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Tian-wang

by Micha F. Lindemans
The Celestial Kings of Chinese myth, also known as the world protectors. These demonic-looking creatures dwell on the world mountain Meru. They are the guardians of the four quarters of the world and of Buddhist teaching. They fight against evil and protect places where goodness is taught. Their bodies are protected by armor and they wear helmets or crowns on their heads. Images of them can be found in every Chinese and Japanese monastery.

The king and guardian of the north has a green body. In his left hand he holds the parasol-like furled banner and in his right hand he holds either a pagoda or a silver mongoose vomiting jewels. He is the most important of the Tian-wang. The celestial king of the east has a white body. He plays on a Chinese lute, the sound of which purifies the thoughts of men and brings them to tranquility. The guardian of the south has a blue body. He holds a sword which he uses in his battle against darkness (i.e., ignorance). He protects the root of goodness in human beings. The last king, that of the west, has a red body. In his right hand he holds a serpent before which he holds the wish-fulfilling gem. Each king has ninety-one sons who help him to guard the ten directions as well as eight generals and other minions who care for the world quarter assigned to him.

The Tian-wang have been known in China since the fourth century, but have been venerated (in their present form) since the Tang Dynasty (early 7th century).

The name of Tian-wang in traditional Chinese format.
The name of Tian-wang in traditional Chinese format.


Article details:

  • Also known as:
    T'ien-wang

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