Bishamonten, Vaisravana (毘沙門天)

Bishamonten (vaizravaNa in Sanskrit) is a Buddha of the Tenbu, deities who reside in a heavenly realm, this being one of six realms in which the souls of living beings transmigrate from one to another, in Buddhism. It is a war god and one of the Shitenno (four guardian kings) with Jikokuten (Dhrtarastra), Zochoten (Virudhaka) and Komokuten (Virupaksa). Additionally, it is not only one of the shitenno but is worshiped individually over a broad region, such as Central Asia and China (other than in Japan).


Its predecessor is Kubera, a treasure god in Indian myth.

The title of vaizravaNa originally meant 'the son of vizravas,' so it originated from his father's name, but it can be interpreted as 'a man who listens very well' so that it is also translated as Tamonten.

In Japan, when it is shaped as a statue and placed as one of the Shitenno it is usually called 'Tamonten,' but when in the form of a statue and placed individually it is usually called 'Bishamonten.'

The Sanmayagyo symbol is a treasure club (a club with which to defeat the enemy of Buddhism in order to protect the Buddhist dharma) as well as a pagoda. Shushi (Shuji, Bija) in Mikkyo (Esoteric Buddhism) is vai. The mantra (shingon) for Bishamonten is 'On Beishiramanayasowaka (oM vaizravaNaaya svaahaa, that is, om (saintly sound), the son of vizravas, svaahaa), etc.

Although there are various figures (as below), in Japan it is generally expressed as a warrior figure of the Tang dynasty that dons leather armor. Its belongings generally consist of a pagoda. Moreover, it often stands on an ogre called Jaki (邪鬼).

For example, in the Ryokai Mandala (Mandala of the Two Realms) of Mikkyo, it is drawn as a figure that has a treasure club in the right hand and a pagoda in the left hand and is wearing armor.

However, the Shitenno statue in Todai-ji Temple Kaidan-do is shaped as a figure that has a pagoda in the right hand and a treasure club in the left hand.
(The statue in Nara Taima-dera Temple has a pagoda in the right hand as well.)

In India, it was considered as a treasure god and was hardly depicted as a warrior. As to the character in this age, see the article on Kubera. During the process that was transmitted to China through Central Asia, the faith as a war god was created and it came to be a guardian deity as one of the Shitenno. Additionally, as a following of Taishakuten it is said to live in Tengyo-jo Castle of Suishota, which is the north of Mt. Shumisen (Mt. Sumeru) or to guard Hokkurushu (uttara-kuru), one of the four continents in the world view of ancient India. Moreover, it subordinates devils such as Yasha (a class of semi-divinity that is usually considered to be of a benevolent and inoffensive disposition but is sometimes also classified with malignant spirits) and Rasetsu (Rakshasa).

Additionally, in Mikkyo it is one of the juniten (十二天) and is said to guard the north. In Japan it is one of the seven deities of good luck as a unique faith and is revered because it seems to benefit games especially.

Figure of image
There is no clear rule regarding Bisyamonten's figure, so that various expressions exist. It is expressed as the figure of a warrior in Japan as mentioned above, and generally it has a pagoda. There is another work that has a trident: for example, the statue at Mimuroto-ji Temple in Kyoto does not have a pagoda but a trident in one hand and places the other hand on his hip.

In the folk faith of China it is expressed as a figure that has a green face with an umbrella in the right hand and a silver mouse in the left hand. In Tibetan Buddhism it is expressed as a figure that has a mongoose who disgorges gold, silver and jewels, thus maintaining the character of a treasure god in India.

There are many works as an individual deity or the central deity. The styles of placement are as follows: a triad style in which Bishamonten is placed at the center with Kyoji (attendant figures) of Kisshoten (Kichijoten, Sri-mahadevi, who is said to a wife of the sister of Bishamonten) and Zennishi-doji (who is said to be a son of Bishamonten) (Kurama Temple in Kyoto, Sekkei-ji Temple in Kochi, and so on); a style that places a pair of Bishamonten with Kisshoten (the statue of Horyuji Temple Kondo (法隆寺金堂) in Nara); and a style that places a pair of Bishamonten with Fudo Myoo (the statue of Koyasan Kongobuji Temple and so on).

Additionally, in the temples of the Tendai sect it is often seen that Senju Kannon is placed at the center and Bishamonten and Fudo Myoo are placed at its sides (Myoo-in Temple in Shiga, Bujo-ji Temple in Kyoto).

There are many works of Tamonten statues that guard the north (the back of the dais for a Buddhist image on the observer's right) as being among the Shitenno. The figure is nearly the same as an individual Bishamonten statue but often has a pagoda in one hand.

Designated works from the nation are Tamonten statues among the Shitenno statues at Todai-ji Temple Kaidan-do, Joruri-ji Temple in Kyoto, Kofuku-ji Temple in Nara.

Derived figures

In China it was mixed with Risei (Li Jing), a warrior at the beginning of the Tang who was respected as a war god, which led to the creation of the god Takutori-tenno.

This Takutori-tenno is today thought of as a god other than Tamonten among the Shitenno and as a kind of shogun of gods who led the Shitenno, including Tamonten. Later, it became to be revered in Dokyo as well. This is Takutori-tenno, described as father of Nata-taishi in "Journey to West" and Risei in Feng-Shen-Yen-I.

As mentioned above, while Tamonten of the Shitenno is shown as a figure that has an umbrella, Takutori-tenno is shown as a warrior figure that has a pagoda. This succeeds the old figure of Bishamonten, which was shaped during the Tang dynasty.

Tobatsu Bishamonten
There is a particular figure of statue which is called Tobatsu Bishamonten. It wears armor knitted from chains (Kinsako (金鎖甲), and protective gear called Ebigote (海老籠手) over the arms, as well as a coronet on the head. Its belongings are a pagoda in the left hand and a treasure club or ji in the right hand, which is clearly exotic. Additionally, it stands on Chitennyo and two devils (Niranba and Biranba) instead of Jaki. It is said that Tobatsu Bishamonten in To-ji Temple (Kyoogokoku-ji Temple) was placed on Rajomon gate.

It is generally said that 'Tobatsu (兜跋)' means Western 兜跋 country (Turfan at present), which is based on a legend that Bishamonten appeared in this place with this figure. Other characters of '刀抜' or '屠半' are used in some cases.

The figures of statues are clarified into two: the one that faithfully emulates the statue of To-ji Temple (the statue of Nara National Museum, the statue of Seiryo-ji Temple in Kyoto) and the other, which is nearly the same as the usual Bishamonten statue except that it stands on both hands of Chitennyo (Narushima Bishamon-do in Iwate, etc.).

[Original Japanese]