print this page

Biographies: The Mahasiddha Dombi-Heruka

The Mahasiddha Dombi-HerukaSri Dombi-Heruka was originally an Indian King who, according to legend, deserted his throne so as to live with an outcaste entertainer's (Dombi) daughter.

Historical research has shown that this king was the tenth century king Cakravarman, who ruled in Kashmir. In the year 936 A D. King Cakravarman came to power due to the military support of a group of feudal barons called the Damari, but was to hold the throne no longer than a year.

His fall came when—as in the legend of Dombi-Heruks—a "Dom" entertainer named Ranga and his two dancing daughters, Hamsi and Nagalata, appeared at court and began to win his favour. In that age, in India, Dom's were outcaste gypsy minstrels, traveling entertainers, and most frequently, workers in the cremation grounds employed to burn the dead. Since their close association with death and the fact that they handled corpses was horrifying to ordinary people, they were generally shunned by society. But it is said that in this case, the Dom entertainer's daughter Hamsi was fair complexioned, with classical features, and for a man to merely to glance at her was to fall in love. And so it was, enchanted by the Dom-girl's feminine charms, the King could not resist. He elevated both daughters to the status of royal consorts, while giving their father a significant place at court.

All might have been okay, and the King's eccentricity overlooked, if things had gone no further. But rapidly due to the new position held by the girl's father, numbers of other "outcaste" relatives began rising to high positions in the government. The result was a revolt by the King's earlier supporters, the high caste Damari, and an attempt upon his life. He fled the court with his wives, entered the forest, and then with time became a spiritual seeker—a Yogi.

King Cakravarman was initiated by the elder Master Virupa into the mandala of the Sri Hevajra. Henceforth he would be known as Dombi-Heruka. Through the practice of the Hevajra-sadhana he experienced the divine reality and attained self-realization.

Clockwise from top left: Saraha, Dombi-Heruka, VirupaIt is said in the legend of Dombi-Heruka that during the king's absence the kingdom came to be misgoverned and fell into anarchy. A council of Brahmin's thus agreed to recall the old king. Consequently a delegation was sent to the forest where he was living in idyllic solitude with his two Dom-wives. When the messengers found the king's hermitage, they saw the king sitting under a tree with Hamsi, while Nagalata walked across some delicate lotus leaves gently resting on the water's surface, to the middle of a pond, where she drew cool water before returning to offer it to her husband. The messengers were amazed by this show of yogic power and even more eager to have their king return. According to this legend the king did return to the capital (there is no historical record to support this), although not to rule.

When he came out of the forest, it is said that Dombi-Heruka could be seen together with beautiful Hamsi, riding upon the back of a ferocious pregnant tigress. The latter, we are told, was really Hamsi's sister Nagalata, magically transformed. The king is depicted naked, his matted hair tied up like the god Siva's in a topknot on his head, ornamented with deadly poisonous cobras around his neck and waist, and brandishing one of the snakes as a whip. Overcome with fear and awe, the ministers and people begged their exiled lord to take up the reigns of government again.

Asked to be king, Dombi-Heruka told the people he would not do so. "I have lost caste," he declared, "by consorting with an outcaste woman. However, since in death all such distinctions come to an end, let us now be properly cremated."

Consequently a great sandalwood pyre was erected, which both king and consorts mounted. The cremation pyre then burned for seven days. When at last the flames died down and the great plume of smoke dissipated enough to see, the ministers and people were astonished to witness Dombi-Heruka dancing in the heart of the fire in the form of mighty Hevajra. Then water rose to extinguish the flames and it is said a lake formed where the cremation had taken place. The legend concludes that through this miraculous display, the king of yogis Dombi-Heruka drew all his people to the spiritual path. This is how the kingdom of Kashmir became a paradise on earth.

Within the story of Dombi-Heruka several moral and spiritual messages are given. One of these is that there is no distinction between peoples. Dombi-Heruka at one point attempts to explain,

"Political power is of little benefit. Those who wield authority can accomplish little good, and more often than not cause misery to many. Social power and caste only result in the oppression of the less fortunate. You should understand that now my kingdom is no longer of this world. It is the only kingdom worth ruling, for my kingdom is now the kingdom of Dharma!"

Whatever the legend, the fact is that Sri Dombi-Heruka was a very great tantric master, the author of several important treatises, and a man who lived in Kashmir and the Himalayan regions during the tenth century AD. A few of the spiritual practice texts attributed to him are the Sri-sahaja-siddhi, Kurukulla-kalpa, Aralli-tantra, and the Hevajra-ekavira-sadhana. Thanks to the historical record we know for a fact that he lost the throne and was exiled into the forest in the year 936 AD. He was a noted exponent of the Sri Hevajratantra, the root tantra of the Vajrakapalika tradition.

There may be confusions and overlapping in the various accounts concerning Dombi-Heruka. Some accounts may have conflated his biography with that of another mahasiddha named Dombipa, a man of the washerman (dombiwallah) caste.

top of page

Dharma Fellowship