Ghantapa, Prince of Nalanda, home of renowned Nalanda Buddhist University in Bihar, India, renounced his crown and took a vow of celibacy, becoming a scholar monk. He developed a reputation for his austerities. Ghantapa took up solitary residence near the court of King Devapala (reigned c. 809–849 CE), who invited him to live in his palace. Ghantapa refused because he said the king was insincere. (An alternative version says that he called the king a sinner.)

Stung and angered, the king placed a price on Ghantapa’s celibacy, offering a substantial bounty. A local courtesan sent her beautiful adolescent daughter to seduce Ghantapa. He succumbed and they became lovers, in all senses of that word. When the girl bore Ghantapa’s child, the king had his evidence. He sought to publicly shame Ghantapa. In the meantime, however, unbeknownst to the king, Ghantapa had experienced a profound Tantric revelation.

Accompanied by a huge entourage, King Devapala confronted Ghantapa, accusing him of gross misconduct. Presumably he hadn’t anticipated Ghantapa’s reaction. Ghantapa smashed the baby and a gourd of wine onto the ground. Earth opened up and water flooded out, the operative word being flood.

Baby and gourd transformed into a vajraand bell, symbolizing male and female genitalia respectively and now Ghantapa’s attributes. Ghantapa rose into the air, high above the floodwaters, transforming into Paramasukha-Chakrasamvara Buddha. His consort transformed into Vajravahari. Avalokiteshvara arrived to rescue king and crew from the rising waters. They implored Ghantapa’s forgiveness and he initiated them into the magic circle of bliss. Ghantapa remains a highly esteemed Tantric master and deity.

In his guise as Shamvara, he was first venerated by wandering ascetics (sadhus) of medieval India. Shamvara wears a crescent moon in his hair and lives on Mount Kailash just like Shiva. Shamvara may have been the official Buddhist replacement for Shiva, patron of yogis and ascetics.


Shamvara; Shambara


Ghantapa is traditionally portrayed in mystic union with Vajravahari.


Bell of wisdom, vajra of compassion


  • Avalokitesvara
  • Buddha
  • Dakini
  • Vajra
  • Vajravahari


Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.

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