Himalayan Art Resources

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

རྒྱལ་ཆེན་རིགས་བཞི། 四大天王
(item no. 489)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1700 - 1799
Lineages Uncertain
Size 39.37x26.67cm (15.50x10.50in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment, Fine Gold Line on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# F1996.24.2
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: King

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Vaishravana, the Guardian King of the North (Tibetan: nam to se): a god of the lower heavenly realms and leader of the Yaksha beings.

Tibetan: Nam to se

Royal in visage, orange in colour, he has large bulging eyes, with a moustache and beard slightly curling, the black hair is piled on the crown of the head. The right hand holds the shaft of a victory banner upraised with billowing ribbons and streamers. The left held at the side grasps a brown mongoose dispensing precious jewels from the mouth. The head is adorned with a crown of jewels and gold rings hang from the ears. Wearing the colourful garb of a royal warrior completely covered in layers of garments he is further attired in white pants and decorative boots. With the legs straight standing on a leopard skin hide, above a green foreground, the head is encircled by a dark green areola burning with orange flames 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).

Vaishravana, leader of the Yaksha race, is a worldly guardian worshipped as both protector and benefactor. He, with his wife - a naga princess, live in the middle of the Buddhist world system on the northern slopes of mount Sumeru in the Heaven of the Four Great Kings in a sumptuous palace bathed in green emerald light. As the leader of the Direction Guardians, he at the head of the others, offering jewelled begging bowls, swore an oath of protection before the buddha Shakyamuni. The stories and iconography of the Four Guardians arise primarily from the Mahayana sutras; the Manjushri Root Tantra, the Amoghapasha and Vajrapani Tantras, and they are common to all schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Lord Atisha popularized the meditation practice of Vaishravana (in conjunction with Vajrapani) in the 11th century.

(This painting and No.488 belong to the same set). The other Guardian Kings are Virupaksha, Dritarashtra and Virudhaka. 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 Hvashang.

Jeff Watt 9-99

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