Yama, Lord of Hell

Lama Temple, Beijing

The Lama Temple hosts a stunning exhibit of Tibetan bronzes1 from the Qing dynasty. The Qing rulers were great supporters of Tibetan buddhism, both for political and religious reasons. The sculptures on exhibit (2009) were all originally associated with different halls in the temple.

The sculpture shown here was created during the reign of Qianlong (1736-1795). Yama, who wears the head of a bull, rides upon his water-buffalo mount, who tramples a corpse. Yama displays his typical attributes of club and noose; the noose is for lassoing souls into his domain. His consort, Yami, offers a human skull filled with brains to her fierce husband.

Typically the bull horns belong to Yamantaka, not Yama. But in this case, the iconography of the two figures has become conflated.

1According to their labels, most of the figures exhibited here are actually made of gilt copper; the term "Tibetan bronzes" is often used generically for Tibetan images of bronze, copper, or even brass composition.