Offerings to the Goddess Palden Lhamo. Tibet. 1500s.
Palden Lhamo is the principal protectress of Tibet and the only female of the Eight Guardians of the Dharma. Together with the companion black-ground (nag thang) painting on this wall, this work would have been installed in the chapel (gonkhang) dedicated to the wrathful protective deities (dharmapalas), a room reserved for tantric initiation rites within a Tibetan monastery. The exceptional scale and complexity of the composition relate the painting to the offering-scene murals known as “sets of ornaments” (rgyan tshogs) that adorn the interiors of shrines dedicated to the dharmapalas. It differs in the fact that it represents an actual deity rather than a disembodied presence.
At the center, the wrathful four-armed goddess Palden Lhamo is shown riding her mule. She is commonly depicted as an emaciated female of terrifying aspect. She wears a necklace of severed heads, holds a skull cup brimming with blood, and is surrounded by a flame mandala that emanates from her being. Depicted against the black background are musical instruments and ritual utensils of all types intended as offerings to the deity. The upper register is framed by a curtain of flayed human skins and organs. Beneath Palden Lhamo is a register depicting auspicious Buddhist symbols and, below them, the seven attributes of a chakravartin (Universal Ruler): a wheel, a wish-fulfilling jewel, a perfect minister, a wife, a horse, an elephant, and a general. -Met