Himalayan Art Resources

Buddhist Worldly Protector: Vaishravana Main Page

Vaishravana Main Page | Vaishravana Outline Page

Database Search: All Vaishravana Images | Paintings | Sculpture | Mandalas | Retinue Figures

Subjects & Topics:
- Vaishravana Definition (below)
- Vaishravana Outline Page
- Vaishravana Guardian King
- Vaishravana Riding a Lion
- Vaishravana Masterworks
- Four Guardian Kings
- Confusions
- Others...



Mahayana Buddhist Context:
- Vaishravana, Guardian King of the North with Shakyamuni, Arhats & other three Kings
- Vaishravana with other Kings at a temple entrance (sculpture or painting)

Vajrayana Context:
- Vaishravana & other three Kings included in a Tantric Mandala (Medicine Buddha, Pancha Raksha, Tara)
- Vaishravana Riding a Lion (Eight Horsemen)
- Black, riding a blue horse
- Blue (Treasure Tradition)
- Blue, wrathful with Eight Nagas
- Green with a gold stick
- Green, riding a lion
- Red, riding a dragon
- Red, riding a horse
- Red, riding a lion
- Red with Sixteen Nagas
- White, riding a lion
- Padmasambhava as Vaishravana
- Others....

Vaishravana, leader of the Yaksha race, is a worldly guardian worshiped as both a protector and benefactor (wealth deity). He lives on the north side of the lower slopes of mount Meru in the Heaven of the Four Great Kings. As the leader of the Four Direction Guardians, he like the others, swore an oath of protection before the buddha Shakyamuni. The stories and iconography of the Four Guardian Kings arise originally with the early Buddhist sutras and become fully developed in the later Mahayana sutras. The Kings are common to all schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Paintings of the Four Kings are found as murals at the entrance way into temples or in sets depicting Shakyamuni Buddha and the Sixteen Great Arhats. They are rarely if ever painted alone or individually.

There are three divisions in the study of Vaishravana iconography. The first, discussed above, is [1] Vaishravana as part of the group of Four Guardian or Direction Kings. These four are based on narrative descriptions found in the early Sutras. The second classification of [2] Vaishravana iconography is where the Four Guardian Kings are included in the larger retinue of a Tantric Mandala such as Medicine Buddha, Pancha Raksha or the Tara Seventeen Deity Mandala. The third division [3] contains all of the forms of Vaishravana as found in the Tantra literature where he is either the principal figure for meditation, or visualized in front of the Buddhist practitioner. These forms of Vaishravana have the general function of wealth-bestowing. Vaishravana in his form known as Vaishravana Riding a Lion is the most common in art and most popular Tantric form of the deity. The Sakya Tradition preserve and teach seventeen different forms of Vaishravana (example 1, example 2).

"With vajra armour, a garland of jewel ornaments and the beautiful heavenly banner - fluttering, illuminated in the middle of a hundred thousand Wealth Bestowers; homage to Vaishravana, chief among the protectors of the Teaching." (Nyingma liturgical verse).

Jeff Watt 7-2003 [updated 5-2017]