The Four Heavenly Kings

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on April 11, 2016.)

Guang Mu and Duo Wen at Langya Temple in Chuzhou, Anhui

Now we turn to the four fearsome figures for whom the first hall is named, the Four Heavenly Kings, usually glaring down two to a side as they tower over the visitor. Like the Generals Heng and Ha, they are guardians of the temple.

Starting at the front left of the hall, the first one seen (usually--some temples have a different order) is Guang Mu (Skt. Virupaksha), King of the West. His Chinese name means "The One with Broad Perception," who watches over the world. He holds a serpent in one hand, which symbolizes his control of the elements. He will probably also have a wish-fulfilling jewel in the other hand.

Beyond him, in the back left corner, is the King of the North, Duo Wen (Skt. Vaisravana). His name means "The One Who Listens Much," indicating his vigilance. He holds an umbrella, used for protection, and also to block out distractions. More ominously, it can also be used to spread darkness and confuse his enemies.

Crossing the Hall, in the right rear is Chi Guo (Skt. Dhrtarashtra), "The One Who Upholds the Land." He is seen holding a lute, with which he brings comfort. In his darker aspect, the "TWANG!" of the lute is used to raise up a wind, which whips up the fires in the enemy camp and destroys them all. He is the King of the East.

Finally, returning to the front left, we see the one known as Zeng Zhang, the heavenly King of the South. He holds a sword meant to indicate both protection, and the dividing of truth from error. His name means "Increase" (Skt. Virudhaka), which is interpreted as "The One Who Enhances Virtue."

We will meet these four again, individually, in later articles.


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