Distemper on cloth; 72 3/8 x 46 5/8 in. (183.8 x 118.4 cm)
Purchase, Florance Waterbury Bequest, 1969 (69.71)
One of two in the Museum's collection, each over six feet tall, this powerful painting was once part of a set representing the ferocious protectors of Buddhism. The clarity of the compositionthe strong crisp lines depicting Yama's voluminous physique and the luxuriant flames encircling himand the hint of recession in the background suggest a date in the mid-seventeenth to early eighteenth century. Yama is the Indian god of death who was tamed by the Bodhisattva Manjushri. In later Buddhist traditions, he became a protector of the religion and its adherents. He carries a thunderbolt chopper and skull, and wears a tiger skin, jewelry, and a garland of severed human skulls. Trampling an agonized being, Yama stands on a black lotus petal floating in a triangular sea of blood. This ogre-faced form of the god (sometimes known as Yama Antarasiddhi) guards against the inner demons of emotional addictions such as lust and hate. Four smaller manifestations of the more commonly depicted buffalo-headed Yama, who protects against outer obstacles, are painted on the four corners, each a different color. The fifth, a small dark blue image of a monstrous Yama at the top of the painting, is particularly intriguing. He is attended by two monks holding books in a composition that is reminiscent of portraits of the renowned Tsong Khapa (13571419) with his two main disciples, Gyalsab and Kedrup. This Yama was a special protector of Tsong Khapa, who recorded his vision of him in a poem that describes the god in great detail.