Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Direction Guardian (Buddhist Deity) - (multiple figures)

རྒྱལ་ཆེན་རིགས་བཞི། 四大天王
(item no. 217)
Origin Location Western Tibet
Date Range 1500 - 1599
Lineages Gelug
Size 109.22x63.50cm (43x25in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# P1995.31.3
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: King

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Virupaksha and Virudhaka (Tibetan: chen mi zang dang pag pi kye bo): Guardians of the Western and Southern Directions and Kings of the Naga - serpents, and Kumbhanda - celestial musicians.

Stern in appearance, with a body gold in colour, gazing to the side, he has a square face with brown hair and a full beard. The right hand holds at the waist a writhing orange snake. The left held upraised performs a mudra (gesture) of blessing. Wearing an elaborate ornate crown-headdress challenging description, he is attired in bright coloured brocade garments, trousers and boots. The head is encircled by an irregular dark green areola edged with licks of red and yellow flame. Seated on a rocky bench, in a relaxed posture, the right foot is held up by a daemon figure, blue of colour, kneeling in an acquiescent posture. The left foot presses on the stomach of a reclining male figure - brown, with the left hand raised in a pointing gesture.

At the sides and above are 4 monks performing various mudras with the hands, wearing orange and red robes and yellow pandita hats. Also, there are 4 figures of Tara, from the set of 21 Taras of Lord Atisha, each with one face and two hands, holding two lotus flowers. On top of the blossom in each of the right hands is a vase. Seated in a relaxed posture the right leg is extended forward. Each figure is seated on a lotus and surrounded by a nimbus of red light.

The central figure below is Virudhaka, the Direction King of the South, fearsome in appearance with a furrowed brow, glaring eyes and a gaping mouth; he holds to the side a long sword in the right hand. The left is placed at the heart in a mudra of blessing. Adorned with an elaborate wide brimmed crown - studded with jewels, and gold earrings and ribbons, he wears rich brocade garments in various styles and colour. The head is surrounded by an irregular orange areola, encircled by a long green scarf and edged with licks of red and yellow flame. Seated above a brown mat on a rocky bench, in a relaxed posture, the right foot is supported on the back of a daemon figure, brown of colour, in a kneeling posture. The left foot presses on the back of a dark coloured turtle with a golden shell.

At the upper two corners are monastic figures performing mudras, attired in orange and red robes, wearing yellow pandita hats. Descending at each side are 6 more Tara figures from the set of 21. At the middle right side is the yellow deity of wealth Jambhala, holding a bijapuraka fruit in the extended right hand and a mongoose held to the side in the left, seated in a relaxed posture. Below is wrathful Black Jambhala holding a skullcup to the heart in the right and a mongoose against the side with the left, naked, in a standing posture, surrounded by a circle flames. At the bottom right a black naga offers with upraised hands a bowl of precious jewels. At the left a red naga offers a single jewel. Virupaksha and Virudhaka are worldly guardians worshipped as protectors of Buddhism. They live on the sides of the lower slopes of mount Meru in the Heaven of the Four Great Kings. Like the other Direction Kings, the leader Vaishravana, and Dritarashtra, they swore an oath of protection before the buddha Shakyamuni. The stories and iconography of the Four Guardian Kings arose originally with the early Buddhist sutras and became fully developed with the later Mahayana. 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. It is not uncommon to find other sets of deities, figures and lineage teachers portrayed in a subordinate role alongside the central theme. Examples would be the 21 Taras, the Medicine Buddha and entourage and the 35 Buddhas of the Confession Sutra.

Jeff Watt 6-99

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Publication: Worlds of Transformation

Thematic Sets
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 6
Painting Style: Western Tibetan
Painting Set: Arhat Set II