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Shitenno (Four Heavenly Kings)

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Guardians of Four Directions, Four Deva Warriors, Four Heavenly Kings, Four Guardians of Buddhist Law, Four Protectors of the World

Shitennō, Gose Shitennō
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四天王
護世四天王

Sì Tiān Wáng
Ssu-T'ien Wang

Maharāja;
Catur-mahā-rājakāyikāḥ, Loka-pālatva, Lokala, Lokapala, Caturmaharaja

Sa Cheon Wang;
Sa Ch'ŏn Wang
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사천왕

Jig rten skyong ba nyid

SHITENNŌ CATALOG

SET OF FOUR

Click image for details,
photos, and buy options

Origin: India

Who are the Shitennō?
The four ward off evil. In Japanese temples, the four typically surround the central deity on Buddhist altars and are shown standing atop evil spirits. Each protects one of the four compass directions and represents a season, color, and element.

See background notes
below for more details.

Shitenno, Four Heavely Kings. Click Here to Order.
Shitenno = $2,360. Set of Four.
Click here for detals and photos.

SHITENNŌ. Each represents a direction, season, color, and element. However, their attributes are not rigidly prescribed and thus differ among Buddhist nations. They originated in India and are known there as "deva generals" protecting Lord Indra. They were later adopted into the Buddhist pantheon in China and Japan. Each dwells in and protects one of the four continents surrounding Mt. Meru (home to the Historical Buddha and other deities). In Japan, the four are known as:

  • Jikokuten 特国天; Skt = Dhṛtarāṣṭra; East, Spring, Green/Blue (white = India/China); Water, Kingdom Keeper
  • Zōchōten 增長天; Skt = Virūḍhaka; South, Summer, Red (blue = India/China); Fire; Lord of Spiritual Growth
  • Kōmokuten 廣目天; Skt = Virūpākṣa; West, Fall, White (red = India/China); Metal; Lord of Expansive Vision
  • Tamonten 多聞天; Skt = Vaiśravaṇa; North, Winter, Black (yellow = India/China); Earth, Wealth; All Knowing
  • Governed by Taishakuten 帝釈天; Skt = Indra; Lord of the Center (see outside link for more details)
  • For their names in Sanskrit, Chinese, Korean, and other languages, please see this outside link

exclamation-sign4The four statues in this set are not sold separately, except for Tamonten (aka Bishamonten). Please visit the Bishamonten page to order this one statue separately.


Background Notes on the Shitenno

Tamonten Skt. = Vaisravana). Guardian of North. 9th Century Painting from Hidden Library Cave in Dunhuang, Chinaspacer1Shitenno = Japanese reading for Chinese characters
Jp. = Shitennō (Shitenno, Shitennoo)
Literally "Four Heavenly Kings."

Guardians of the Four Directions, Protectors of Buddhist Law, Protectors of Human Kind, Protectors of the Bodhisattva and Buddha. Most often found standing at the corners of alters. All four are depicted as ferocious-looking warriors, sometimes with fiery halo behind them. In Japan and China, they are often standing atop demons (called Jyaki 邪鬼 in Japan) to symbolize their power to repel and defeat evil. They also hold weapons or tools to eliminate evil influences and suppress the enemies of Buddhism.

The four protect the Buddhist realm for Taishakuten (Sanskrit = Indra, God of the Center), serving as his generals to guard the territories inhabited by humans. Originally from Hindu mythology, and later incorporated into Buddhism. In the Lotus Sutra, they vow to protect those who believe in the Dharma (Buddhist teachings). In Japanese artwork, especially in the mandala form, the four typically appear in a set order:

  • Jikokuten (East)
  • Zōchōten (South)
  • Kōmokuten (West)
  • Tamonten (North).

