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Attributes of Brahma, Tantric Banner.

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Credit: Attributes of Brahma, Tantric Banner. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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Attributes of Brahma (Tibetan Tshans-pa, 'The Pure One'), Tantric banner. Distemper on linen, Tibet, 18th-19th century. The four-faced turban-clad Brahma, from the Buddhist perspective, is a protector associated with the meditative experiences of the 'world-system of form' (gzugs-kyi khams), one of the eighteen elements, and he is acknowledged as the head of a group known as the 'liberating' protectors (sgrol-'ging). Though he is a Hindu god, he and Indra have been incorporated in the Buddhist pantheon. He is one of the eight Dharmapalas, Defenders of the Teachings (Tibetan Drag gsed) who have been pressed into the service of Buddhism since the eighth century when Padmasambhava subdued non-Buddhist and local deities. The eight Dharmapalas are Lha-mo, Tsha?s-pa, Beg-tse, Yama, Kubera, Hayagriva, Mahakala and Yamantaka. All Dharmapalas are included in the rgyan tshogs banners of which this is one (Yamantaka in the form of Vajrabhairava), except Hayagriva who may perhaps be concealed by one of his epithets in the list of fifteen deities. At the top are flayed human skins with human heads, sense organs and other organs of the body. Below are six skull-bowls holding the six sacramental substances. In the centre, Brahma's hand-held attributes are shown: from top centre downwards, a vajra-chopper, a seventh blood-filled skull bowl, and a triangular snare. Other hand-held attributes are shown below: from left to right, a long sword, a vessel with green fluid, a battle-lance, a trident, a human organ (?), and a garland of skulls. At the bottom centre is a large gtor-ma (offering cake). Beside the lower part of the gtor-ma are a fire cone, two scrolls bound together by a ribbon, a double drum, and king's and queen's ear rings. Pieces of grinning human skeletons make macabre gestures. To the far left of the gtor-ma, a mirror reflects Mount Sumeru the mythical axis mundi of Indo-Tibetan mythology with its crystal, beryl, ruby and golden flanks, representing the 'world-system of form'. At the bottom right, a corresponding mirror reflects the symbols of the five senses: a stupa (touch), a mirror reflecting cymbals (hearing), a small mirror on its own (sight), a conch shell containing incense (smell), and some fruit (taste). Above these are the mounts of Brahma: a black bull, ram, a black horse (instead of the white horse he usually rides), an antelope and a dog.


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