Simhamukha is a wrathful goddess in Vajrayana Buddhism, whose name means “lion-faced.” Her Tibetan name Senge Dongma has the same meaning. She is considered a dakini who has attained the perfect state of Buddha. Although Simhamukha has the potential to manifest all enlightened activities, she is associated primarily with destructive or wrathful forces. The lion-faced dakini embodies the transformation of anger into enlightened awareness, as well as the dispelling of negative energy, which can manifest as demons or evil spirits. She is also called “wisdom dakini” (Tib. yeshe khandroma) and “great, victorious mother” (gyalwa yumchen).
With her lion’s face and female body, Simhamukha is one of the most intriguing goddesses in the Tantric Buddhism. Such images are found not only in the Buddhist tradition. A striking example is the Egyptian goddess Sehmet, who is also associated with the destructive power. In Hinduism, the combination of a lion and a human image was associated with the destructive goddess Kali. Her husband is Shiva or Narasimha, a Hindu deity with human body and lion’s head.
Female lion-faced deities (sengemo) are found in the retinue of Nairatmya, Kurukulla, Palden Lhamo, and Simhamukha herself. They are defined as supernatural beings or earthly dakinis (jigten khandroma), but they do not have the status of Buddha. Their function is protective and they are usually found on the thresholds of temples to mark the transition to the sacred space. In contrast, Simhamukha personifies the supreme realization of the spiritual path and the nature of fully enlightened beings.
Above all, she symbolizes the transformation of the negative emotion of anger into the mirror-like wisdom (melong tabü yeshe). Because her consciousness is purified and enlightened, the anger she manifests is also purified and transcendental. It is perceived as a source of energy of great magnitude, sufficient to remove mental, emotional and mental obstacles on the path to enlightenment. Her lion’s face is a symbol of the intensity of these emotions and the strength needed to control them.
Most often, her lion’s face is depicted white, while her body is dark blue. In Buddhist iconography, white color is associated with ignorance and its transformation into dharmadhatu wisdom (chokyi chying kyi yeshe) – the natural state of all things and blue color is connected with anger and its transformation into mirror-like wisdom. In rare cases, Simhamukha is found with a dark blue head and body. There is also a rare red form associated with magnetizing enlightened activities, yellow – with wealth and black – with destruction. In all these images she is in a dancing pose, with the features of dakinis. The curved knife in her left is cutting hearts, which symbolizes the eliminating of dualistic conceptions. The blood in the kapala, which she holds in her right hand, symbolizes the life force of the harmful beings and the nectar of the great bliss (dechen). She also holds a scepter in her left hand, which symbolizes her spiritual consort. Her body is surrounded by the flames of primordial wisdom that burn karmic stains.
In some images, Simhamukha is surrounded by two smaller wrathful figures with tiger’s face and bear’s face, which are part of her retinue. In other compositions, four lion-faced dakinis can be seen around her figure. They are connected with the five families of Buddha and have their names: Buddha Simhamukha, white in color, which has healing power; Ratna Simhamukha, yellow in color, which increases wealth; Padma Simhamukha, red in color, which magnetizes, and Karma Simhamukha, green in color, which destroys negative forces. The five figures are standing on the hexagram dharmodaya (chojung) – “the source of reality”, associated with a continuous source of femininity and with the most esoteric aspects of Tantric Buddhism.