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Deities and Devotion in Mongolian Buddhist Art

Vajrabhairava with Three Forms of Yama Dharmaraja
19th century
Pigments and gold on sized cloth; silver and glass case
25.7 x 19.7 cm.

Loan from the collection of David Kamansky and Gerald Wheaton

Legend says that Yama Dharmaraja began his existence as a humble monk who was meditating in a cave when three outlaws entered the cave and killed a sacred buffalo they had recently stolen. As soon as they realized there was a witness to their crime, the outlaws murdered the monk, cut off his head, and cast his body aside. The monk’s spirit was so enraged by this cruel act that it reanimated his body, placed the head of the slaughtered buffalo on his shoulders, and immediately killed the three outlaws. His bloodlust unquenched, Yama was preparing to continue his killing spree when Manjushri assumed the form of Yamantaka/ Vajrabhairava and subdued Yama, installing him as lord of the underworld and judge of deceased souls. This painting of Vajrabhairava with three different forms of Yama Dharmaraja may once have been used in meditation and visualization exercises by a monk studying the various tantras associated with these deities.

Reference: Kreijger, Hugo E. Tibetan Painting: The Jucker Collection. Boston: Shambala, 2001, pp. 100-101.