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zoom imagePalden Lhamo
(skr. Shri Devi tib. dpal ldan lha mo)


Palden Lhamo is of the major protector deities in Tibetan Buddhism and the only female among the powerful group of the Eight Dharma Protectors (skr. Dharmapalas). She is particularly favored by the Gelukpa, for whom she is a special protector of Lhasa and the Dalai Lama. She is known to appear at a mysterious lake, known as Lhamo Latso, about ninety miles southeast of Lhasa. This lake is renowned for revealing on its surface the reflections of the future. Palden Lhamo is Tibetan for Shri Devi, as she is the Tibetan vision of the terrific black goddess of India. Legends associate her with both Tara and Sarasvati. The unusually large, closeup, figure of Lhamo rides her wild mule through a sea of blood and fat. She is blue-black and haggish, with pendulous breasts, flaming eyebrows and mustache, and red hair standing on end. She brandishes a vajra-topped, long-handled club and a bowl made from the skull of a child of an incestuous union, which is filled with sense organs, including heart and plucked-out eyeballs. She sits astride her mount garbed only in the terrific ornaments of the fierce deities. A garland of freshly severed heads hangs around her body, snakes hold up her orange-streaked tiger-skin skirt, and five skulls topped with flaming jewels form her crown. A moon disc in her hair and a radiating sun disc at her navel are said to be gifts from the god Vishnu, just as her other accoutrements are gifts from various other gods. Across the back of the mule lies the flayed skin of her own son, drawn in pink lines, the head hanging down in front of her and the hands and feet tied together to keep the skin in place. One of her legends recounts her existence as queen of the cannibal demons of Sri Lanka. She had vowed to slay her own son if she failed to convert her husband and their people from their evil ways of cannibalism and human sacrifice. When her husband refused to heed her warning, she fulfilled her vow, slew the child in front of the father, and assumed this awesome form of Lhamo. Her wild mule is white in color and is out fitted with a harness of venomous snakes. Over the mule's front flank hangs a pair of dice used by Lhamo to determine the good or bad karmic fate of beings, a skull, and a black bag filled with diseases. Out of compassion, she swallowed all she could of the world's diseases. Those left over she stuffed into this bag. After casting the dice to determine the karmic situation, she breathes out these diseases, or lets them out of the bag to overcome the enemies of the Dharma. On the rear flank of the mule hangs a ball of magic thread, shown with crossing blue and red lines, said to have been made from rolled-up weapons. Nearby is the eye that formed when Lhamo pulled out the arrow shot at her by her husband, the cannibal king, as she fled Sri Lanka. Figures accompany Lhamo, Makaravaktra (Crocodile-Faced) Dakini leading her mule and Simhavaktra (Lion-Faced) Dakini behind her.

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