Cultures & Traditions
Lhamo is the city goddess of Lhasa and the principal protector of the Gelukpa sect of Varayhana Buddhism and the Dalai Lamas of Tibet. She is the Buddhist manifestation of the Hindu Death goddess Kali who embodies destruction. Like Kali, Lhamo brings death and destruction to opponents of the Buddhist law or Dharma.
Lhamo is the only female of the eight Dharmapalas and the most extreme in appearance. She is typically illustrated as a bloodthirsty and terrifying character riding a mule or donkey and adorned with a crown of skulls, garland of decapitated heads, and a human skin worn as a cape. The flayed skin of a human sacrifice extends over the back of her mount. She has flaming hair and bulging eyes and a corpse in her mouth. The goddess rides her mule through a sea of blood accompanied by two hybrid demons.
According to legend, Lhamo was once the queen of the demons of Sri Lanka. Her husband, the king, was addicted to enormous acts of violence and cannibalism. Lhamo attempted to convince the king of the hazards and severity of his behavior, but he ignored her warnings. On a day of mass sacrifice, the king asked his wife to lead out the victims, and she appeared leading their own children to be sacrificed. When the king attempted to detain her, the queen transformed into the ferocious goddess Lhamo and murdered the children. The king begged her to undo her deed, promising to end violence and human sacrifice in the kingdom. However, ignoring his pleas, the goddess rode off into the sky with hideous laughter and wild shrieks.
DMA Connect, 2012.
- Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Met
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