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Offerings to the Goddess Palden Lhamo

Date:
late 16th century
Culture:
Tibet
Medium:
Ink and opaque watercolor on cloth
Dimensions:
67 x 44 1/8 in. (170.2 x 112 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Gift of Frances Gould-Naftal and Marvin Naftal, 1983
Accession Number:
1983.510.1
  • Description

    Palden Lhamo is the principal protectress of Tibet and the only female of the Eight Guardians of the Dharma. Together with the companion black-ground (Tibetan: nag thang) painting on this wall, this work would have been installed in the chapel (gonkhang) dedicated to the wrathful protective deities (dharmapalas), a room reserved for tantric initiation rites within a Tibetan monastery. The exceptional scale and complexity of the composition relate the painting to the offering-scene murals known as "sets of ornaments" (Tibetan: rgyan tshogs) that adorn the interiors of shrines dedicated to the dharmapalas. It differs in the fact that it represents an actual deity rather than a disembodied presence, though it seems to serve a similar function.

    At the center, the wrathful four-armed goddess Palden Lhamo is shown riding her mule. She is one of the dharmapalas and is commonly depicted as a fear-inspiring, emaciated female of terrifying aspect. She wears a necklace of severed heads, holds a skull cup (kapala) brimming with blood, and is surrounded by a flame mandala that emanates from her being. Depicted against the black background are musical instruments and ritual utensils of all types intended as offerings to the deity. The upper register is framed by a curtain of flayed human skins and organs. Beneath Palden Lhamo is a register depicting auspicious Buddhist symbols and, below them, the seven attributes of a chakravartin (Universal Ruler): a wheel, a wish-fulfilling jewel, a perfect minister, a wife, a horse, an elephant, and a general.

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    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
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