The fierce and bull-headed Yama stands on his buffalo mount, which tramples on a corpse. He is surrounded by flickering flames against a black background. He holds a noose and skull-crested club, with a string of severed heads hanging from his waist. Yama is the Indian god of death, who in Tibetan Buddhism was conquered by Manjushri and made a protector of the Buddhist dharma ('teachings'). Mahakala is another of the Tibetan protector deities or dharmapalas.
Tibetan cloth-hangings are usually paintings. At festival times huge appliqué textiles of bodhisattvas are draped over hillsides or temple-walls. This unusual example is silk embroidery. The subject-matter is Tibetan, but the technique and manufacture is Chinese, perhaps from a workshop in southern China. Silk has been imported to Tibet and made into religious items since at least the fifteenth century.
A Tibeto-Chinese style of art emerged in the early fifteenth century and again in the eighteenth century. In the latter period large numbers of objects were produced in China in the Tibetan manner, including whole temples, statues, paintings and embroideries such as this one.