Himalayan Art Resources

Publication: Yama, Yamari, Yamantaka, Vajrabhairava, Yama Dharmaraja & Bhairava

Figures in Himalayan & Tibetan Art
associated with death & figures that use death as a metaphor:
Yama, Yamantaka, Yamari, Bhairava and Vajrabhairava




Introduction: The first two entries (#1) Yama, Lord of Death, Judge of the Hell Realm, and (#2) the monster that holds the Wheel of Life - the personification of death - are related to the Pali and Mahayana Buddhist Sutras. The remaining entries (#3 through #13), except for the last (#14), are related to Vajrayana Buddhism and all four classifications of Buddhist Tantra. The last entry, Bhairava, (#14) belongs to the Shaiva Hindu Tradition.

From the fourteen entries below, only the first two are directly associated with death. The first entry, Yama, is also intimately connected with the Buddhist concepts of the Hell Realm according to the Abhidharmakosha of Vasubhandu. The second entry, Death/Samsara/Impermanence, holding the Wheel of Life, is not associated particularly with the Hell Realms, or with Yama - the Lord of Death - who acts as the judge of beings entering hell. The first is a living being originating in the Ghost realm adjacent to the Hell Realms and the second is a personification of death and not a living being, or entity.




Related to the Pali and Mahayana Buddhist Sutras:

1.
Yama, Lord of Death, King of the Hell Realm, depicted in the hell section of the Buddhist Wheel of Life paintings. In this context Yama is understood to be a living being of the Ghost Realm who acts as the judge of the beings entering the Hell Realm. He is not a god or a deity, he is a living being of the Ghost Realm. Descriptions of Yama and the Hell Realms are described in the Pali and Sanskrit Sutras of early Buddhism. (See the Yama Main Page, Yama Outline Page, and Yama Forms Outline Page, also see the narrative of Maudgalyayana retrieving his mother from hell).

2.
Death, holding the circle of the Wheel of Life in painted depictions. This figure is a personification of death and impermanence and not seen or perceived of as a living being, god or deity. The early models of the Wheel of Life present five divisions of beings; gods, humans, animals, ghosts and hell beings. Later models from Central Asia and China also divide the gods into two groups, happy gods and jealous gods. In this model the two types of gods are always depicted at war with each other. In the Himalayas and Tibet both models of five and six divisions are found and explained according to different commentarial sources. (See Wheel of Life Page and Outline Page).




Related to Vajrayana Buddhism:

3.
Yama, the name of a class of spirits. The Yama spirits are a type of ghost existing within the cycle of the Wheel of Life and categorized as 'preta' or belonging to the Ghost Realm. According to some texts there are sixteen types, or categories, of ghosts in the Ghost Realm. Several of the higher categories of ghosts can interact on a limited basis with beings in the Human Realm - causing mischief and so forth. According to Tantric Buddhism, there are eight particular Yamas that are named and can be found as retinue figures in the entourage of many wrathful Tantric Buddhist protector deities such as Mahakala (in particular forms) and Yama Dharmaraja. Yama, as a class of spirits, are worldly beings. The set of eight named Yama spirits as found in Buddhist Tantric mandalas are emanations of the central meditational deity of that particular mandala. (See an example of one Yama image representing the Eight Yama from the Nyingma Tantric Cycle of the Nyangter Guru Dragpo).

4.
Yama, belonging to the group of Eight Worldly Direction Gods. This form of Yama has two main roles amongst the cast of Tantric deities. First (1), he is commonly found as part of the outer retinue for a very large number of Buddhist Mandalas such as for the meditational deities - Medicine Buddha (Bhaishajyarajaguru), Pancha Raksha, Sitatapatra, Vajravidarana, Maha Vairochana, etc., etc. Secondly (2), in Anuttarayoga Tantra, Yama and the Eight Direction Gods are depicted in the Eight Great Cemeteries and particularly those associated with the deities Hevajra, Chakrasamvara and Vajrabhairava. According to one system, the Eight Direction Gods are: 1. east Shakra on an elephant, 2. south Yama on a buffalo, 3. west Varuna on a makara, 4. north Yaksha on a horse, 5. north-east Ishana on a bull, 6. south-east Agni on a goat, 7. south-west Rakshasa on a zombie, 8. north-west Vayu on a deer. These figures appearing in the cemeteries can have either with one face and two hands or one face and four hands. In this context Yama is understood to be a God of the classical Indian pantheon of divinities. (See example Hevajra HAR #87225 and Visual and Geometric Elements).

5.
Krodha Yama, a retinue figure for Manjushri as found in the Kriya Tantra classification of Buddhist Tantra. (See example of Manjushri [Yama not shown] and the description in the Bari Gyatsa, Vadi Raja Manjushri #6). "...a blue lion with the head looking to the right, in the middle, is a lotus, moon...Vadi Raja Manjushri, with a body colour like melted gold. The two hands are held at the heart performing the Dharma teaching gesture [and] the left holds a blue utpala with a Prajnaparamita book resting upon it... ornaments and garments, seated in the lalitaraja posture. At the front left is Krodha Yama, with a body blue in colour, one face and two hands. The right [hand] is held supporting the shin of the Blessed One and the left holds a lasso. With three eyes and bared fangs, yellow hair bristling upwards, the head is adorned with a garland of skulls, wearing a lower garment of tiger skin; standing in a manner looking at the face of the Lord."

