shitennou 四天王
KEY WORD : art history / iconography
Four Guardian Kings. Pre-Buddhist Indian deities including *Taishakuten 帝釈天 and *Bonten 梵天 who appear in legends to help the Buddha and protect his teachings. In Japan they are shown as martial figures wearing Chinese armor. Shitennou usually stand on demons called *jaki 邪鬼. Sculptures of shitennou are placed at the four corners of the dais that supported the deities in a Buddhist hall, as in the lecture hall *Koudou 講堂 of Touji 東寺 (Kyouougokokuji 教王護国寺), Kyoto. This is appropriate because the dais *shumidan 須弥壇 represents Mt. Sumeru (Jp: *Shumisen 須弥山), the huge mountain in the center of the Buddhist universe. On each side of Shumisen is a shitennou, and they together preside over the heaven called the shitennouten 四天王天, the first of the six heavens, which is the realm of desire yokkai 欲界. In the east is *Jikokuten 持国天 , in the south *Zouchouten 増長天 in the west *Koumokuten 広目天 and in the north *Tamonten 多聞天. They protect the Touriten とう利天 above, ruled by Taishakuten. The KONKOUMYOU SAISHOUOUKYOU 金光明最勝王経 teaches that shitennou, among other deities, will protect the country of the king who honors them and their devotees. According to the NIHONGI 日本紀 (Chronicle of Japan), Shoutoku Taishi 聖徳太子 (574-622) prayed for victory over Soga no Umako 蘇我馬子 (?-626) in battle and built Shitennouji 四天王寺 in commemoration of his success. At the time of Emperor Shoumu 聖武 (r.724-749) belief in the power of the shitennou and the KONKOUMYOU SAISHOUOUKYOU reached a peak, but the shitennou continued to be revered after the formal introduction of Shingon 真言 Buddhism in the early 9c. There was heightened interest in the shitennou at the time of the threat of a Mongol invasion in the second half of the 13c. However, after this their cult did not spread among the general public. The oldest set of Shitennou in Japan is that in the main hall *Kondou 金堂 of Houryuuji 法隆寺 in Nara, dating from the mid-7c. Later sculptures are all more dynamic, and include those at Taimadera 当麻寺 (late 7c-early 8c) in Nara; in the Kaidan-in 戒壇院 (8c) of Toudaiji 東大寺, Nara; in the *Hokuendou 北円堂 of Koufukuji 興福寺, Nara (791; originally in Daianji 大安寺, Nara); in the Koudou of Touji (839); of Joururiji 浄瑠璃寺 (11c-12c) in Kyoto. The shitennou also often appear in paintings, set at the four corners of a mandala *mandara 曼荼羅, or placed in a group, as guardians .


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