Four Heavenly Kings

Four Heavenly Kings
Korean statue of Gwangmok Cheonwang (Virūpākṣa)

In the Buddhist faith, the Four Heavenly Kings are four gods, each of whom watches over one cardinal direction of the world.

The Four Guardian Kings in Burmese depiction.

The Kings are collectively named as follows:

Language Written form Romanization Translation
Sanskrit चतुर्महाराज caturmahārāja Four Kings
Lokapāla Guardians of the world
Burmese စတုလောကပါလ
စတုမဟာရာဇ်နတ်
IPA: [sətṵ lɔ́ka̰ pàla̰]
IPA: [sətṵ məhà ɹɪʔ naʔ]
Four worldly guardians
Four Great King Nats
Chinese 天王 Tiānwáng Heavenly kings
四天王 Sì Tiānwáng Four heavenly kings
四大天王 Sì Da Tiānwáng Four great heavenly kings
Korean 천왕 Cheonwang Heavenly kings
사천왕 Sacheonwang Four heavenly kings
Japanese 四天王 Shitennō Four heavenly kings
Vietnamese 四天王 Tứ Thiên Vương Four heavenly kings
Tibetan rgyal chen bzhi Four great kings
Mongolian Махаранз maharanja (Four) Great kings
Thai จาตุมหาราชา chatumaharaja Four great kings
จาตุโลกบาล chatulokkaban Four Guardians of the world

They currently live in the Cāturmahārājika heaven (Pāli Cātummahārājika, "Of the Four Great Kings") on the lower slopes of Mount Sumeru, which is the lowest of the six worlds of the devas of the Kāmadhātu. They are the protectors of the world and fighters of evil, each able to command a legion of supernatural creatures to protect the Dharma. They are:

Sanskrit romanization Vaiśravaṇa (Kubera) Virūḍhaka Dhṛtarāṣṭra Virūpākṣa
Sanskrit Devanagari वैश्रवण (कुबेर) विरूढक धृतराष्ट्र विरूपाक्ष
Pāli romanization Vessavaṇa (Kuvera) Virūḷhaka Dhataraṭṭha Virūpakkha
Pāli Devanagari वेस्सवण (कुवेर) विरूळ्हक धतरट्ठ विरूपक्ख
Meaning He who hears everything He who enlarges He who maintains the state He who sees all
Patron of Growth Watcher of the Lands
Burmese ကုဝေရ ဝိရဠက ဓတရဌ ဝိရုပက္ခ
Traditional Chinese 多聞天王 增長天王 持國天王 廣目天王
毗沙門天 留博叉天 多羅吒天 毗琉璃天
Simplified Chinese 多闻天王 增长天王 持国天王 广目天王
毗沙门天 留博叉天 多罗吒天 毗琉璃天
Hanyu Pinyin Duō Wén Tiānwáng Zēng Zhǎng Tiānwáng Chí Guó Tiānwáng Guăng Mù Tiānwáng
hangul 다문천왕 증장천왕 지국천왕 광목천왕
Romanized Korean Damun-cheonwang Jeungjang-cheonwang Jiguk-cheonwang Gwangmok-cheonwang
kanji 多聞天 (毘沙門天) 増長天 持国天 広目天
治国天
Hepburn romanization Tamon-ten (Bishamon-ten) Zōjō-ten Jikoku-ten Kōmoku-ten
Zōchō-ten
Sino-Vietnamese Đa Văn Thiên Tăng Trưởng Thiên Trì Quốc Thiên Quảng Mộc Thiên
Tibetan romanization rnam.thos.sras (Namthöse) 'phags.skyes.po (Phakyepo) yul.'khor.srung (Yülkhorsung) spyan.mi.bzang (Chenmizang)
Thai ท้าวกุเวร ท้าววิรุฬหก ท้าวธตรัฐ ท้าววิรูปักษ์
เวสวัณ,เวสสุวัณ,เวสสุวรรณ
Thai romanization Thao Kuwen Thao Virunhok Thao Thatarot Thao Virupak
Vessavan
Color Yellow Red Green White
Symbol Umbrella Sword Pipa Serpent
Mongoose pagoda
stupa pearl
Followers Yakṣas Kumbhāṇḍas Gandharvas Nāgas
Direction North South East West

Further associations between the four directions and elements, seasons, planets, animals, internal organs, etc. can be found at Five elements (Chinese philosophy). Note, however, that the colors assigned to the Four Heavenly Kings represent an independent tradition and do not correspond to the traditional Chinese association of colors and directions.

All four serve Śakra, the lord of the devas of Trāyastriṃśa. On the 8th, 14th and 15th days of each lunar month, the Four Heavenly Kings either send out messengers or go themselves to see how virtue and morality are faring in the world of men. Then they report upon the state of affairs to the assembly of the Trāyastriṃśa devas.

On the orders of Śakra, the four kings and their retinues stand guard to protect Trāyastriṃśa from another attack by the Asuras, which once threatened to destroy the kingdom of the devas. They are also vowed to protect the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Buddha's followers from danger.

Statues of the Four Heavenly Kings. From left to right: Vaiśravaṇa, Virūḍhaka, Dhṛtarāṣṭra, and Virūpākṣa.

According to Vasubandhu, devas born in the Cāturmahārājika heaven are 1/4 of a krośa in height (about 750 feet tall). They also have a five-hundred year lifespan, of which each day is equivalent to 50 years in our world; thus their total lifespan amounts to about nine million years (other sources say 90,000 years).

Painting of Kōmokuten (Virūpākṣa), the Guardian of the West (one of the Four Guardian Kings). 13th century.

In Chinese they are known collectively as "Fēng Tiáo Yǔ Shùn" (風調雨順 / 风调雨顺), which translates into "Good Climate". This mnemonic reminds one of the symbols the Heavenly Kings carry. For instance, "Fēng" sounds like the Chinese word for "edge" (鋒 / 锋), hence the corresponding symbol is a sword. "Tiáo" sounds like "Tune", hence the corresponding symbol is a musical instrument. "Yǔ" means "rain", hence the corresponding symbol is an umbrella. "Shùn" refers to the symbol of a crimson dragon (赤龍 / 赤龙).

These symbols also link the deities to their followers; for instance, the nāgas, magical creatures who can change form between human and serpent, are led by Virūpākṣa, represented by a snake; the gandharvas are celestial musicians, led by Dhṛtarāṣṭra, represented with a lute. The umbrella was a symbol of regal sovereignty in ancient India, and the sword is a symbol of martial prowess. Vaiśravaṇa's mongoose, which ejects jewels from its mouth, is said to represent generosity in opposition to greed.

Tamon-ten

(north)

Kōmoku-ten

(west)

Heavenly Kings
(Japanese)
Jikoku-ten

(east)

Zōjō-ten

(south)

See also

References

  • Chaudhuri, Saroj Kumar. Hindu Gods and Goddesses in Japan. New Delhi: Vedams eBooks (P) Ltd., 2003. ISBN 8179360091.
  • Nakamura, Hajime. Japan and Indian Asia: Their Cultural Relations in the Past and Present. Calcutta: Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay, 1961. Pp. 1–31.
  • Potter, Karl H., ed. The Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, volume 9. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1970–. ISBN 8120819683, ISBN 8120803078 (set).
  • Thakur, Upendra. India and Japan: A Study in Interaction During 5th cent.–14th cent. A.D.. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1992. ISBN 8170172896. Pp. 27–41.

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