Song Granite Sculpture of a Celestial Guardian - H.557
Origin: China
Circa: 960 AD to 1279 AD
Dimensions: 63.75" (161.9cm) high x 26.75" (67.9cm) wide
Catalogue: V20
Collection: Chinese
Style: Song Dynasty
Medium: Granite

After the fall of the T¡¯ang Dynasty, a period of unrest and war ensued, finally ending with the establishment of the Song Dynasty. The Song era was considered a time of consolidation for Chinese culture. Traditional text were reanalyzed and reinterpreted, bringing forth a revival of Confucianism peppered with new ideas. Once again, civil scholars became more influential than their military counterparts. This was an era of peace, where technology and innovation flourished. Trade now focused on the seas, since the Silk Road had since been cut off. The Song viewed themselves as the culmination of two thousand years of Chinese culture. However, splinters began to emerge among the various ethnic groups that had been unified under the T¡¯ang. As these ethnic rivalries began to grow, the government became fractured as officials began to oppose each other, allowing the Mongols from the north to invade and conquer.

Stone figures usually line the entrance of tomb complexes, offering halls, and temples to remove forces of evil and ensure harmonious ties between the spiritual and material worlds. This granite guardian, called a Heavenly King, exemplifies Sung stylistic taste for realistic representation in stone figure art. The guardian's form resembles those of military officials whose sturdy, stout bodies convey strength, endurance, and determination--features commonly associated with calvary horses. His arched eyebrows, bulging eyes and menacing frown frighten evil spirits and mortal wrongdoers. Holding a four stringed guitar in his hands, he is seated with one leg forward as an expression of loyalty to whom he serves. When played, the guitar emits a magical sound which is heard throughout the world, setting the camps of enemies on fire. Dressed in chain mail armor gathered at the waist with a belt bearing the emblem of a mythical animal, he attends to the responsibilities of maintaining justice and order in the universe through his power to regulate climate and fortune. Likewise, the Heavenly Guardians were a popular choice of figures to be cast in stone and placed near sites of great spiritual and ritual value. The names of four guardians (heavenly kings) are generally as follow (sanskrit/chinese): 1. In the East: "Dhritarastra ¶«·½³Ö¹úÌìÍõ" Represents "Compassion" and ability to 'protect' a country. Usually the one holding a Pipa (a chinese instrument), symbolizing the use of music to encourage sentient beings to seek refuge in buddhism, protecting the east. 2. In the South: "Vidradhaka ÄÏ·½Ôö³¤ÌìÍõ" Generally means one who can encourage sentient beings to prolong their roots of kindness. He has green color body, and uses a sword, protecting the south. 3. In the West: "Virapaksa Î÷·½¹ãÄ¿ÌìÍõ" Generally means one who can look very far and observe the world and protect the people. Usually has a red body and is the leader of the 4 kings. He carries a dragon, and when one sees it, they will believe in buddhism. He also uses rope to catch believers and get them to see refuge in Buddhism. He was in charge of protecting the west. 4. In the North: "Vaisramana ±±·½¶àÎÅÌìÍõ" (sometimes also known as "ÅþɳÃÅ Pisamen") Generally means "one who knows alot". Usually has a green body and carries an umbrella on his right hand and carries a magic mouse on his left hand. These were used to subdue the demons and protect and maintain people's wealth. Sometimes, he is also known as the God of prosperity in India. The four guardians of Buddhism are sometimes also known as the "4 heavenly kings 四大天王". They were actually the "4 Dharma Protectors 四大护法" (i.e. Protectors of Buddhist teaching) whose mission is to protect the world, advise sentient beings to do good and avoid evil, records the deeds of sentient beings etc. In chinese Buddhist temples, you will often see the statues of these 4 deities in front of the gate/entrance to the temple. Sometimes, you can also see their paintings on the wooden door/gate of the temple. They were there to 'protect' the temple. In Buddhist cosmology, the universe was divided into 3 worlds: 1) the world of desire (欲界) 2) the world of form (色界) 3) the world of form-less (无色界) Most of sentient beings including humans are living in the world of desire, which has 6 levels of heaven known as "6 desire heavens 六欲天". The 1st levels of heaven (known as "Xuer Mountain 须弥山") has a mountain known as "Jiantuolo Mountain 犍陀罗山". This is where the 4 heavenly kings live. The Jiantuolo Mountain has 4 peaks, each of which protected by the heavenly kings. - (H.557)