Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Vaishravana (Buddhist Protector) - Riding a Lion

རྣམ་ཐོས་སྲས། བྱང་ཕྱོགས་སྐྱོང་། 北方多闻天王
(item no. 90559)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1800 - 1899
Lineages Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: King

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Vaishravana Riding a Lion (Tibetan: nam to se. English: the Son of Namto) Direction Guardian of the North, Lord of Yakshas. There are two principal forms of Vaishravana. The first and historically earlier is Vaishravana Guardian of the North, or Northern Direction. This form first appears in the narratives of the historical Buddha's life-story and is part of the Hinayana and Mahyana traditions of Buddhism. The second form is Vaishravana Riding a Lion. This form functions primarily as a meditational deity in the Vajrayana system of Buddhism. (See Vaishravana Riding a Lion Main Page, Vaishravana Outline Page and the Guardian King of the North Main Page).

Tibetan: Nam to se

With a regal appearance and seated in front of a celestial palace, he has one face and two hands holding in the right a victory banner of variously coloured silks. In the left, cradled against the hip is a brown mongoose excreting gems from the mouth. Adorned with a jeweled crown, large gold earrings and elaborate flowing garments of various colours, he wears pants and boots in the Mongolian style. Wearing a golden coat of armor he sits atop a red saddle above a white snow lion with a green mane and the head turned to look up at the King, above a sun disc and multi-coloured lotus blossom surrounded by a pink nimbus and a green and orange aureole.

At the top center is wrathful Vajrapani, blue in colour, with one face and two hands holding a vajra aloft with the right and a lasso held to the heart with the left; in a standing posture surrounded by the flames of pristine awareness. The bodhisattva Vajrapani serves as the mentor to Vaishravana. To the left is orange Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, holding a sword in the right hand and a book atop a lotus blossom with the left. To the right is white Avalokiteshvara Shadakshari, the bodhisattva of compassion, with one face and four hands.

Vertically along both sides are the main attendants to Vaishravana - eight Yaksha horseman of various colours. They each hold symbols of affluence and wealth, banners, conch shells, gold vases and the like, and wear garments similar to the King. On each side of Vaishravana, within the fenced enclosure of the palace courtyard, sit two attendant figures with long black hair and topknots; richly attired in lavish garments. At the bottom center is a dark blue figure, peaceful, with one face and two hands seated on a large cushioned throne in a relaxed posture, surrounded by various precious objects, red coral, rolls of silk fabric and wishing jewels.

"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 worshiped as both a protector and benefactor. 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 basic iconography of the Four Guardian Kings arise primarily from the Hinayana and Mahayana sutras and are common to all schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Vaishravana Riding a Lion belongs to Vajrayana Buddhism.

Jeff Watt 7-98

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Buddhist Protectors, Worldly Deities
Collection of Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art
Subject: Wealth Deities Main Page
Buddhist Worldly Protector: Vaishravana Riding a Lion
Collection of Southern Alleghenies: Protectors