- Art History
- Religious Context
- Vaishravana: Study Topics
- Vaishravana, King of the North
- Kubera, Who Am I?
Vaishravana (Vaiśravaṇa), leader of the Yaksha race, is a worldly guardian worshiped as both a protector and benefactor (wealth deity). 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 iconography of the Four Guardian Kings arise originally with the early Buddhist sutras and become fully developed in the later Mahayana sutras. The Kings are common to all schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Paintings of the Four Kings are found as murals at the entrance way into temples or in sets depicting Shakyamuni Buddha and the Sixteen Great Arhats. They are rarely if ever painted alone or individually.
There are several different ways to organize and study the iconographic and artistic forms of Vaishravana. The study can be arranged in three topics such as the  Four Direction Kings,  Vaishravana Riding a Lion, and  miscellaneous Tantric forms of Vaishravana.
Based on the most common images first is Vaishravana together with the Four Guardian King, also known as the Four Kings of the Directions. They are the original protector gods of Buddhism. They typically have two contexts of presentation. The first presentation is on the outside entrance walls of Buddhist temples. The second is in scroll work paintings depicting Shakyamuni Buddha, the two principal disciples, the Sixteen Great Elders, two attendants and the Four Direction Kings.
Vaishravana Riding a Lion is the most common depiction in Tantric Buddhism. He is accompanied by Eight Horsemen and very popular in painting, mural and sculpture. Vaishravana was also a prominent protector deity practice of both Shalu and Nalendra monasteries. Vaishravana remains one of the three main protectors of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism along with Shadbhuja Mahakala and Yama Dharmaraja.
There are numerous miscellaneous Tantric forms of Vaishravana in both the Sarma and Nyingma traditions. The Sakya school maintains seventeen different traditions of Vaishravana. The different forms range in mood from peaceful to wrathful, a single face and two arms to multiple faces and arms, along with a variety of colours representing the four tantric activities.
Another method of organizing the subject of Vaishravana is  the Four Guardian Kings,  the Tantric forms of Vaishravana as a central figure, and  Vaishravana appearing as a secondary figure in Tantric mandala configurations.
Database Search: All Vaishravana Images | Painting | Sculpture | Mandala | Retinue Figure
Jeff Watt 7-2003 [updated 5-2017, 2-2020, 4-2021]
(The images below are only a selection of examples from the links above).