Four Heavenly Kings

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Tamon-ten (Vaiśravaṇa) at Tōdai-ji, Japan
The Four Guardian Kings in Burmese depiction.

The Four Heavenly Kings are four Buddhist gods, each of whom is believed to watch over one cardinal direction of the world. In Chinese mythology, they are known collectively as the "Fēng Tiáo Yǔ Shùn" (simplified Chinese: 风调雨顺; traditional Chinese: 風調雨順; lit. 'Good climate') or "Sìdà Tiānwáng" (Chinese: 四大天王; lit. 'Four Great Heavenly Kings'). In the ancient language Sanskrit, they are called the "Chaturmahārāja" (चतुर्महाराज) or "Chaturmahārājikādeva": "Four Great Heavenly Kings". The Hall of Four Heavenly Kings is a standard component of Chinese Buddhist temples.


The Kings are collectively named as follows:

Language Written form Romanization Translation
Sanskrit चतुर्महाराज Chaturmahārāja
Four Great Kings
लोकपाल Lokapāla Guardians of the World
Sinhala සතරවරම් දෙවිවරු Satharawaram Dewi Four Privileged/Bestowed Gods
Burmese စတုလောကပါလ
IPA: [sətṵ lɔ́ka̰ pàla̰]
IPA: [sətṵ məhà ɹɪʔ naʔ]
Loanword from catulokapāla
loanword from catumahā + king nats
Chinese 天王 Tiānwáng Heavenly Kings
四天王 Sìtiānwáng Four Heavenly Kings
四大天王 Sìdà Tiānwáng Four Great Heavenly Kings
Japanese 四天王 Shi Tennō Four Heavenly Kings
四大天王 Shidai Tennō Four Great Heavenly Kings
Korean 四天王/사천왕 Sa-cheonwang Four heavenly kings
Vietnamese 四天王 Tứ Thiên Vương Four heavenly kings
四大天王 Tứ Đại Thiên Vương Four great heavenly kings
Tibetan རྒྱལ༌ཆེན༌བཞི༌ rgyal chen bzhi Four great kings
Mongolian ᠳᠥᠷᠪᠡ

Тэнгэрийн дөрвөн хаан
Tengeriin dörwön xaan Four kings of the sky
Thai จาตุมหาราชา Chatumaharacha Four Great Kings, loan word from catumahārāja (Pali)
จตุโลกบาล Chatulokkaban Four Guardians of the World, loan word from catulokapāla (Pali)
Pali Catu-Mahārāja Catu-Mahārāja The Four Great Kings

The Four Heavenly Kings are said to currently live in the Cāturmahārājika heaven (Pali: 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.

Pali Vessavana Virūlhaka Dhatarattha Virūpakkha
Sanskrit romanization
वैश्रवण (कुबेर)
Meaning he who hears everything he who causes to grow he who upholds the realm he who sees all
Control yakkhas kumbhandas gandhabbas nagas
Description This is the chief of the four kings and protector of the north. He is the ruler of rain. His symbolic weapons are the umbrella or pagoda. Wearing heavy armor and carrying the umbrella in his right hand, he is often associated with the ancient Sri Lankan god of wealth, Kubera. Associated with the color yellow or green. King of the south and one who causes good growth of roots. He is the ruler of the wind. His symbolic weapon is the sword which he carries in his right hand to protect the Dharma and the southern continent. Associated with the color blue. King of the east and god of music. His symbolic weapon is the pipa (stringed instrument). He is harmonious and compassionate and protects all beings. Uses his music to convert others to Buddhism. Associated with the color white. King of the west and one who sees all. His symbolic weapon is a snake or red cord that is representative of a dragon. As the eye in the sky, he sees people who do not believe in Buddhism and converts them. His ancient name means "he who has broad objectives". Associated with the color red
Chief of the four kings and protector of the north
King of the south and one who causes good growth of roots
King of the east and god of music
King of the west and one who sees all
Color yellow or green blue white red
Symbol umbrella sword pipa serpent
mongoose stupa
stupa pearl
Followers yakṣas kumbhāṇḍas gandharvas nāgas
Direction north south east west
Traditional/Simplified Chinese
多聞天王 / 多闻天王
Duōwén Tiānwáng
增長天王 / 增长天王
Zēngzhǎng Tiānwáng
持國天王 / 持国天王
Chíguó Tiānwáng
廣目天王 / 广目天王
Guăngmù Tiānwáng
毗沙門天 / 毗沙门天 留博叉天 / 留博叉天 多羅吒天 / 多罗吒天 毗琉璃天 / 毗琉璃天
Hepburn romanization
多聞天 (毘沙門天)
Tamon-ten (Bishamon-ten)

