Seeing the Sacred in Samsara
Virūpa was a monk named Dharmapāla who devoted himself to monastic study during the day and tantric practice at night. When Virūpa became frustrated at his lack of success, the goddess Nairātmyā appeared to him and offered instructions to speed his progress along the path. When he began to openly transgress his vows—drinking wine and eating pigeons (that he later brought back to life)—he was expelled from the monastery and called Virūpa (“Ugly”). Many stories are told about him, including how he walked on water and parted the Ganges. In the most famous story, in order to continue drinking in a tavern, he stopped the sun from setting.
Description of the Painting
Virūpa sits on an orange mat dressed only in a pale blue dhoti. There is a bowl of fruit at his feet and vessels to his right and left. As indicated in the Painting Guide, he wears flowers in his hair, but that is not his only ornamentation. He wears jeweled earrings as well as bracelets, armlets, anklets, and sashes across his chest, all made of bone. A red and gold meditation belt is stretched over his left shoulder and right knee. In his left hand he holds a skull cup filled with liquid while a woman, perhaps the barmaid, offers another skull cup. Also at Virūpa’s feet, a layman kneels in the gesture of supplication. Perhaps this is the king, asking Virūpa to allow the sun, shining brightly above his head, to set. Other elements of the background evoke other stories about Virūpa. To the left, the sandy bottom of the Ganges lies dry between the parted waters. At the bottom, pigeons perch on the roof of a monastery, perhaps an allusion to the birds he famously ate and then brought back to life when he was a monk.
From the Painting Guide
He is like he is famously depicted. Regarding his different features, he has no ornaments apart from just a garland of flowers on the top of his shorn hair. With his right hand he makes a threatening gesture and in his left hand holds a horn filled with beer.