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19. Rakta-Yamari
15th century
Gilt copper, silver, iron, turquoise, lapis lazuli and painted details
H. 23.8 W. 18.0 D. 12.6
Collection J. P. H. Y., Belgium
catalogue #70

Rakta-Yamari and his consort stand in conquest over the prostrate figure of Yama—the Brahmanical god of death—draped over the back of a buffalo which buckles under their weight. Rakta-Yamari is a tantric manifestation of Manjushri, the Lord of Wisdom. In the right hand he wields his principal teaching tool, a vajra-staff with a freshly severed human head at its tip, symbolic of the emptiness of phenomena. Both he and his consort, Svabha-Prajna, hold skull cups, kapala, in their left hands, and she a flaying knife in her right. Svabha-Prajna’s kapala is made separately in white silver, possibly referring to the tradition that female tantric goddesses hold fresh or ‘wet’ skulls, the bone of which would be pure white. In this tradition, tantric male deities hold an old or ‘dry’ skull.1 The buffalo, its horns made of iron, turns his head to the front, opening his mouth as if to bellow while spreadeagled on a sun disc resting on the lotus flower pedestal. Yama is crushed by the gods on the back of the buffalo, his head ground into the animal’s neck and his leg pinned to the rump. He holds a danda staff in his right hand and a vajra noose in the left, the danda made separately from iron, the preferred metal for Tibetan tantric ritual objects. Both wear flayed skin loincloths, hers lowered to the thighs, and both they and their buffalo mount are embellished with jewels. Snakes slither around the gods. This is a truly accomplished Tibetan sculpture, inventive, well observed, colourful and beautifully made. The statue represents the very finest Tibetan sculpture of this period.2


1 See Beer, 1999, p. 264.
2 Compare another turquoise inset gilt Rakta-Yamari in the British Museum, see von Schroeder, 1981, pl. 123D, p. 451.

Detail: Buffalo

all text & images © 2005 The authors, the photographers and the Ethnographic Museum, Antwerp

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