6.
Yamantaka, belonging to the group of the Ten Wrathful Ones: designated as 'Inner Protection Chakra' deities belonging to the mandala practices of Anuttarayoga deities such as Hevajra, Chakrasamvara and Vajrabhairava. According to the Vajrabhairava Tantra they are: 1. Aparajita, 2. Yamantaka, 3. Hayagriva, 4. Takkiraja, 5. Amritakundali, 6. Niladanda, 7. Chakravartin, 8. Mahabala, 9. Achala, and 10. Ushnisha Chakravartin. Alternate deities in other Tantra systems might be Prajnantaka, Padmantaka and Humkara. There are two additional deities for above and below making ten deities in total - not counting the center. Each of these deities is understood to be an emanation of the central figure of the mandala - Vajrabhairava, Chakrasamvara or any number of other principal meditational deities of Anuttarayoga.

7.
Yamari, retinue deity, with an additional name added in front, the name of a number of different retinue deities belonging to either the mandalas of Vajrabhairava, Krishna Yamari or Rakta Yamari. Retinue figures often have names similar to the central figure or names that are a play on the metaphor of the principal deity. The image here is of white Moha Yamari and he is an emanation, as are the other retinue figures, of the central deity of the mandala - in this case - Vajrabhairava.

8.
Yamari, Krishna (Black), a Tantric Buddhist meditational deity - emanation of Manjushri - belonging to the Anuttarayoga Classification of Tantra. There are two main forms of the deity, Krishna and Rakta, with different traditions for these deities and different numbers of retinue deities occupying the mandala. In addition, the Drigung Kagyu and Nyingma Traditions of Tibetan Buddhism have unique forms of the Krishna Yamari. In all cases, Krishna Yamari is a wrathful form of Manjushri. (See Krishna Yamari Main Page and Outline Page).

9.
Yamari, Rakta (Red), a Tantric Buddhist meditational deity - emanation of Manjushri - belonging to the Anuttarayoga Classification of Tantra. There are several forms of this deity with three principal traditions coming from India and associated especially with the mahasiddhas Virupa and Shridhara. In all cases, Rakta Yamari is a wrathful form of Manjushri. (See Rakta Yamari Main Page and Outline Page).

10.
Vajrabhairava, a Tantric Buddhist meditational deity - emanation of Manjushri. The main iconographic feature is a buffalo face. There are numerous forms of Vajrabhairava from a simple one faced deity with two hands all the way up to a nine faced, thirty-four armed with sixteen legs. The nine faced is considered to be the principal form of the deity. In all cases, Vajrabhairava is a wrathful form of Manjushri and a meditational deity of the Method Classification of Anuttarayoga Tantra. In Western publications Vajrabhairava has been more often than not, consistently, chronically and incorrectly categorized as a Buddhist protector deity 'dharmapala', rather than correctly being identified as an 'ishtadevata' (Tibetan: yi dam) - meditational deity. (See Vajrabhairava Main Page and Outline Page).

11.
Yama Dharmaraja, a protector deity - emanation of Manjushri - that is exclusive to the Vajrabhairava cycle of Tantra. There are three principal forms, outer, inner and secret with numerous minor forms and retinue deity configurations. In the outer form of the protector with buffalo head and riding a buffalo, he is generally depicted with the consort Chamunda. In all cases, Yama Dharmaraja when in this context and appearance, outer, inner and secret, is a wrathful form of Manjushri. Since the 15th century onwards Yama Dharmaraja has been employed as one of the three principal protectors of the Gelug Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. (See Yama Dharmaraja Main Page and Outline Page).

12.
Bhairava (Tib. jig je), as occurring in Tantric Buddhist art, commonly referring to the form of a black wrathful figure found beneath the feet of Vajrayogini, Varahi or Chakrasamvara. Here Bhairava is modeled after Shiva in his fierce or 'bhairava' aspect. However, the downtrodden image of Bhairava does not represent the real God but rather is symbolic of over-coming certain negative mental characteristics as described in Buddhist philosophical literature. This Bhairava is symbolic and not a living being or entity. (See Chakrasamvara example).

13.
The Nine Great Bhairavas (Tib. jig je chenpo gu), the name of a class of spirits. The Bhairava are a type of ghost existing within the cycle of the Buddhist Wheel of Life and categorized as 'preta' or belonging to the Ghost Realm. According to some texts there are sixteen types, or categories, of ghosts in the Ghost Realm. Several of the higher categories of ghosts can interact on a limited basis with beings in the Human Realm - causing mischief and so forth. There are nine particular Bhairavas that are commonly found as retinue figures in the entourage of many wrathful Tantric Buddhist protector deities such as Shadbhuja Mahakala and others. They are known as: 1. Great Lord Bhairava, 2. Pramita, 3. Bhairawa, 4. Bhaishantra, 5. Kubera, 6. Jnana Bhaira, 7. Biti, 8. Kala Bhaira, and 9. Ganapati. The Bhairava, as a class of spirits, are worldly beings. The nine named Bhairava spirits as found in Buddhist Tantric mandalas are emanations of the central meditational deity of the mandala.




Related to Shaiva Hinduism:

14.
Bhairava, wrathful form of the God Shiva in the Shaiva Tradition of Hinduism. Most popular in Nepal and appearing in a number of different manifestations and forms, he is commonly portrayed as the giant mask used for rituals or in the form of the Five Faced Bhairava - also represented as the Five Faced Linga (See the Shiva Bhairava Main Page).


Jeff Watt, February 21st, 2010.