18th century
Distemper on cloth
60 x 41 cm - 23 ⅝ by 16 ⅛ in

An exhuberant Yama, the buffalo-headed Lordof Death, stands powerfully astride the back of his bull mount. An angry emanation of the god Manjusri,Yama confronts physical as well as spiritual obstacles and is considered amajor protector deity in Tibetan Buddhism. Despite his ferocious nature, he appears here with anatypically ebullient smile that stands in contrast to the horrific scene surroundinghim. Highlighted against abackground of wild multicolored flames, Yama's black body is adorned by aseries of morbid jewelry including a bloody skull crown, delicate bonenecklaces and bracelets, a knotted serpent chain, and a fresh garland ofindividualized human heads. In hisprimary hands, he holds a sword and snake, and with his secondary, he raises a danda and lasso overhead. Tresses of light hair flow behind thepair of strong horns that protrude on either side of the deity's forehead. Echoing the swirling flames behind, along scarf wraps across Yama's shoulders and streams gracefully down the sidesof his body.

In place of his consort, with whom Yama ismost often depicted, a pair of dark dakinis,each bearing a kapala and trident,flank him. Beneath, on either endof the recumbent bull, stand two forms of the demon-god Rahu. Throughout the composition, a group ofthirty-six deities, both peaceful and wrathful, have been incorporated into theintricate design. They ridepeacocks, dragons, and sea monsters in the airy clouds at the bottom of thepainting, further enhancing the wonderful sense of movement, energy andexoticism with which it has been imbued. At the top, Manjusri sits between four inward-facing Gelukpa lamas.

Members of the Geluk Order considered Yamato be an exceptionally important deity based on a vision had by Tsong Khapa,its founder. The vision in whichYama appeared without attributes or mount lasted for two consecutive nights andwas followed several nights later by another in which the deity appeared infull regalia. Tsong Khapainterpreted this as a sign of the imminent death of his protector, Gushri Khan,and the successful establishment of his leadership thereafter, despite the lossof his guardian.[1] The Geluk Order is also closelyassociated with Manjusri, the Conqueror of Yama.


Bazin, N., Heller, A. and Pommaret, F., Rituels tibétains: Visions secrètes du VDalai Lama, exhibition catalogue, (Paris, 2002), no. 44.


[1] See Bazin et al (2002), p. 102.