Yalli & Mukha

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Ziba (or, Zeeba, Zipak) origins are recorded in the Skandha Purana.  Once Lord Shiva created a demon called Jalandhara from the blaze of his third eye.  The demon soon coveted the attentions of Parvati, the Great God's consort . He persuaded Rahu to approach her for him.

When Shiva found out, he again caused his 3rd eye to blaze thus creating Ziba, whose role was to devour Rahu.

When Rahu begged Shiva for mercy, the God called off Ziba.  But Ziba, now with no prey to feed upon, began to devour his own body until only his head and hands were left.  (We can see his hands pointing to his "non-body.")  He was then appointed Shiva's door-keeper.

The face and hands of Ziba remind us of the consequences of  desire and hunger, but now he is also the guardian of practitioners.


Ziba is a form of Yalli (corruption of Skt. vyala, fierce monster).  These are architectural or decorative animal-mask motifs.  They feature mainly as stone carvings like the ones at the famous Hindu temples of Madurai in Tamil Nadu, South India.  

They usually have the stylized body of a lion and the head of some other beast, most often an elephant (gaja-vyala.)  Other common examples are: the lion-headed (simha-vyala,) horse- (ashva-vyala,) human- (nir-vyala) and the dog-headed (shvana-vyala) ones.  They are related to the hippogryphs and sphinxes of Egypt and Mesopotamia, and symbolize the world-emperor (Skt. chakravartin,)  whose strength derives from divine power.

Another monstrous creature is the Shabara, a hybrid of a lion, horse and ram.)

Their counterparts in European design are some of the fantastic animals used as mediaeval heraldic devices, eg. the griffon.


Mukha means face or mask or even maw.  A mukha is an architectural or decorative motif that is placed above openings as a form of protection.  It is also known as makara vakstra, and is often the central feature in the elaborate cloth door hanging known as a toran.   A particular type is known as the Face of Glory or Kirtimukha.   It is a demonic mask of great ferocity with protruding eyeballs, stout horns, and a gaping maw with prominent fangs or canine teeth.  Kirtimukhas often appear above gates, dormer windows,  archways and so on. They often have garlands or festoons issuing from the mouth.  

It is also referred to as Simha-mukha (lion-mask) in literature, and the stylized lion's face can be traced to the Persian lion-faces which appear for the first time in India on Mauryan (eg. Ashoka) pillar capitals. It is referred to as Grasamukha in western India, Rahumukha in eastern India, and as Kala in the Southeast Asian countries.  

It may be related to the Mask of Medusa as it was used in Greek and Roman architecture. Gorgon heads with their terrific faces were carved on gates and walls of forts, palaces, and temples to ward off enemies and other dangers.  Similar decorative devices were also used by the Scythians, the Chinese, and appear all over the world.  In Britain, for example, there is the Green Man mask hiding in corners of Gothic cathedrals.

The Kirtimukha is generally considered symbolic of the destructive power of Shiva Mahabhairav  (very wrathful) -- destroyer of demons.  It is seen by Hindus as symbolic of the glory of divine power which generates creation but is also the source of destruction.  For Buddhists it is a symbol of Impermanence --  the face of the demon grasping the Wheel of Samsara.  However, alone, it is an auspicious mark of the activity of Dharma Protection.

Some see in the Kirtimukha, the eclipse demon Rahu who had no body according to Indian mythology.  Eclipses are almost never considered good omens and often are interpreted as portents of disaster.  Considering the ancient homeopathic principle that we can treat "like with like" then we can understand why Kirtimukhas are believed to ward off evil, especially such forces of destruction as fire and earthquake.  

V. S. Agrawala says that kirti denotes an excavated chamber, and so Kirtimukha signifies its fašade. ~ Rajaram Hegde on-line. Not available, Feb. 2005.  

Kirtimukha often appears as a subtle motif in the embroideries, and traditional Tibetan Buddhist hangings and banners that decorate shrine rooms and temples.  For some, they still serve in a magical capacity to ward off evil, for others they are only an auspicious motif.  Most people do not even realize the mask is there. 


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