Attributes of Yama Dharmarāja (Yama Dam-can Chos-kyi rGyal-po) in a "rgyan tshogs" banner. Distemper painting by a Tibetan painter.
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Yama Dharmarāja (Yama Dam-can Chos-kyi rGyal-po), a protector in Buddhism, is Lord of the realm of Hell. As the emanation of Buddha in the realms of Hell, he corresponds to Sākyamuni in the human realm. It is Yama's function to assess at the time of death the positive and negative actions (karma) performed by sentient beings during their lives and to determine the appropriate realm into which they will be reborn. Visualisation of his attributes brings protection and spiritual wellbeing to the individual and to the wider community. Yama Dharmarāja is usually depicted as blue in colour and bull-headed, clad in bone ornaments. His body is here represented in the centre by a cymbal-wielding skeleton, with his hand implements: the cudgel surmounted by a skull (thod-dbyug) on the left and the black rope-snare or lassoo on the right Below the skeleton are king's and queen's ear-rings, a dish with a yin and yang sign, an umbrella of power, a piece of coral, and crossed incense sticks. Further down, in the centre is the offering cake (gtor ma) surrounded by flames, with a skull bowl as its base. The gtor ma has a triangular top which is yellow and green and is flanked by ear rings in the form of skulls. Flanking it are the following animals: the blue buffalo, which is Yama's principal mount, the antelope, the snow-lion devouring a human being, three rams, and two horses, along with a suit of armour. At the bottom right there is a circle containing the four continents of the world under the sway of Yama Dharmarāja, with Mount Sumeru at the centre In the upper half, there are six skull bowls: the first contains blood, the second one a posy of flowers, the third one a skull, the fourth one two skulls and one black human being surrounded by flames, the fifth (below the first) blood flowing out of its teeth, and the sixth has viscera protruding from its mouth. Yama's wheel, which suggests his dominion over the mortal part of life repeated in cycle after cycle, is represented by a sun with spiky rays on the right hand side opposite a moon on the left. Along the top are skins of three flayed human beings and their viscera, garnished with eyes on stalks
1 painting : distemper on linen ; distemper 63 x 47 cm.
Marianne Winder, Catalogue of Tibetan manuscripts and xylographs, and catalogue of thankas, banners and other paintings and drawings in the Library of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, London 1989, p. 96, thankas banners and paintings no. 36
Gyurme Dorje, 'A rare series of Tibetan banners', in N. Allan (ed.), Pearls of the orient: Asian treasures of the Wellcome Library, London 2003, pp. 161-177 (p. 167 and fig. 5)
Tony Gould (ed.), Cures and curiosities: inside the Wellcome Library, London 2007, p. 168
Wellcome Library no. 47063i