Also known as Vajrabhairava or the Diamond Terrifier, the form of Yamantaka shown here has associations with the Hindu deity Mahabhairava, himself the special form of Shiva, who destroys the universe at the end of the eon. Indeed, Yamantaka's eyes and eyebrows are said to be aflame (as in this artwork), like the cosmic fire at the end of the universe. The Buddhist Yamantaka Tantras coalesce aspects of the two deities (Yama and Shiva) into the cult of Vajrabhairava, which later developed great significance in Tibetan Buddhism.
This thangka presents his very complex iconography consisting of nine faces - including the central buffalo-head with three faces on either side and two on top. The top-most head is that of the peaceful Manjushri, who is said to be Yamantaka's spiritual father. Also, at the top of the painting can be seen Tsongkhapa, who too is closely related to the lineage of Manjushri.
Yamantaka's thirty-four arms are arrayed like a mandala around him. His main implements are the vajra-chopper and skull-cup which he holds in the two main hands in front of his heart. He has sixteen legs. Under the right legs he tramples various animals and below the left feet are different birds. Each of these groups of animals in their turn further reside upon divine beings.
In this extremely powerful representation Yamantaka holds his consort Vajravetali (Diamond Zombie) in the blissful physical union that symbolizes the synthesis of wisdom and compassion. The two embracing deities are encircled by an expressively delineated ring of flames, shaded from an ochre color to light orange and red, and edged in gold lines.
The expression on the two central deities as also the majority of the deities surrounding them are extremely animated and lend much to the vibrant liveliness yet sombre mood of this energetic painting.