protectors of Bhutan as he was the protective deity of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the unifier of Bhutan. The Bhutanese pray to him to protect land and country and for health.



He takes on many forms, and is often portrayed with many arms. He is depicted with a dark blue or dark grey color ("dark as a water laden cloud"). He carries a skull cup and the Vajra chopper, a weapon that is half dorje and half blade used to cut through ego and other negativities. He also wears a garland of fresh demon heads and poisonous snakes around his body.

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Zachary Collier

As owner of Northwest Rafting Company, Zach Collier combines international guiding experience in places like Siberia, Bhutan, and Chile with a natural business acumen for systems and logistics. Whether he’s on big water or in the back office, Zach strives to ensure NWRC offers exceptional whitewater and wilderness experiences for guests and guides alike.

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