Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Mandala of Yama Dharmaraja (Buddhist Protector) - Outer

གཤིན་རྗེ་ཆོས་རྒྱལ། 阎罗法王
(item no. 436)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1700 - 1799
Lineages Sakya and Buddhist
Size 30.48x30.48cm (12x12in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# F1996.11.1
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Animal-Feature

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Yama Dharmaraja Thirteen Deity Mandala (Tibetan: shin je cho gyal kyil khor).

Video: Yama Dharmaraja Mandala: HAR #436

The composition is depicted as a symbol mandala with the hand attributes of each deity representing the deities themselves. At the center representing the central figure is a vajra stick and lasso. Representing the consort is a trident and skullcup. Surrounding that, atop an eight spoked weapon wheel are the symbols of the eight principal attendants. All of this is encircled by a ring of skulls, blood and the eight great charnel grounds, again surrounded by the bright orange flames of pristine awareness. (See an Explanation of the Mandala Elements and a quick schematic outline of the important visual elements of the Yama Dharmaraja symbol mandala).

Tibetan: Shin je cho gyal | Outline Page

Yama Dharmaraja is a Buddhist, wisdom deity, protector of the Method Class (father) of Anuttaryoga Tantra specifically employed by those engaged in the practices of the Vajrabhairava Tantra. This practice is found in all of the Sarma Schools however the Gelugpa Tradition of Tsongkhapa hold Yama Dharmaraja in a special regard as one of their three main religious protectors (the other two are Shadbhuja Mahakala and Vaishravana).

"In the special, noble, Vajra Vehicle [Vajrayana], 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).

Yama, the 'Lord of Death,' depicted as the central figure in Buddhist paintings of the Hell Realms, and commonly portrayed in Wheel of Life paintings, and this Yama Dharmaraja are not the same individual. The first or older reference to Yama is conceived of as a sentient creature and the King of the Ghost Realm (preta), arising from the Abhidharma literature based on an early 1st millennium Buddhist model of the world, or universe. The second, Yama Dharmaraja, is based exclusively on the Vajrabhairava Root Tantra where the deity 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 system of Tantric meditation practice.

The words Yama, Yamari, Yamantaka and Bhairava appear frequently in all classes of tantra. They are also used interchangeably in Western art catalogues and art history books. All of these words are names for meditational deities, attendant figures, protectors, or for worldly gods beneath the feet of other deities such as Vajrayogini and Chakrasamvara. In those instances Bhairava represents the various negative emotions to be conquered through meditation. Bhairava can also represent the wrathful form of Shiva. Keeping in mind the similarities in name and form, but the difference in meaning, it is important not to confuse the various models presented in the different Sutra and Tantra systems and understand each in its own place.

At the center of the painting representing Yama Dharmaraja is a vajra stick and lasso. Representing the consort, Chamundi, is a trident and skullcup. Surrounding that and atop an eight spoked weapon wheel (raksha chakra), dark blue in colour, are the symbols of the eight principal attendants. All of this is encircled by a ring of skulls, a sea of blood and the eight great charnel grounds, again surrounded by a circle of vajras (vajravali) the bright orange flames of pristine awareness (jvalavali).

Tibetan name: dam can chos kyi rgyal po lha bcu gsum gyi dkyil 'khor.

Sanskrit source text: Sri Vajramahabhairava-nama-tantra [Toh 468].

Jeff Watt 9-2000 [updated 10-2008]

Secondary Images
Related Items
Exhibition Appearances
Exhibition: Mandala, The Perfect Circle (RMA)

Publication: Mandala: The Architecture of Enlightenment

Thematic Sets
Mandala: Mandala Main Page
Buddhist Protectors: Enlightened
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 2
Buddhist Protector: Yama Dharmaraja Main Page
Collection of Rubin Museum: Mandala Masterworks
Buddhist Protector: Yama Dharmaraja Iconography
Tradition: Gelug Mandalas
Mandalas: Gelug Tradition
Tradition: Gelug Protectors
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Mandala
Collection of RMA: Best of Collection 3
Buddhist Protector: Yama Dharmaraja (All Forms Masterworks)
Subject: Diagrammatic Art Main Page
Collection of RMA Masterworks Main Page
Mandala: Masterworks Page
Mandala: Shape, Form & Composition
Subject: Shapes Page
Subject: Shapes (Weapon Wheel)