Palden Lhamo, the dark blue protector and only female among the Eight Guardians of the Law, is also Mahakali. Her Sanskrit name Shri Devi means Great Lady, ie. Lady Goddess; Okkin Tungri to northern Mongolians. Her name is often pronounced Penden Hamo.
She is usually depicted in nakthang [black-ground style scroll] crossing the sea of blood riding side-saddle on a white mule. There is an eye on the left rump of the mule which is the place where her irate husband's arrow found a mark. She had killed her son and used his flayed skin as a saddle blanket.
In many monasteries her image is in a corner and is always kept covered.
Lhamo (Skt. Kaladevi,) also called Remati, was married to Shinje,
the king of the dudpos, who at the time of their marriage was the king of
Lanka. She had vowed either to gentle him and make him favourable towards
the religion of Buddha, or else to see to it that an end be put to that whole
During the king's absence, Devi accomplished the dreadful dead. She killed her son and flayed him, then drank his blood using his skull for a cup and also ate his flesh. She then left the palace and using her son's skin as a saddle cloth, set off for her northern home on one of the king's finest steeds.
On his return, seeing what had happened, the king seized his bow
and with a fierce and terrible curse shot off a poisoned arrow, but the arrow
only pierced the animal's rump and there it stuck fast. The queen easily
neutralized the king's imprecation, and removing the deadly barb she said:
"May the wound of my mount become an eye large enough to watch over the
twenty-four regions, and may I myself be the one to extirpate the lineage of the
malignant kings of Lanka!" Then Palden Lhamo continued northwards, easily
traversing India, TÝbet, Mongolia, and part of China, and finally settled, say
some people, on the mountain Oikhan, in the Olgon district of Eastern Siberia.
This mountain is said to be surrounded by large, uninhabited deserts, and by the
In tangkas, she is depicted with red hair to indicate her wrathful nature. Although she may wear the crown of five skulls symbolizing the transmutation of the passions, yet the serpent of wrath is there, too.
Unlike the support of the other 7 dharmapalas, she is atop, or surrounded by, the Himalayas. This not only indicates her association with that region but also her origin as Mahakali, daughter of Himalaya, the Indian deity. She also wears the garland of freshly severed heads characteristic of Kali.
The important distinction is that in this instance the sea of boiling blood, the corpses, and entrails are not associated with offerings intended to appease her. Lhamo's ultimate nature is as a support and a protector of the way of compassion. The personal protector of the Dalai and Panchen Lamas, Palden Lhamo is especially venerated by the Gelug denomination.
The sun shines from her navel and her hair is adorned with a crescent moon - peacock feather jewel. Sometimes she is shaded by a peacock feather fan or parasol. Her steed is bridled and trimmed with vipers (like that of Freya, the Norse deity) from which hang a bag of diseases, a ball of magical thread and her dice. One form of mo, the Tibetan system of divination by dice, is associated with her.
Palden Lhamo, Victorious Goddess-Defender of the Mahayana, was armed by the gods themselves. Hevajra is the one who gave her the dice to determine men's lives. Her peacock feather fan is the gift of Brahma. Kubera gave her a lion which protects and decorates her right ear. The naga king gave her a serpent for her left ear. Vajrapani gave her a hammer to use as a weapon. Her mule is the gift of the other gods.
Tangka description by Natalie Marsh, Huntington Archive, Ohio State U. Image link at top of that page
Remati is the name of the very wrathful form of Palden Lhamo. Depicted as dark blue, with 3 eyes, she is shown wielding a sickle or a sandalwood club, and holding a blood-filled skull while seated on her mule.
A Ladakhi thangka in the Koelz collection at University of Michigan shows her with four arms. She holds a curved knife and skull bowl in her lower hands, and brandishes a sword and a staff waving a banner of skin.
It used to be the custom in Lhasa, to ridicule powerful members of society once a year, and so "the tutelary deity of Tibet and its government, the goddess Palden Lhamo, took possession of the lady destined to act as the chief lampooner during the festival of the New Year and spoke through her mouth. The goddess selected her from among the crowd of women gathered at a central well as they drew water for the crowds participating in the festival."
~ Michael Aris. The Boneless Tongue (footnote 13.)