- Museum number
Painting of Vaisravana, Guardian of the North, shown crossing the waters, floating on purple clouds. In one hand, a golden halberd; in the other, a purple cloud supporting a stupa with a seated Buddha inside. Flames come out of his shoulders. His retinue includes Śrī Devi, his sister, holding a golden dish of flowers, the sage Vasu and one of Vaisravana's sons. Garuḍa flies above. Ink and colour on silk.
- Production date
Height: 37.60 centimetres
Width: 26.60 centimetres
- Curator's comments
From Whitfield 1983:
This painting, on a small scale, is one of the most highly finished among all the paintings from Dunhuang and has been preserved together with a substantial part of its original mount of yellow and purple silk, extending for 8.5 cm above the painting and for 11.5 cm below. With Pl. 15 and another painting in the Musee Guimet, it represents a type otherwise only known through titles such as “The Heavenly King on the March” in records such as the catalogue of Emperor Huizong’s collection, Xuanhe huapu (A.D. 1120). Essentially the composition is intended to show Vaisravana patrolling his domain with heavenly troops; unlike the preceding plate, there is no building to represent a city, but otherwise the setting is similar.
Vaisravana and his retinue are seen supported on a purple cloud, advancing across a sea of waves, bordered in the far distance by a range of mountains (Pl. 16-5). In this procession Vaisravana himself is the dominant figure, almost twice the size of his attendants. In his right hand he carries a golden halberd, in his left a purple cloud supporting a stupa, inside which there appears to be a seated Buddha. These attributes are immediately suggestive of his role as chief of the protectors of the Buddhist Law. Vivid plumes of flame, blown by the wind, issue from his shoulders. These, attested in the texts, correspond to the stiff crescents of flame seen in single standing figures of Vaisravana, as in Vol. 1, Fig. 109 (see the extensive discussion by Eiichi Matsumoto in Tonkoga no kenkyu, part 3, chapter 9). White ribbons flutter upwards on either side of the richly decorated crown (Pl. 16-2).
In front of Vaisravana, also moving forwards but turning towards him, in graceful contrapposto, is Sri Devi, his sister, holding a shallow golden dish of flowers (Pl. 16-3). On the other side he is accompanied by the rishi Vasu, delicately portrayed as a white-haired old man in sandals, wearing a white cloth about his loins and holding a golden chalice (Pl. 16-4). Behind him is a stout figure in a green robe holding a flaming pearl. Matsumoto has identified him as one of the five sons of Vaisravana. Another figure, wearing a four-pronged crown stands on the left, with hands in anjali-mudra. As he is unarmed and without other attributes, he is very similar to the figure, apparently a donor, who appears in Pl. 15 holding a tablet and accompanied by his wife. Nevertheless, as he seems to be more closely integrated with the whole group, Matsumoto’s identification of him as another son of Vaisravana seems a better suggestion. Immediately behind him is a magnificent bearded figure in a splendid hat, fitting an arrow to his bow and preparing to shoot down the garuda figure who scuttles away in flight at the top right of the picture. Matsumoto has noted examples of similar garuda figures in wall paintings of Vaisravana in the Turfan area. They represent the forces of evil against which Vaisravana offered protection. The remaining figures in the painting are some of the five yaksa warriors who accompany the guardian king as described in several texts. The setting represents the park and stretch of water that are features of Vaisravana’s abode, to the north of Mt. Sumeru.
Of great interest in connection with this small painting is the drawing P.5018 (1) in the Bibliotheque Nationale (Jao Tsong-yi, 1978, Pl.Ⅳ). Part of this appears to be a full-scale drawing of the silk painting. Although Jao Tsong-yi assumed that the right half of the drawing was missing, comparison with the Stein painting shows that in fact only the figure of Sri Devi has been lost. In all its detail, from the great figure of Vaisravana holding a stupa and a lance to the individual expressions of all those about him, this drawing corresponds exactly to the painting. For example, the garuda mask at his waist is identical, and the two bosses on his chest are even clearer as small faces. Practically the only differences in the drawing are the omission of the supporting cloud, of the water and distant landscape, and of the fleeing garuda. As in the silk painting, one member of Vaisravana’s retinue, wearing a faceted hat, scowls upwards, no doubt taking aim, though the bow is missing. The absence of the garuda, together with this implication of his presence, strongly suggests that the drawing is more in the nature of a sketch copy of the painting than a preparatory cartoon for it. This impression is confirmed when we look at a second composition placed adjacent to the first on the same sheet, and at right angles to it: this shows Vaisravana kneeling and offering a stupa, and must have been copied from another painting.
From Whitfield 1983:
Vaiśravaṇa, Guardian King of the North, in splendid armour, patrols his domain with heavenly troops on a purple cloud advancing across a sea of waves. His attributes, a golden halberd and a purple cloud supporting a ‘stūpa’ with a seated Buddha inside, immediately suggest his role as chief protector of the Buddhist Doctrine. In front is Śri Devi, his sister, holding a golden dish of flowers. On the other side the ‘ṛṣi’ Vasu is portrayed as a white-haired old man. One of Vaiśravaṇa's attendants takes aim at a fleeing demon in the sky.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2004 May 7-Sept 12, London, British Library, The Silk Road: Trade, Travel, War and Faith
2017 Nov 8-June 8, BM G33 Hotung Gallery, 1st rotation
2018-2019 4 Dec-3 Mar, Seoul, National Museum of Korea, Goryeo Dynasty
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- For full acquisition history, see 1919,0101,0.1.
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: Ch.0018 (Stein no.)