Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Yama Dharmaraja (Buddhist Protector) - Outer

གཤིན་རྗེ་ཆོས་རྒྱལ། 阎罗法王
(item no. 659)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1700 - 1799
Lineages Uncertain
Size 34.29x22.86cm (13.50x9in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment, Fine Gold Line, Black Background on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# F1998.16.1
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Animal-Feature

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Yama Dharmaraja (Tibetan: shin je cho gyal), the Lord of Death, King of the Law. The special protector for the Vajrabhairava (Yamantaka) cycle of practice.

Tibetan: Shin je cho gyal

Wrathful, fearsome, black in colour, Dharmaraja has the head and face of a buffalo with sharp horns, blazing yellow hair, three round eyes and a gaping mouth. The right hand is holding aloft a stick mounted with a white skull and streamer. The left hand holds a lasso for ensnaring and drawing in the minds of the wayward. Adorned with a crown of white skulls, bone ornaments and a necklace of freshly severed heads he stands with the right leg bent and the left extended riding on the back of a buffalo and corpse seat atop a large lotus blossom surrounded by dark red flames and thick black smoke billowing upward. Three skullcups filled with offerings are arranged in front.

Yama Dharmaraja is a wisdom deity protector of the father class (method) of Anuttaryoga Tantra specifically employed by those engaged in the practices of the Vajrabhairava Tantra. This practice is found in all the Sarma Schools however the Gelugpas hold Yama Dharmaraja in a special regard as one of their three main Dharma protectors along with the Shadbhuja Mahakala and Vaishravana. These three were the special protectors of Lama Tsongkapa (1357-1419) the founder of the Gelugpa School. Although similar in appearance and name Yama Dharmaraja is not the same individual as Yama the 'Lord of Death' depicted as the central figure in the Buddhist portrayal of the hell realms. For more information see the Inner Yama Dharmaraja.

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

The style of painting generally reserved for wrathful deities is called 'nag thang'. On a black background the figure is outlined with gold line and filled with a minimum of coloured pigments.

Jeff Watt 9-98

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