Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma

Explore Composition and Structure

Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Bhutan; 19th century
Pigments on cloth
F1996.11.4 (HAR 440)

This wonderful Bhutanese painting combines a black background with a small portion of blue-green landscape at the bottom of the canvas, creating the sense that one is looking beyond the coastal rocks onto an ocean of blood under a black sky. The edges of clouds, smoke, flames, and rocks are highlighted in gold and form an irradiant setting for the black goddess, who, despite her dynamic, emits a sense of calm within this busy environment.

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Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma

Three-Fold Division

The composition of this painting follows a three-fold division
that is typical of Tibetan painting. At the top are the teachers,
whose instruction is essential to the practice represented by the
painting. In the center are the main deities to whom that
practice is devoted. At the bottom are various protectors, wealth
deities, and other figures within the Buddhist pantheon.

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Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma

Teachers

Tibetan Buddhist practice is preserved through the passing of
practice instructions from teacher to student, forming a
teaching lineage that is crucial to the tradition. Thus the
teachers within a particular lineage are typically presented at
the top of Tibetan Buddhist paintings. Here the lineage includes
a central teacher wearing Tibetan monastic dress and a hat
typical of some Kagyu schools and the two main mahasiddhas
of all Kagyu schools, Tilopa and Naropa.

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Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma

Ngagwang Namgyal

The figure at the top center is likely the Drukpa School hierarch
Shabdrung Ngagwang Namgyal (1594-1651). He is considered the
unifier of Bhutan as a nation separate from Tibet. His only
identifying feature is the long pointed beard with which he is
usually presented. His exalted position, higher than the much
earlier mahasiddhas of his tradition, also support this identification.

Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma

Tilopa

This is the mahasiddha Tilopa, who lived before 1000 AD and
received the most important Kagyu School teachings from
Buddha Vajradhara, who is not depicted on this painting. He
holds a fish in his left hand and presumably once held a skull cup
(kapala) in his right. Behind him is a scholar’s basket.

Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma

Naropa

This is the mahasiddha Naropa, who received the most
important Kagyu School teachings from Tilopa and transmitted
them to Tibet. He holds a vajra in his right hand and a skull cup
(kapala) in his left. His headdress, which combines peaceful and
wrathful imagery, and the meditation band around his knee are
typical for representations of siddhas.

Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma

Main Deities

Most of this painting is occupied by the fierce protective
goddess Palden Lhamo Dusolma and her retinue of three figures.
She is shown riding in a sea of blood and surrounded by raging
flames. Immediately above her is the deity Chakrasamvara, who,
despite his size, has to be considered the primary deity of this
painting.

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Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma

Chakrasamvara

The practice of the aspiration deity Chakrasamvara in his twoarmed
sahaja form counts among the primary practices of all of the Kagyu Schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The god holds a vajra and a bell in his hands crossed behind the back of his consort Vajrayogini. The two attributes signify the unification of wisdom and method and thus the overcoming of duality as does their sexual union.

Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma

Retinue of Palden Lhamo

Palden Lhamo’s retinue includes three black furies riding black
horses saddled with human skins. They too are extremely fierce, and they each hold a skull cup and a heart in agitated movement.

Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma

Retinue of Palden Lhamo

Palden Lhamo’s retinue includes three black furies riding black
horses saddled with human skins. They too are extremely fierce, and they each hold a skull cup and a heart in agitated movement.

Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma

Retinue of Palden Lhamo

Palden Lhamo’s retinue includes three black furies riding black
horses saddled with human skins. They too are extremely fierce, and they each hold a skull cup and a heart in agitated movement.

Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma

Palden Lhamo Dusolma

The extremely wrathful protectress Palden Lhamo is here shown
in her “Smoke-clad” (Dusolma) form, with four arms and riding
a white-nosed horse. She holds a scorpion-handled sword and a
skull with the hair still attached and filled with blood in her
right hands and a trident with silk ribbons and a dagger with
peacock feathers in her left. A snake and a lion emerge from her
ears, and her teeth grind a corpse.

Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma

Protector Deities

The rockscape in the foreground features two unidenti”able
protector deities engaged in a wild hunt, a scene that resonates
with the fury found throughout the painting. Despite this
intense, wrathful activity, the scene also includes !owers and
birds that appear unimpressed by what is taking place around
them.

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Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma

Local Protector

This local protector is wrathful, wears the dress of a Tibetan
warrior, wields a bow and arrow, and rides a bull.

Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma
Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma

Local Protector

This protector wears armor and a helmet and rides a horse in full
attack. He brandishes a lance with his right hand and holds a
heart in his left. Five red strokes behind his back indicate a quiver
and bow among his weapons.

Explore Composition and Structure: Palden Lhamo Dusolma