Historically in Buddhist Tibet, patrons and monks commissioned thangka art, or sacred painting, to focus their meditations and prayers. Painted with red, green, and black pigments, this 19th-century thangka depicts the wrathful god Hayagriva, the 'horse neck' god.
Identified by the three horse heads emerging from his crest, Hayagriva is a common meditational deity in Tibetan Tantric Buddhism and represents a detachment from the world of ignorance. Through his ability to destroy the obstacles to enlightenment, he heals disease and transforms negative emotions into wisdom and compassion. He is generally understood to be a manifestation of the wrathful activity of the the Buddha Amitabha, depicted here at the top center of the painting.
Standing amidst a flaming aureole, Hayagriva is shown here embracing his consort Vajravarahi, the wrathful form of the goddess of transcendent passion. He has three faces and wears a crown of human skulls, a necklace of human faces, and garments of elephant skin and tiger pelts. His four legs stand upon two human corpses, symbolizing destruction of the ego. His six arms each hold a ritual object used to guide beings to enlightenment, including the dorje scepter of compassion and the tantric ax used to sever the shackles of ignorance.