Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Shri Devi (Buddhist Protector)

དཔལ་ལྡན་ལྷ་མོ། 吉祥天母(佛教护法)
(item no. 576)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1700 - 1799
Lineages Buddhist
Size 77.47x55.25cm (30.50x21.75in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment, Fine Gold Line, Black Background on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# F1997.44.1
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Interpretation / Description

Palden Lhamo, Ochen Barma 'Blazing with Great Light.' This fierce female deity, classified under the category of Shri Devi (Palden Lhamo), is the wrathful protector aspect of Vajra Vetali the consort of the awesome meditational deity (ishtadevata) Vajrabhairava. Ochen Barma is also an emanation, or wrathful form, of the very peaceful deity Sarasvati, Goddess of Learning, eloquence and literature.

The Three Forms of Sarasvati According to the Vajrabhairava System of Tantra:
1. Vajra Vetali, the female consort in wrathful aspect embracing Vajrabhairava
2. Sarasvati, the peaceful aspect
3. Ochen Barma (Blazing with Light) the protector aspect of Vajra Vetali

Ochen Barma is wrathful in appearance, black in colour with one face and two arms. The yellow hair blazes upwards. In the upraised right hand she holds a staff and a butcher's stick. In the lowered left hand she holds a bag of disease and a lasso. With the right leg bent and the left straight above to prone figures, naked, black in colour, she stands atop a sun disc, lotus and dhamakara - triangle. The flames surrounding her body unfold like a peacock's tail.

There are twelve attendant figures accompanying Ochen Barma. The three most important of those ride animal mounts: horse, mule and wolf.

At the top center is Acharya Bhati. The seated figure at the viewer's right is Manlung Guru of the 13th century. He was a contemporary of Buton Tamche Khyenpa and associated with the Kalachakra Tantra. At the viewer's left is Dranton Dar Drag. The three teachers depicted each pre-date the 13th century and are identified by a name inscription beneath.

Black ground paintings such as this are often used for depicting the most wrathful and horrific images of Tantric Buddhism believing that it enhances those fearsome characteristics of the deity. The creation of black ground paintings was first described in the various Mahakala Tantras (specifically the Twenty-five and Fifty Chapter Tantras). The painting of Ochen Barma is likely from a set of compositions and currently of an unknown number. Only two other images of this rarely seen deity are known to the HAR Team - both minor figures. One image is depicted as a minor figure in a textile tangka preserved in the Palace Museum, Beijing. The other is a painting belonging to a private collection. It was this latter painting depicting Vajrabhairava as the central figure that provided the identification of Ochen Barma by depicting the exact deity and retinue, along with inscriptions, matching the image of the painting HAR #576.

(This painting was formerly incorrectly identified as a form of Ekajati and associated with Shri Devi. It is important to remember that Shri Devi Magzor Gyalmo is also a wrathful protector form of Sarasvati similar to Ochen Barma). [See TBRC W27414. The Tensrung Gyatso Namtar (bstan srung gya mtsho'i rnam thar) written by Lelung (sle lung)].

Jeff Watt 11-2001 [updated 9-2010]

Secondary Images
Related Items
Exhibition Appearances
Exhibition: Female Buddhas at RMA

Thematic Sets
Buddhist Protectors: Enlightened (Female)
Collection of RMA: Black Ground Masterworks (Curator's Selection)
Buddhist Protector: Shri Devi (Masterworks)
Collection of RMA: Black Ground Masterworks
Collection of RMA: Iconographically Rare Works
Subject: Ladies with Beards
Buddhist Protectors: Enlightened
Buddhist Protector: Shri Devi Religious Context
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 3
Buddhist Deity: Ochen Barma