The Swift-acting Six-armed Awareness Protector, the special protector of the Shangpa Kagyu tradition and its followers, commonly known as the Six-armed Mahakala, a wrathful emanation of the Great Compassionate One, Arya Avalokiteshvara, a dharmapala whose transmission originated with the Indian Mahasiddha Shavaripa. The transmission was received by Khedrub Khyungpo Naljor, both in India and Tibet, from his teachers Maitripa and Rahula. The Six-armed Protector is the special protector of the Shangpa Kagyu tradition and its practitioners to the present day. Ever since the incomparable Tsongkhapa Lobsang Dragpa received these transmissions from Jagchen Jampa Pal, the Six-armed Protector is also one of the main protective deities of the Gelugpa school. There are also other lineages of Six-armed Mahakala practice, but they all go back to Khyungpo Naljor's original introduction of this cycle of empowerments, teachings and practices into Tibet. The sole exception is the Six-armed Mahakala treasure teaching revealed by Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa and included in his collected terma treasures, the Chokling Tersar.
The Six-armed Mahakala comes with a retinue of five main deities, plus another seventy-five retinue figures altogether. The immediate retinue of five, most often depicted on thangkas, are first a form of Shri Devi called Remati. She can appear in one of three different forms. Two of them are two-armed, one is a four-armed form. She is considered the consort of Six-armed Mahakala even though they are usually not depicted as in union. The other four deities of the immediate retinue are Kshetrapala, Dzinamitra, Takkiraja and Trakshe. Each of these five have their own retinues in turn. The seventy-five deities of the further retinue then come in groups. They are the ten protectors of the corresponding directions, the eight great gods, the eight great nagas, the eight great planets, the twenty-eight goddesses of the lunar mansions, the nine bhairavas and the four great kings. They are then further surrounded by various classes of beings and spirits who make up the individual retinues of those aforementioned deities and are said to number in the many thousands.
The most well-known variant form of the protector is the so-called "mgon dkar yid bzhin nor bu" or "White Protector Wish-fulfilling Jewel" who is often, erroneously, taken to be a different deity. There are also yellow, red, green and maroon forms of the protector, as well as the protector with various configurations of retinue figures and with a consort as well as without. Jetsün Tāranātha has composed various brief, medium length and extensive practice manuals for these various forms. They can be found among the collections of Shangpa Kagyu texts as well as in Tāranātha's famous "sgrub thabs rin 'byung brgya rtsa," a large collection of sadhanas in two volumes, which can be viewed as something of a precursor, and possibly the inspiration, for Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo's and Jamyang Loter Wangpo's famous "sgrub thabs kun btus" collection.