Yamantaka, Destroyer of the God of Death

Date: early 18th century

Culture: Tibet

Medium: Distemper on cloth

Dimensions: 72 3/8 x 46 5/8 in. (183.8 x 118.4 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Purchase, Florance Waterbury Bequest, 1969

Accession Number: 69.71


This image of a wrathful protector of Buddhism would have been an awesome presence in the dimly lit interior of a Tibetan monastery. Yamantaka is a violent aspect of the Bodhisattva Manjushri, who assumes this form to vanquish Yama, the god of death. By defeating Yama, the cycle of rebirths (samsara) that prevents enlightenment is broken. Yamantaka, who shares many attributes with Mahakala, is identified by his blue skin and the array of attributes displayed here. He is encircled by five smaller manifestations, each a Yama-conqueror riding a buffalo. An inscription on the reverse indicates the work was commissioned in honor of the donor’s lama. Flanking the uppermost Yama-conqueror are two pairs of lamas, tentatively identified as the Panchen Lama (left) and Atisha accompanied by attending lamas.