Attributes of rDo-rje 'Jigs-byed (Sanskrit Vajrabhairava, 'the fear-inspiring one') in a "rgyan tshogs" banner. Distemper painting by a Tibetan painter.
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About this work
The subject of this painting is Vajrabhairava (Tibetan rDo-rje 'Jigs-byed; Dor je jig je; Dorje Jikje; 'The Fear-Inspiring One'). He is one of the forms of Yamāntaka, the 'Destroyer of death-whose-name-is-Yama'. Vajrabhairava has several heads and many arms. Yama has a bull's head, Yamāntaka has a bull's head, and Vajrabhairava can have several human or bulls' heads. Vajrabhairava and Yamāntaka are wrathful forms of Mañjuśrī, the bodhisattva of wisdom (discernment, discrimination, Tibetan shes-rab). In this set of fifteen rgyan tshogs, Vajrabhairava is the central deity. In a rgyan tshogs the many heads and arms of Vajrabhairava cannot be seen as the painting shows only his attributes and not his body. From the inscription on the top of the back of the banner it is clear that it is Vajrabhairava and that his is the central position in the temple, with seven banners on the left-hand side and seven banners on the right-hand side. Vajrabhairava is a meditational deity rather than a protector, and the fourteen protector deities around him are present to safeguard the spiritual accomplishments which he confers through meditation In the centre is a giant gtor-ma (offering cake) resting on a skull bowl. At the bottom of the gtor-ma, supporting the skull bowl, are three detached human heads. The upper part of the gtor-ma contains a skull bowl with a grī gug (chopper), the implements which Vajrabhairava usually holds in his central pair of hands. At the top of the gtor-ma is a finial of the sun and moon. Around the gtor-ma is multi-coloured scrollwork Left and right of the gtor-ma are four horizontal bands containing the 32 other implements usually held by Vajrabhairava in his other sixteen pairs of hands. The lower three rows consist mostly of smaller skull bowls containing different things; one contains eyes on a stalk. At the top are two further bands containing attributes of the nine heads of Vajrabhairava, including skulls, vajras (thunderbolts), bells, a rhinoceros horn, a tiger suspended over a human being, the two ladles used in the life-ceremony, a life-vase with peacock feathers etc. Below, four people (two on each side of the gtor-ma) hold different attributes: (left to right) a horn, a triple gem, a wheel and a scimitar. At the bottom, on the left is a horse, on the right an elephant
1 painting : distemper on linen ; distemper 62 x 49 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. 91, thankas banners and paintings no. 29
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. 165 and fig. 2)
Wellcome Library no. 47065i