Vaishravana riding across the waters, a painting on silk

From Cave 17, Mogao, near Dunhuang, Gansu province, China
Five Dynasties, mid-10th century AD

This is one of the best depictions of Vaishravana, Guardian King of the North, from Cave 17 at Mogao. Vaishravana is the most frequently represented of the four devarajas, the Guardian Kings of the points of the compass, probably because of Dunhuang's geographical location.

Vaishravana upholds the Law and defends believers from evil, and is depicted here patrolling his domain with heavenly troops. He holds a golden halberd in his right hand; to his left, there is a purple cloud supporting a stupa. His procession is preceded by his sister, Shri Devi, Goddess of Material Blessings, holding a golden dish of flowers. On his right, the rishi Vasu is portrayed as a white-haired man. The green-robed figure who holds a flaming pearl and the gentleman wearing a four-pronged crown are probably Vaishravana's sons. Five yaksha warriors bring up the rear. The Garuda in flight represents those dark forces against which Vaishravana offered protection.

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Vaishravana riding across the waters, a painting on silk

  • Detail of Vaishravana

    Detail of Vaishravana


More information


M. Aurel Stein, Serindia: detailed report of e, 5 vols. (Oxford, 1921)

A. Waley, A catalogue of paintings recov (London, 1931)

R. Whitfield, Art of Central Asia: The Ste-1, vol. 2 (Tokyo, Kodansha International Ltd., 1982-85)

W. Zwalf (ed.), Buddhism: art and faith (London, The British Museum Press, 1985)

R. Whitfield and A. Farrer, Caves of the thousand Buddhas: (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)


Height: 618.000 mm (painted area)
Width: 574.000 mm

Museum number

Asia OA 1919.1-1.045


Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein


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