Vaishravana, Guardian of Buddhism and Protector of Riches


Not on view

Vaishravana is a complex Buddhist deity who embodies many strands of thought and belief. Tibetans understand him foremost as the premier of the four guardians of the cardinal directions (lokapalas), associated with the North. In this role he serves as a protector (dharmapala) of Buddhist law. Here we see Vaishravana seated on his snow-lion mount in a stormy atmosphere, accompanied by his generals, the eight Lords of the Horses (asvapati), each riding a storm cloud. Central is Vaishravana himself, dominant is scale and represented emerging from a tumultuous skyscape. He is dressed as a warrior-king in full battle armor with a patterned tunic suggestive of chain-mail armor, mounted with a large lozenge chest-plate with pearl-and-lotus medallion and Chinese-style lion-face protective lappets on the shoulders. Decorated high boots point to his Central Asian ancestral connections. This celebrated Tibetan deity is rarely represented outside of monastery mural programs, such as those seen at Shalu and Gyantse monasteries, in 14th and 15th century respectively. In both pictorial and aesthetic terms, this painting is unrivalled in its sophisticated integration of iconographic complexities into a single coherent visualization of this deity.

Vaishravana, Guardian of Buddhism and Protector of Riches, Distemper on cloth, Tibet

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