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 prevents enlightenment is broken. Yamantaka, who shares many attributes with Mahakala, is identified by his blue skin and the array of attributes displayed here. He is encircled by five smaller manifestations, each a Yama-conqueror riding a buffalo. An inscription on the reverse indicates the work was commissioned in honor of the donor’s lama. Flanking the uppermost Yama-conqueror are two pairs of lamas, tentatively identified as the Panchen Lama (left) and Atisha accompanied by attending lamas.
Inscription: April 1970: translation of back of painting done by Dorje Yudron Yuthok: 'My humble salutations to the most loving, compassionate of all times - the past - present and future. The great Protector, Maha Kala, the fierce God who is inseparable from my Lama (Guru).
To the Upper Tantaric College, I present this thanka of the Great Protector, Whose true spirit is ever present in the precious painting and is inseparable. To you (Maha Kala) I pray that my good deeds be of service to all living beings from now until the time when all have achieved Buddhahood. May you the Great Protector always be near to us (never leave us) and help us to follow the path of righteousness.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art of the Himalayas," December 15, 2010–December 4, 2011.