Song Granite Sculpture of a Celestial King - H.523
Origin: China
Circa: 960 AD to 1279 AD
Dimensions: 63.75" (161.9cm) high
Catalogue: V17
Collection: Chinese
Style: Song Dynasty
Medium: Granite

After the fall of the Tang 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 Tang. 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 pieces from the Song Dynasty tend to depict the real world.  Figures of civil and military officials were particularly important as some were recreated in stone on ceremonial occasions.  Bearing an umbrella and dressed in battle ready gear, this king kneels with one fist pressed against his forward knee.  His arched eyebrows, bulging eyes and menacing frown convey his grandeur and strength as well as his commitment to loyalty and righteousness.

In Chinese they are called tian wang, which means Celestial king.  These intimidating figures guard heaven and earth, removing the forces of evil that wreck havoc in both realms. Spiritually and physically, they maintain peace throughout the universe.  They also ensure perfect climate for agricultural growth that was a primary concern for rulers who wanted to remain ruling.  The Mandate of Heaven that legitimizes a ruler could be justifiably taken away if disaster should strike the crops, since it was believed disaster only occurs out of the wrath of heaven to banish evil rule.  These guardians also had the ability to regulate wind, rain, lightning and thunder; by doing so they could make a good person/country advance/bloom or destroy the bad and evil ones.  Likewise, the Guardian Heaven became the choice of rulers and elites to be replicated in stone in tomb complexes, offering halls and temples. The names of four guardians (heavenly kings) are generally as follow (sanskrit/chinese): 1. In the East: "Dhritarastra 东方持国天王" 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 南方增长天王" 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 西方广目天王" 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 北方多闻天王" (sometimes also known as "毗沙门 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.523)