15th century, Tibet
Size: 16 1/4 in. x 12 1/2 in. x 5 3/4 in. (41.28 cm x 31.75 cm x 14.61 cm)
Museum purchase with funds provided by the Elsie S. Kimberly Bequest, 1968:17
In the Tibetan Buddhist context, Hayagriva is one of eight major bodhisattvas who take on the wrathful form of a guardian of sacred knowledge. Through rituals and prayer, Buddhists can invoke Hayagriva and use his power to help them conquer obstacles to enlightenment.
The name Hayagriva means "He who has the Neck of a Horse;" accordingly, he has three diminutive horses' necks and heads emerging from his hair. His mouth is open, because it is through sound -- his terrifying neigh -- that Hayagriva dispels demons and afflictions. Under his feet he tramples either snakes or personifications of the causes of mental suffering. The garland of multi-colored severed heads (symbolizing the eradication of one's deluded sense of self) and inset jewels are typical of sculptures associated with the Indian tantric tradition.