Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Yama Dharmaraja (Buddhist Protector) - Outer

གཤིན་རྗེ་ཆོས་རྒྱལ། 阎罗法王
(item no. 812)
Origin Location Central Tibet
Date Range 1800 - 1899
Lineages Gelug
Size 70.49x50.17cm (27.75x19.75in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# P1999.5.4
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 Vajra Bhairava cycle of Tantras from the tradition of mahasiddha Lalitavajra.

Tibetan: Shin je cho gyal

Fiercely wrathful, blue in colour, with a snarling buffalo face and gaping mouth, he has three eyes, sharp blue horns and upward flowing hair. The right hand holds outstretched to the side a skull stick, red and mounted with a white skull and gold half vajra. The left held upward grasps a black lasso entwined about the hand. Adorned with a crown of five white skulls, bone ornaments and a garland of fifty fresh heads, in a priapic state he gazes at the consort Chamundi, black, with one face and two hands holding a skullcup in the left and a trident in the right. They both stand atop the back of a blue buffalo pressing down on the prone figure of a man, orange sun disc and multi-coloured lotus blossom, completely surrounded by the brightly burning orange flames of pristine awareness fire.

At the top center is the bodhisattva Manjushri, orange in colour, with one face and two hands holding in the right the upraised sword of wisdom and in the left the Prajnaparamita sutra held to the heart. At the two sides sit four figures wearing monastic robes and yellow pandita hats performing various mudras (gestures). The figure at the lower left is in the typical posture and appearance of Lama Tsongkapa.

Along the bottom are 16 attendant wrathful deities, each with one face, three eyes and two hands, holding a variety of objects. The 8 males on the left are variously coloured and wear a lower garment. The 8 females on the right are black and naked; all surrounded by smoke or fire.

Yama Dharmaraja (also known as Kalarupa) is a wisdom deity protector of the method (father) class of Anuttarayoga Tantra attached specifically to 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, portrayed 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 6-99

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