romanized Korean
Vietnamese alphabet

Chữ Hán
Đa Văn Thiên Vương
Tăng Trưởng Thiên Vương
Trì Quốc Thiên Vương
Quảng Mục Thiên Vương
Tibetan alphabet and romanization རྣམ་ཐོས་སྲས་ (Namthöse) ཕགས་སྐྱེས་པོ་ (Phakyepo) ཡུལ་འཁོར་སྲུང་ (Yülkhorsung) སྤྱན་མི་བཟང་ (Chenmizang)
Mongolian Script and Mongolian Cyrillic and Mongolian Latin alphabet ᠥᠯᠥᠨ ᠦᠨᠳᠡᠰᠲᠨᠢᠢ ᠦᠽᠡᠯ
(Олон үндэстний үзэл)
Olon ündestnii üzel
ᠲᠢᠶᠡᠨᠢ ᠥᠰᠥᠯᠲ
(Тиений өсөлт)
Tiyenii ösölt
ᠦᠨᠳᠡᠰᠲᠨᠢᠢ ᠽᠠᠰᠤᠠᠷ ᠦᠯᠢᠴᠬᠢᠯᠭᠡᠡ
(үндэсний засвар үйлчилгээ)
ündesnii zasvar üilchilgee
ᠰᠶᠡᠯᠶᠡᠰᠲᠢᠶᠡᠯ ᠰᠦᠷᠲᠠᠯᠴᠬᠢᠯᠭᠠᠠ
(селестиел сурталчилгаа)
syelyestiyel surtalchilgaa
Thai script
ท้าวเวสวัณ (Thao Wetsawan)
ท้าวเวสสุวรรณ (Thao Wetsuwan)
ท้าวกุเวร (Thao Kuwen)
ท้าววิรุฬหก (Thao Wirunhok) ท้าวธตรฐ (Thao Thatarot) ท้าววิรูปักษ์ (Thao Wirupak)


All four Kings serve Śakra, the lord of the devas of Trāyastriṃśa. On the 8th, 14th and 15th days of each lunar month, the Kings either send out emissaries or go themselves to inspect the state of virtue and morality in the world of men. Then they report their findings to the assembly of the Trāyastriṃśa devas.

On the orders of Śakra, the Kings and their retinues stand guard to protect Trāyastriṃśa from another attack by the Asuras, which once threatened to destroy the realm of the devas. They also vowed to protect the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Buddha's followers from danger. In Chinese Buddhism, all four of the heavenly kings are regarded as four of the Twenty Devas (二十諸天 Èrshí Zhūtiān) or the Twenty-Four Devas (二十四諸天 Èrshísì zhūtiān), a group of Buddhist dharmapalas who manifest to protect the Dharma.[1]

Statues of the Four Heavenly Kings. From left to right: Vaiśravaṇa, Virūḍhaka, Dhṛtarāṣṭra, and Virūpākṣa in Beihai Park in Beijing, China.

According to Vasubandhu, devas born in the Cāturmahārājika heaven are 1/4 of a krośa in height (about 750 feet tall). They 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).

Painting of Kōmokuten (Virūpākṣa), the Guardian of the West (one of the Four Guardian Kings). 13th century, Japan.

The attributes borne by each King also link them to their followers; for instance, the nāgas, magical creatures who can change form between human and serpent, are led by Virūpākṣa, represented by 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.





Heavenly Kings Dhṛtarāṣṭra




Popular culture[edit]

  • In first seasons of Sailor Moon, and Sailor Moon Crystal, the Four Heavenly Kings were the four loyal and faithfully devoted generals and bodyguards of Prince Endymion.
  • The third movie of Detective Dee, by Tsui Hark, "Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings" (2018) (traditional Chinese: 狄仁傑之四大天王; simplified Chinese: 狄仁杰之四大天王).
  • In Pokémon, the group of Pokémon trainers known as the Elite Four in English are called the Four Heavenly Kings (四天王) in Japanese.

In Street Fighter, the leading members of Shadaloo known as the Grand Masters in English are known as the Four Heavenly Kings (四天王). They consist of M. Bison (Vega in Japanese), Vega (Balrog in Japanese), Balrog (M. Bison in Japanese), Sagat (formerly), and F.A.N.G.

See also[edit]


  • Chaudhuri, Saroj Kumar. Hindu Gods and Goddesses in Japan. New Delhi: Vedams eBooks (P) Ltd., 2003. ISBN 81-7936-009-1.
  • 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 81-208-1968-3, ISBN 81-208-0307-8 (set).
  • Thakur, Upendra. India and Japan: A Study in Interaction During 5th cent.–14th cent. A.D.. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1992. ISBN 81-7017-289-6. Pp. 27–41.

External links[edit]

  1. ^ A dictionary of Chinese Buddhist terms : with Sanskrit and English equivalents and a Sanskrit-Pali index. Lewis Hodous, William Edward Soothill. London: RoutledgeCurzon. 2004. ISBN 0-203-64186-8. OCLC 275253538.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)