The Rise of Yamantaka, Destroyer of the Lord of Death

Who is Yamataka?

Yamantaka is the most wrathful form of Manjushri. He is the embodiment of total wrath. His anger is so terrific that it may consume even himself. He crushes many evil spirits under his feet.

How Yamantaka, the legend of wrathful figures, came into being?

Once there was a powerful yogi who went into an abandoned cave to pursue his practices. He practiced deep meditative absorption. Seated in a Vajra posture, his consciousness was soaring higher, far beyond the mundane worldly existence.
As the night fell, a band of poachers hurried into the cave. Driving before them was a water buffalo that they had stolen. They immediately slaughtered the buffalo. And they were about to devour on their ill-gotten prey.
Suddenly, by the light of their fire, they saw the yogi's silent form seated in the shadow. They feared what would happen to them if this witness were left alive. So, they cut off the yogi's head and returned to their feast.
Soon thereafter, the yogi returned to his consciousness. He re-entered his body, only to discover that it was headless!
He felt around the floor of the cave uncontrollably and started searching. He looked for something to place upon his shoulders. But all he could find was the buffalo's severed head, left by the poachers. So he put that on.
He was furious and wild with anger at what had befallen him. And he set out to wreak his revenge on those poachers who had so cruelly disfigured him. With his psychic powers, he not only destroyed them but vented his boundless fury on whomever he met. Soon he became the scourge of the countryside. A hideous monster who left behind a gruesome trail of destruction, a veritable Lord of Death.
With the hopes to end this carnage, a group of holy men decided to make prayers and offerings to Manjushri.
They asked for his help to protect them all from the deformed yogi's rage. Out of his great compassion, Manjushri responded to their prayers. He manifested himself as Vajrabhairava, the Diamond Terrifier, otherwise known as Yamantaka, Destroyer of the Lord of Death.
Manjushri realized that only an extremely wrathful emanation will overcome such a powerful force. So, his central face took on the aspect of an enraged buffalo to match the fury of the yogi.
But it was crowned with the head of Manjushri himself, symbolizing Yamantaka's fully enlightened nature.
As Yamantaka, Manjushri completely subdued the furious yogi. The wrathful Manjushri converted the yogi from a malevolent force into a protector of dharma.  Hence, as a dharma protector, the yogi is invoked by followers of Yamantaka's tantric path. Also, he was given the name Dharmaraja, King of the Dharma. 


"The vast space and this mother earth
Are entirely filled, with neither let nor hindrance,
By the hosts of deities related to the Opponent of Yama,
The mere recollection of whom subdues all demons and
interferers and effortlessly fulfills all wishes of the mind.
By this practice which releases a rain of flowers that pervades the sky
With the sound of a song endowed with the fidelity of Brahma,
You are maintained in everlasting glory.
As ecstatic joy arises in you through knowing this,
We shall proclaim this melodious song of good fortune"

(From the verses of auspiciousness recited at the close of Yamantaka’s sadhana)

How is Yamantaka depicted in Thangka paintings?

  • He has many faces so that he can look in all directions.
  • It signifies the omnipresence of his anger.
  • He has many arms and legs, therefore, nobody can escape from his fury.
  • He has the wisdom of equanimity and thus treads equally on all aspects of ego.
  • His consort feeds and reinforces his countless vengeance.


Source: Images of Enlightenment by Andy Weber and Jonathan Landaw

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