Standing Tobatsu Bishamonten
Heian period (794–1185)
late 10th–early 11th century
Polychromed zelkova (elm) wood
H. 49 1/4 in. (125.1 cm)
Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015
Not on view
Bishamonten (Sanskrit: Vaishravana) is the Guardian King of the North, one of the four fierce protectors of the cardinal directions (Shitennō). Originally Hindu gods known as the Lokapalas, the four were adopted into the Indian Buddhist pantheon. Along with eight other fierce kings, they also comprise the Twelve Devas (Jūniten) of Chinese and Japanese Esoteric Buddhism. Eight of them protect the eight directions and the remaining four symbolize heaven, earth, the sun, and the moon.
Bishamonten is considered the most powerful of the Guardian Kings, as his direction, the north, is associated with danger. Tobatsu Bishamonten is one of several manifestations of the deity. In this form he is worshipped alone, rather than with the other Guardian Kings. He stands supported by the earth goddess Jiten (Sanskrit: Prithivi) and two dwarf-demons, Niranba and Biranba. Befitting his protective function, he has an angry countenance and wears warrior's garb fashioned along the lines of Tang dynasty Chinese military uniforms. Five seated buddhas, now barely visible, are painted upon his tall crown. In his left hand he supports a stupa, his main identifying feature. His right hand may have held a vajra (a weapon symbolic of a thunderbolt) to ward off evil forces. With the exception of the arms, which are attached at the shoulders, the entire statue is carved of a single block of wood.
Based on original work by Masako Watanabe (Bridge of Dreams: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection of Japanese Art [New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000], cat. no. 9).