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In Vajrayana Buddhism, a dharmapāla (Tibetan drag-gshed) is a type of wrathful deity. The name means "defender of the Dharma" in Sanskrit, and the dharmapalas are also known as the Defenders of the Law or the Protectors of the Law in English.

Dharmapalas are essentially Hindu gods or Devas, generally believed to be introduced into Tibetan Buddhism by Padmasambhava in the 8th century. In Buddhist iconography, they are invariably depicted as fearsome beings with many heads, hands or feet; blue, black or red skin; and a fierce expression with protruding fangs. Though dharmapalas have a terrifying appearance, they are all bodhisattvas - embodiments of compassion that act in an extremely wrathful way for the sake of sentient beings.

In Tibet, the Eight Dharmapalas are:

In Japan, the dharmapala Yamantaka (Daiitoku) is classified as a Wisdom King. Some other dharmapalas, notably Mahakala (Daikoku), belong to the fourth hierarchy of deities (tenbu).

Related deities

In Tibetan Buddhism, there are two other classes of Defenders known as lokapala and ksetrapala. There is also a group of wrathful deities known as heruka, which are very similar in appearance, but are not bodhisattvas.


  • Wikipedia (2005). Dharmapala. Retrieved March 12, 2005.