Himalayan Art Resources

Buddhist Worldly Protector: Dhritarashtra, Guardian of the East

Dhritarashtra Masterworks

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
--- 1. General Subject
--- 2. Characteristics (6)
--- 3. Context (3)
--- 4. Art Styles
--- 5. Masterworks
--- 6. Source Texts
- Four Guardian Kings Page
- King Appearance
- Confusions: Tibetan Kings, Indian Kings
- Others...

Video: Dhritarashtra: King of the East

Six Characteristics:
1. Classification: Deva (Desire Realm God)
2. Appearance:
--- Chinese Style Iconography (King Appearance)
--- Indian Style Iconography (Peaceful Appearance): #30672
3. Colour: Green or White
4. Attributes: Lute, stringed instrument
5. Location: Eastern Direction (slope of Meru)
6. Attendants: Gandharva Beings (गन्धर्व

Three Contexts:
- Shakyamuni & the Sixteen Elders
- Temple Entrance (murals)
- Mandala: Secondary Figures
- Others...

Dhritarashtra (Sanskrit: धृतराष्ट्र, Tibetan: yul khor srung), Guardian of the Eastern Direction and King of the Gandharva - celestial musicians.

Dhritarashtra, leader of the Gandharva heavenly musicians, is a worldly guardian worshipped as a protector. He lives on the east side of the lower slopes of mount Meru in the Heaven of the Four Great Kings. Like the other Direction Kings, the leader Vaishravana, Virupaksha and Virudhaka, he swore an oath of protection before the buddha Shakyamuni. The stories and iconography of the Four Guardian Kings arose originally with the early Buddhist sutras and became fully developed with the later Mahayana. They are common to all schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

The contexts in which Dhritarashtra appears in visual artistic form are very narrow. The first is as a member of the twenty-five figures that comprise the complete set of Shakyamuni Buddha and the Sixteen Elders. The second context is in the group of Four Kings as presented and painted as murals at the outer entrance to Buddhist temples. Worldly deities and gods traditionally are not permitted inside Buddhist temples. The third context is found with mandala paintings where the Four Great Kings are included as secondary deities, door guardians or in the outer retinue.

Mandala Examples:
- Medicine Buddha Mandala
- Pancha Raksha Fifty-six Deity Mandala
- Vajrapani & the Four Guardian Kings Mandala
- Tara, Seventeen Deity Mandala
- Others...

"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).

From the set of the Four Great Kings of the Directions the other three are Vaishravana - the leader, Virudhaka and Virupaksha. Traditionally painted in association with the Buddha and Sixteen Great Elders the full group would comprise a total of twenty-five figures: the buddha Shakyamuni together with the two foremost disciples - Shariputra and Maudgalyayana, the Sixteen Sthavira/Arhats, the attendant Dharmata and the patron Hvashang, together with the Four Kings. The greater group of figures can be done as a single, or set of paintings, murals, or as sculpture, carved or cast.

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Jeff Watt 6-99 [updated 8-2018, 1-2020]