Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Direction Guardian (Buddhist Deity) - Virudhaka (South)

རྒྱལ་ཆེན་རིགས་བཞི། 四大天王
(item no. 488)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1700 - 1799
Lineages Uncertain
Size 39.37x26.67cm (15.50x10.50in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# F1996.24.1
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: King

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Virudhaka, the Guardian King of the South (Tibetan: phag pa'i kye po): a god of the lower heavenly realms and leader of the Kumbhanda beings.

Regal in appearance, blue of colour, he has large bulging eyes, a moustache and beard, the black hair is piled on the crown of the head in a topknot. The right hand placed at the side holds a long blue sword pointed upward. The left hand holds extended to the side a precious pink wishing jewel with licks of flame rising from the top. Adorned with a jewelled headdress and gold earrings, he wears the elaborate garb of a royal warrior, completely covered in variously coloured garments and boots. Standing with the legs straight atop a leopard skin hide, on a sparse green foreground, the head is framed with a dark green areola edged with orange flame and the body surrounded by dark grey smoke swirling upward into a blue sky edged with cloud.

"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).

Living in the middle of the Buddhist world system, on the southern slopes of mount Sumeru, he earnestly protects faithful Dharma practitioners from harm. With a body poisonous to the touch he is always shown with the sword fully or partially drawn to intimidate any whom might approach and come to harm. The sword is also a symbol to pacify the hatred and anger of suffering beings.

(This painting and No.489 belong to the same set). The other Guardian Kings are Vaishravana the leader, Dritarashtra and Virupaksha. Traditionally painted in association with the Buddha and 16 Arhats the full group would comprise 25 figures: the buddha Shakyamuni, together with the two foremost disciples - Shariputra and Maudgalyayana, the 16 Arhats, the attendant Dharmata and the patron Hva-shang. With reference to textual sources the Guardian Kings are first mentioned in the sutras and later discussed in the Manjushri Root Tantra, the Amoghapasha and Vajrapani Tantras.

Jeff Watt 9-99

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Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 3
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