Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Direction Guardian (Buddhist Deity) - Vaishravana (North)

རྒྱལ་ཆེན་རིགས་བཞི། 四大天王
(item no. 144)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1500 - 1599
Lineages Uncertain
Size 95.25x59.69cm (37.50x23.50in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Shelley & Donald Rubin
Catalogue # acc.# P1995.15.2
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: King

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Vaishravana (Tibetan: nam to se. English: the Son of Namto), Guardian of the Northern Direction, King of the Yakshas and Leader of the Worldly Dharma Protectors.

Tibetan: Nam to se

In the appearance of a warrior god, he has a round full face with eyebrows, moustache and a beard - brown in colour. Large round eyes gaze to the side. The right hand at the chest holds a tall victory banner topped with flowing silks of various colour. The left holds in the lap a brown mongoose expelling jewels from the mouth, like a rain shower, creating a pile of precious wishing gems on the ground below. Adorned with an ornate five-pointed crown of gold and jewels, earrings and tassels, he is richly garbed in the raiment of a king, opulent with silk brocades and elaborate designs in varieties of colour. Seated on a purple mat above a rocky bench, in a relaxed posture and wearing boots, the right leg is supported by an ugly yaksha daemon in an acquiescent kneeling posture. The left foot presses down on the prone form of another yaksha serving as a footstool. The head is encircled by a green areola edged with flames. The background is entirely filled with swirling purple smoke and the foreground sparse and green.

"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).

Vaishravana, leader of the yaksha race, is a worldly guardian worshipped 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. They are common to all schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Paintings of the Kings are generally found in association with a larger thematic set featuring the buddha Shakyamuni and the 16 Great Arhats.

Jeff Watt 6-99

Related Items
Publication: Tibetan Paintings

Thematic Sets
Buddhist Worldly Protector: Vaishravana, Guardian of the North
Iconography: Deities According to Function (Buddhist Traditional)
Buddhist Worldly Protector: Vaishravana Religious Context
Buddhist Protector: Four Guardian Kings Main Page
Painting Set: Arhat Set I
Buddhist Worldly Protector: Vaishravana (Painting Masterworks)
Buddhist Deity: Vaishravana, King of the North (Masterworks)
Subject: Deities Wearing Boots & Shoes
Collection of Shelley & Donald Rubin (Masterworks)
Subject: Types of Beings in Himalayan Art (Buddhist)
Collection of Shelley & Donald Rubin