The Four Heavenly Kings, also known as Jikokuten, Tamonten, Zochoten, and Komokuten, are revered as powerful protectors of the cardinal directions on earth. The Standing Statue of the Four Heavenly Kings, a national treasure enshrined at the World Heritage site Todaiji Temple, may be familiar to many people. The Four Heavenly Kings are among the most well-known Buddhist statues and the origin of the term "Shitenno", which refers to the four strongest figures who defend Buddhism and excel in a single path
众生天 (Dhritarashtra or Virūḍhaka) is a sacred being responsible for guarding the eastern direction and is often referred to as the "King of the East" in Indian mythology. He is characterized by a strong sense of justice and plays a role in maintaining prosperity and peace. Depictions of 众生天 often feature him holding symbols like an elephant or a sword, signifying his mission to protect people from injustice and evil.
夜摩天 (Virūpākṣa or Yama) safeguards the southern direction and symbolizes knowledge and righteousness. He is particularly associated with Yama, the ruler of the afterlife in Indian mythology, and embodies ethical and moral responsibilities. 夜摩天 is often revered as the guardian deity of temples and is seen as a symbol of knowledge and culture.
增长天 (Virūdhaka or Kuvera) is the guardian of the western direction and represents wealth and prosperity. He is considered the god of wealth and abundance, often depicted carrying symbols like a stupa (a sacred monument) or a treasure bag. Worship of 增长天 is conducted by believers seeking wealth and prosperity, and he is regarded as the guardian deity of temples and palaces.
毗湿奴天 (Virūpākṣa or Vaiśravaṇa) guards the northern direction and serves as a deity associated with both war and peace. Often depicted with weapons and chariots, he is tasked with protecting people from warfare and disasters. Worship of 毗湿奴天 is related to military affairs and defense, and believers seek peace and safety through his veneration.
The Four Heavenly Kings of ancient India played a vital role in safeguarding the four cardinal directions of the universe and upholding order and harmony. They were deeply ingrained in religious beliefs, moral values, and cultural traditions, significantly influencing the religious and philosophical landscape of ancient India.