Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Yama Dharmaraja (Buddhist Protector) - Inner

གཤིན་རྗེ་ཆོས་རྒྱལ། 阎罗法王
(item no. 159)
Origin Location Central Tibet
Date Range 1700 - 1799
Lineages Gelug
Size 42.55x27.94cm (16.75x11in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment, Fine Gold Line, Black Background on Cotton
Collection Shelley & Donald Rubin
Catalogue # acc.# P1994.10.13
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Wrathful

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Inner Yama Dharmaraja, (Tibetan: shin je cho gyal nang wa. English: Inner Lord of Death, King of the Law). Dharmaraja is the special protector for the Vajrabhairava cycle of Tantric practices and is especially associated with the Rwa Lotsawa Tradition.

Tibetan: Shin je cho gyal

Yama, blue in colour, with one face and two hands holds a curved knife out to the right side and with the left hand holds a blood filled skullcup to heart. Fearsome and wrathful, having the appearance of a raksha daemon, his dark yellow hair flows upward flame like, rising above a black half vajra and the golden crown marked with five dry skulls. Wearing a green scarf and jewels, gold and bone ornaments, he is adorned with a necklace of severed heads and wears a tiger skin around the waist tied with a green sash. Standing with the left leg bent and the right extended above a brown corpse, sun disc and lotus blossom above a black triangle mandala filled with blood he dwells completely surrounded within the red flames of pristine awareness. In front, three skullcups are arranged with torma (stylized food) and fearsome offerings. The background has the appearance of a charnel ground with wild animals, a corpse, two caityas (reliquary mounds) and two dark skinned Indian yogis.

At the lower left is white 'Peaceful Activity' Yamaraja with two hands, holding a damaru drum and a divination arrow with the left. Above that is yellow 'Increasing Activity' Yamaraja holding a sword and banner. To the right is red 'Powerful Activity' Yamaraja holding a wishing jewel and a skullcup to the heart. Below that is blue-black 'Wrathful Activity' Yamaraja holding a bone stick and a lasso, embraced by the consort Chamundi, black in colour, offering a skullcup to the Lord. Each of the Yamas has a buffalo head, adorned with various wrathful ornaments and stands upon a buffalo of similar colour, above a corpse, sun disc and lotus surrounded by the flames of pristine awareness.

At the top center is the deity of wisdom, Manjushri, orange holding a sword and lotus supporting a book. To the left is an Indian teacher, dark skinned, wearing monastic robes and a red pandita hat. (A praise written in fine gold Tibetan lettering is located beneath this figure). To the left is a teacher wearing monastic robes and a yellow pandita hat. With the hands folded in the teaching gesture (mudra) grasping the stem of a flower blossom supporting a sword and book - this is most likely to be the founder of the Gelug Tradition - Lord Tsongkapa (1357-1419). Located directly below Manjushri and seated in a rainbow sphere is a teacher wearing monastic robes and a pandita hat, displaying the gesture of giving blessing with the right hand and holding a book with the left.

The inscription on the front of the painting appears to be an epithet and name for the small figure of a monastic teacher placed directly below orange Manjushri at the top center. The inscription reads "Homage to the one possessing the three kindness' Ngawang Jampal Deleg Gyatso" (the 7th Demo Rinpoche - died 1777). Both the 6th and 7th Demo are recorded as having the same name. This is obviously a confusion in the biographical history of these teachers. The dates of the 6th are not known and the birth date of the 7th is also not recorded. There are also further confusions of dates and names with the early Demo Rinpoches of the 17th century. The painting of Yama Dharmaraja and the written inscription are likely commissioned by a devoted student of the 7th Demo in the late 18th century.

Indian Lineage: Vajradhara, Shri Vajrabhairava, Jnana Dakini, Lalitavajra, Vajrasana, Amoghavajra, Jnana Sambhava Bepa, Padmavajra, Dipamkara Shrijnana, (the Nepali) Bharo Chag Dum, (the Tibetan) Ra Lotsawa Dorje Drag, etc.

"In the special, noble, Vajra Vehicle, among the numerous four tantras [kriya, charya, yoga and anuttara] this protector is of the Anuttarayoga. Of those, from the three [classes], Method, Wisdom and Non-dual, this is Method Tantra. From the three famous Father Tantras of the Yamari Cycle, Rakta [Red], Krishna [Black], and Bhairava [Terrifying], this is the uncommon protector of the Vajrabhairava." (Ngor Ponlop Ngagwang Legdrup, 19th century).

From the three levels of practice associated with Yama Dharmaraja, outer, inner and secret, this is the Inner, wisdom deity, protector practice special to the Gelugpa School. Although similar in appearance and name Yama Dharmaraja and Yama, the 'Lord of Death,' shown as the central figure in Buddhist depictions of the Hell Realms are not the same individual. The latter is conceived of as a sentient creature and the King of the Pretas (ghosts) and arises from the Abhidharma literature based on a Theravadin (Southern Buddhism) and Sutrayana model of the world. The first, Dharmaraja, is based exclusively on the Bhairava Root Tantra where Manjushri assumes a variety of terrifying (bhairava) forms to subdue Yama (death, a synonym for the endless suffering of cyclic existence) and uses the theme of death as a metaphor for an entire cycle of tantric practice.

The words Yama, Yamantaka and Bhairava appear frequently in all four classes of tantra as attendant deities, protectors or as worldly gods (specifically Shiva) beneath the feet of meditational deities (ishtadevata) such as Vajrayogini and in this instance represent the various negative emotions to be conquered through meditation. It is important not to confuse all of these various models and to understand each in its own place.

The painting style is central Tibetan and the technique is called 'black scroll' (nag tang) executed on a black background with a generous use of gold and rich earth pigments.

Jeff Watt 8-1998 [updated 6-2013]

Front of Painting
Wylie Transliteration of Inscription: bka'' drin gsum ldan ngag dbang ''jam dpal bde legs rgya mtsho dpal bzang po la na mo.

Reverse of Painting
Wylie Transliteration of Inscription: dge sdig las kyi me long ngos gnyis par/ /dkar nag shan ''byed ''chi bdag gshin rje''i rgyal/ /rdor rje''i rwa ldan ma he khros pa''i steng/ /bskyang bskum gar gyis brjid ldan ''khor bcas pas/ /rje btsun bla ma''i sku la bar gcod bgegs/ /bsam sbyor ngan par brtsegs pa''i brag ri''i steng/ /drag sbyor thog gi bu yug dpal phab pas/ /ming gi tha mar bshig la ma g.yel zhig/

Secondary Images
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