Attributes of Brahmā (Tibetan Tshaṅs-pa, the pure one) in a "rgyan tshogs" banner. Distemper painting by a Tibetan painter.

Part of:
Fifteen banners from a Tibetan Protector chapel.
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About this work


The four-faced turban-clad Brahmā, 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 Dharmapālas, Defenders of the Teachings (Tibetan Drag gśed) who have been pressed into the service of Buddhism since the eighth century when Padmasambhava subdued non-Buddhist and local deities. The eight Dharmapālas are Lha-mo, Tshaṅs-pa, Beg-tse, Yama, Kubera, Hayagrīva, Mahākāla and Yamāntaka. All Dharmapālas are included in the rgyan tshogs banners of which this is one (Yamāntaka in the form of Vajrabhairava), except Hayagrīva 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, Brahmā'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 earrings. 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 stūpa (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 Brahmā: a black bull, ram, a black horse (instead of the white horse he usually rides), an antelope and a dog



Physical description

1 painting : distemper on linen ; distemper 62 x 49 cm.

References note

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, pp. 92-93, thankas banners and paintings no. 31
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. 166 and fig. 1, p. 160)


Wellcome Collection 47071i

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