|Lokapāla||guardian of the world|
|四天王||Sì Tiānwáng||Four 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|
|Thai||จาตุมหาราชา||chatumaharaja||Four great kings|
|จาตุโลกบาล||chatulokkaban||guardian of the world|
They reside 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||वैस्रवण (कुबेर)||विरूधक||धृतराष्ट्र||विरूपाक्ष|
|Pāli romanization||Vessavaṇa (Kuvera)||Virūḷhaka||Dhataraṭṭha||Virūpakkha|
|Meaning||He who hears everything||He who enlarges||He who maintains the state||He who sees all|
|Patron of Growth||Watcher of the Lands|
|Hanyu Pinyin||Duō Wén Tiān||Zēng Zhǎng Tiān||Chí Guó Tiān||Guăng Mù Tiān|
|Hepburn romanization||Tamon-ten (Bishamon-ten)||Zōjō-ten||Jikoku-ten||Kōmoku-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 romanization||Thao Kuwen||Thao Virunhok||Thao Thatarot||Thao Virupak|
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 (Japanese: 帝釈天 (Taishakuten)), 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.
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).
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 with 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.
- 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.