All four are described in Sanskrit, Chinese and Japanese texts, but their attributes, colors, and names often vary among the nations. All four are depicted as warriors, and usually shown holding weapons, but there is no "hard" rule for the objects in their hands, and variations are common. Nevertheless, the objects they carry are always tools to eliminate evil influences. All four are Deva (a Sanskrit term), celestial beings who occupy the realm just above humans and just below the enlightened Bodhisattva. See Six Realms (outside link) for details.

The Shitennō live halfway down the four sides of Mt. Meru (also known as Mt. Sumeru; Jp. = Shumisen 須弥山), the mythical home of Shakya Nyorai (Historical Buddha). According to Buddhist lore, Mt. Meru is located at the center of the universe, surrounded by eight mountain ranges, and in the ocean between the 7th and 8th there are four continents inhabited by humans. These four continents are protected by the Shitennō, with each leading an army of supernatural creatures to keep the fighting Ashura at bay. On the top of Mt. Sumeru is the heavenly palace of Shakya Nyorai, and the abode of the Trayastrimsha (33 Gods) ruled by Taishakuten, who commands the Shitennō.

Shitennō symbolism and artwork in Japan reflects not only its Hindu origins, but also its association with the four mythical Chinese creatures (outside link) -- the dragon, red bird, tiger, and tortoise. These four creatures, known as the Celestial Emblems of the Chinese Emperor, are also considered the guardians of the four compass directions, and appear prominently in artwork in China. Each has a corresponding season, color, element, and virtue, as do the Shitennō. But in Japan, the four Chinese creatures are mostly supplanted by their Buddhist equivalents (the Shitennō).

Note: In Japan, there are statues of various followers of the Shitennō. These statues of the followers are referred to as the Shitennō Kenzoku 四天王 眷属

The four guardians are (Japanese readings):

  • Jikokuten 持國天. Rules over the Gandharvas and Piśācas. Protects the East.
  • Zōchōten 增長天. Rules over the Kumbhāṇḍa 鳩槃荼. Protects the South.
  • Kōmokuten 廣目天. Rules over the Nāgas 龍 and Pūtanas 富單那. Protects the West.
  • Tamonten 多聞天. Rules over the Yakṣas 夜叉 and Rākṣasas. Protects the North.

PHOTO GALLERY OF SHITENNO ARTWORK (CHINA)
Click any image to see larger version.


10-Komokuten-Virupaksa-painting-from-hidden-library-cave-dunhuang-china

11-Tamonten-Vaisravana-painting-from-hidden-library-cave-dunhuang-china

4-jikokuten-Dhrtarastra-tang-dynasty-dunhuang-painting

12-Zochoten-Virudhka-replica-tang-dynasty-china-mogao-grottoes-dunhuang

fragrant-hills-beijing-baiyun-temple-SHITENNO-2

fragrant-hills-beijing-baiyun-temple-SHITENNO-3

fragrant-hills-beijing-baiyun-temple-SHITENNO-4

fragrant-hills-beijing-baiyun-temple-SHITENNO-5

white-horse-temple-shitenno-hall-shitenno-four-bishamonten

white-horse-temple-shitenno-hall-shitenno-one

white-horse-temple-shitenno-hall-shitenno-three

white-horse-temple-shitenno-hall-shitenno-two

xiangshan-temple-louyang-china-shitenno-four

xiangshan-temple-louyang-china-shitenno-one

xiangshan-temple-louyang-china-shitenno-three

xiangshan-temple-louyang-china-shitenno-two

A2Z-jyaki-xiangshan-temple-JYAKI-DEMON-shitenno-longmen-china-sept-2008

bishamonten-A2Z-400pxl-fengxian-grotto-longmen

fengxian-grotto-longmen-E6

LEARN MORE
PAGES AT OUR SISTER SITE
onmarkproductions.com/html/shitenno.shtml
onmarkproductions.com/html/jikokuten.html
onmarkproductions.com/html/zouchoten.html
onmarkproductions.com/html/koumokuten.html
onmarkproductions.com/html/tamonten.html
onmarkproductions.com/html/bishamonten.shtml
onmarkproductions.com/html/taishakuten.html
 

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