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Yamantaka, Destroyer of the God of Death

Date:
early 18th century
Culture:
Tibet
Medium:
Distemper on cloth
Dimensions:
72 3/8 x 46 5/8 in. (183.8 x 118.4 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Purchase, Florance Waterbury Bequest, 1969
Accession Number:
69.71
  • Description

    This image of a wrathful protector of Buddhism would have been an awesome presence in the dimly lit interior of a Tibetan monastery. Yamantaka is a violent aspect of the Bodhisattva Manjushri, who assumes this form to vanquish Yama, the god of death. By defeating Yama, the cycle of rebirths (samsara) that prevent enlightenment is broken.

    Yamantaka, who shares many attributes with Mahakala, is identified by his blue skin and the array of attributes displayed here: the five skulls in his headdress, the skull cup, and the vajra-handled flaying knife in his hands. Surrounded by a halo of flames and standing above a triangular altar of blood, he tramples a disbeliever. At the lower register of the painting, three skull cups display the amrita (the nectar of life, extracted from the ocean of milk), blood, and sense organs (eyes, nose, and tongue). The deity is encircled by five smaller manifestations, each a Yama-conqueror riding a buffalo.

    An inscription on the reverse indicates that this tangka was commissioned in honor of the donor's lama, or guru, here understood to be inseparable from the fierce protector Mahakala. Flanking the uppermost Yama-conqueror, who is in yab-yum, or sexual union, with his consort, are two pairs of lamas, tentatively identified as the Panchen Lama (at left) and Atisha accompanied by attending lamas of the Gelugpa sect (at right).

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    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
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