Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Yama Dharmaraja (Buddhist Protector) - Outer

གཤིན་རྗེ་ཆོས་རྒྱལ། 阎罗法王
(item no. 809)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1700 - 1799
Lineages Gelug
Size 78.74x55.88cm (31x22in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment, Black Background on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# P1999.5.1
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Animal-Feature

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Yama Dharmaraja (Tibetan: shin je cho gyal. English: the Lord of Death, King of the Law); the special protector of the Vajrabhairava cycle of practice. This painting was commissioned sometime during the life of the 2nd Panchen Lama as indicated by the depiction in the upper right corner where he holds a myrobalan plant in the left hand. The myrobalan is a powerful symbol of health and more importantly - long-life.

Tibetan: Shin je cho gyal

Fearsome and menacing with a buffalo face, mouth gaping and snarling, he has three eyes, two sharp pointed blue horns and yellow hair bristling upwards. Black in colour with both arms upraised, the right hand holds a red stick topped with a white skull. In the left he swings a rope lasso. Adorned with a headdress crown of five white skulls, bone ornaments of necklaces, bracelets and the like, he wears a garland of fifty freshly severed male heads, ghastly and dripping with gore. On the left side the consort Chamundi embraces the Lord and straddles the thigh, offering upward in the right hand a blood filled skullcup. They stand completely naked, save for the ornamentation, he in a priapic mood atop a raging buffalo and prone human form above a sun disc and lotus seat, surrounded by the red flames of pristine awareness.

At the top center is Vajra Bhairava in heruka form, blue-black with one buffalo face and two hands holding a curved knife and skullcup to the heart, wrathful in appearance, standing atop a buffalo. At the left is Acarya Vira, in the attire of a mahasiddha with a red meditation belt and bone ornaments. The right hand holds a skullcup in the lap and the left upraised performing the mudra (gesture) of protection, seated in a relaxed posture on a deerskin. At the right is Gyalse Lobzang Yeshe, 2nd Panchen Lama (1663-1737), performing the mudra of explication with the right hand held to the heart and holding a small fruit, or bag, in the lap with the left. Attired in the robes of a monk and a yellow pandita hat, he sits covered with a meditation cloak atop a cushion seat.

Along the bottom are four attendant wrathful deities belonging to the 'Yama' class of daemons; each has one face and two hands, black in colour, three eyes, bone ornaments and a garland of fresh heads. The left hands of each perform the wrathful gesture and the right hands hold (from the left side) a butcher's' stick, a spear with a corpse impaled on the end, a spear and a weapon wheel. They stand on sun disc and lotus seats surrounded by orange and red flames.

Yama Dharmaraja (also known as Kalarupa) is a wisdom deity protector of the method (father) class of Anuttarayoga Tantra specifically employed by those engaged in the practices of the Vajrabhairava (Yamantaka) tantras and is found in all the Sarma Schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The Gelugpa tradition in particular hold Yama Dharmaraja in a special regard as one of the three main protectors of the School along with the Shadbhuja Mahakala (one face, six hands) and Vaishravana. These three were the special protectors of Lama Tsongkapa. Although similar in appearance and name Yama Dharmaraja is not the same individual as Yama the 'Lord of Death,' and King of the Ghost Realm, depicted as the central figure in Buddhist depictions of the hell realms.

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 Drak, etc.

Jeff Watt 5-99

Front of Painting
English Translation of Inscription: The teacher [named] Hero (Sanskrit: Acarya Vira). The conqueror's son Lobzang Yeshe.

Wylie Transliteration of Inscription: slob dpon dpa' bo, rgyal sras blo bzang ye shes.

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Buddhist Protectors: Enlightened
Painting Type: Black Ground Main Page
Buddhist Protector: Yama Dharmaraja Main Page
Tradition: Gelug Protectors
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 5
Buddhist Protector: Yama Dharmaraja, Outer
Collection of RMA: Black Ground Masterworks