Some hold that there are 84 known Mahasiddhas in both Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist traditions, with some overlap between the two lists. Each Maha Siddha has come to be known for certain characteristics and teachings, which facilitates their pedagogical use. One of the most beloved Maha Siddhas is Virupa, who may be taken as the patron saint of the Sakyapa sect and instituted the Lamdré (Tibetan: lam ‘bras) teachings. Virupa (alternate orthographies: Birwapa/Birupa) lived in 9th century India and was known for his great attainments.
Some of the methods and practices of the Maha Siddha were codified in Buddhist scriptures known as Tantras. Traditionally the ultimate source of these methods and practices is held to be the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, and often it is a trans-historical aspect of the Buddha or deity Vajradhara or Samantabhadra who reveals the Tantra in question directly to the Mahasiddha in a vision or whilst they dream or are in a trance. This form of the deity is known as a sambhogakaya manifestation. The sadhana of Dream Yoga as practiced in Dzogchen traditions such as the Kham, entered the Himalayan tantric tradition from the Mahasiddha, Ngagpa and Bonpo. Dream Yoga or “Milam” (T:rmi-lam; S:svapnadarśana), is one of the Six Yogas of Naropa.
Four of the 84 Maha Siddhas are women. They are Kanakhala, the younger of the two Headless (Severed-Headed) Sisters, Lakshmincara The Mad Princess, Manibhadra, the Model Wife (the Happy Housewife) and Mekhala (c. 900) the elder of the two Headless (Severed-Headed) Sisters. Von Schroeder (2006) states:
Some of the most important Tibetan Buddhist monuments to have survived the Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976 are located at Gyantse in Tsang province of Central Tibet. For the study of Tibetan art, the temples of dPal ’khor chos sde, namely the dPal ’khor gTsug lag khang and dPal ’khor mchod rten, are for various reasons of great importance. The detailed information gained from the inscriptions with regard to the sculptors and painters summoned for the work testifies to the regional distribution of workshops in 15th-century Tsang. The sculptures and murals also document the extent to which a general consensus among the various traditions or schools had been achieved by the middle of that century. Of particular interest is the painted cycle of eighty-four mahåsiddhas, each with a name inscribed in Tibetan script. These paintings of mahasiddhas, or “great perfected ones endowed with supernatural faculties”, are located in the Lamdre chapel on the second floor of the dPal ’khor gTsug lag khang. Bearing in mind that these murals are the most splendid extant painted Tibetan representations of mahasiddhas, one wonders why they have never been published as a whole cycle. Several scholars have at times intended to study these paintings, but it seems that difficulties of identification were the primary obstacle to publication. Although the life-stories of many of the eighty-four mahasiddhas still remain unidentified, the quality of the works nevertheless warrants a publication of these great murals. There seems to be some confusion about the number of mahåsiddhas painted on the walls of the Lam ’bras lha khang. This is due to the fact that the inscription below the paintings mentions eighty siddhas, whereas actually eighty-four were originally represented.