Himalayan Art Resources

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

རྒྱལ་ཆེན་རིགས་བཞི། 四大天王
(item no. 291)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1800 - 1899
Lineages Uncertain
Size 60.96x39.37cm (24x15.50in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# F1997.19.3
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: King

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Virupaksha and Vaishravana (Tibetan: chen mi zang dang nam to se): the Guardian Kings of the Western and Northern Directions.

Virupaksha, leader of the nagas: With one face and two hands, red in colour, he has large round eyes, a moustache and black beard. The right hand holds a writhing green snake and the left an upraised stupa - gold in colour, resting on a pink lotus. The head is crowned with an elaborate headdress of gold and jewels. Large gold rings hang from the ears. Wearing elaborate garments of various colour and the gold armored mail of a warrior he wears across the back a tiger skin with the legs wrapped about the neck. In green brocade boots with the legs straight standing atop a blue rock outcropping, brown smoke and an areola of green circled with fire surround him. At the bottom left floating on the surface of a body of dark blue water is a solitary naga with the lower body in the shape of a coiled snake. An elaborate hood of five snakes covers the head. The two hands held in front offer a blue wishing jewel to the King.

Vaishravana, leader of the yakshas: With a body orange in colour, he holds in the right hand the long staff of a victory banner. The left holds to the side a brown mongoose disgorging precious jewels onto the ground below. Adorned with a crown of jewels, gold earrings and colourful garments regal in nature, he stands with the two legs together atop a flat green rise of land, surrounded by billowing clouds and an areola of green highlighted with a circle of orange and red licks of flame. At the lower right a yaksha daemon with a monkey like face and a pink body rakes up the precious rain shower of jewels.

"Well protecting the Buddha's Teachings with heroic strength of arms; homage to the Kings of the Four Directions, North, South, East and West." (Sakya liturgical verse).

Placed between the two Kings is a large plate filled with the peaceful offerings of the five senses comprising a mirror, scented water in a conch shell, cymbals, persimmons and an orange silk scarf. The central background is filled with green hills adorned with a blue lake, a tree and a brown cave. White and pink clouds edge the wide clear sky extending upward.

From the set of the Four Guardian Kings of the Directions the other two are Virudhaka and Dritarashtra. Traditionally painted in association with the Buddha and 16 Arhats the full group would comprise a total of 25 figures: the buddha Shakyamuni together with the two foremost disciples - Shariputra and Maudgalyayana, the 16 Arhats, the attendant Dharmata and the patron Hvashang, together with the Four Kings.

Jeff Watt 9-99

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Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 2
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Buddhist Protector: Four Guardian Kings Main Page