Vaiśravaṇa (Sanskrit वैश्रवण) or Vessavaṇa (Pāli वेस्सवण,Sinhala වෛශ්රවණ) also known as Jambhala,
is the name of the chief of the Four
Heavenly Kings and
an important figure in Buddhist mythology.
The name Vaiśravaṇa is derived from the Sankrit viśravaṇa "Great Fame".
Vaiśravaṇa is also known as Kubera (Sanskrit) or Kuvera (Pāli),
and as Jambhala (Sanskrit).
Other names include:
多聞天 (simplified characters:
多闻天): Chinese Duō
Wén Tiān, Korean Damun
Cheonwang (다문천왕), Japanese Tamonten.
The characters mean "Much hearing god" or "Deity who hears
毘沙門天: Chinese Píshāmén Tiān, Japanese Bishamonten.
This is a representation of the sound of the Sanskrit name in
Chinese (Vaiśravaṇ → Pishamen) plus the character for "heaven" or
རྣམ་ཐོས་སྲས (rnam.thos.sras [Namthöse])
ท้าวเวสสุวรรณ (Thao Kuwen or Thao Vessuwan)
The character of Vaiśravaṇa is founded upon the Hindu deity Kubera, but although the Buddhist and Hindu deities share
some characteristics and epithets, each of them has different
functions and associated myths. Although brought into East Asia
as a Buddhist deity, Vaiśravaṇa has become a character in folk religion and has
acquired an identity that is partially independent of the
Buddhist tradition (cf. the similar treatment of Kuan
Yin and Yama).
Vaiśravaṇa is the guardian of the northern direction, and
his home is in the northern quadrant of the topmost tier of the
lower half of Mount Sumeru.
He is the leader of all the yakṣas who
dwell on the Sumeru's slopes.
He is often portrayed with a yellow face. He is also sometimes displayed
with a mongoose, often shown
ejecting jewels from its mouth. The mongoose is the enemy of the
snake, a symbol of greed or hatred; the ejection of jewels
Vaiśravaṇa in Theravāda tradition
In the Pāli scriptures
of the Theravāda Buddhist
tradition, Vaiśravaṇa is called Vessavaṇa. Vessavaṇa is one of the Cātummahārājāno,
or four Great Kings, each of whom rules over a specific
realm is the northern quadrant of the world, including the land
According to some suttas, he takes his name from a region there
he also has a city there called Ālakamandā which is a byword for
wealth. Vessavaṇa governs
the yakkhas –
beings with a nature between 'fairy' and 'ogre'.
Vessavaṇa's wife is named Bhuñjatī,
and he has five daughters, Latā, Sajjā, Pavarā, Acchimatī, and
Sutā. He has a nephew called Puṇṇaka,
a yakkha, husband of the nāga woman
Irandatī. He has a chariot called Nārīvāhana. His weapon was the gadāvudha (Sanskrit:
gadāyudha), but he only used it before he became a follower of
Vessavaṇa has the name "Kuvera" from a name he had from a
past life as a rich brahmin mill-owner, who gave all the produce
of one of his seven mills to charity, and provided alms to the
needy for 20,000 years. He was reborn in the Cātummahārājikā
heaven as a reward for these good kammas.
As with all the Buddhist deities, Vessavaṇa is properly the name of an office (filled for
life) rather than a permanent individual. Each Vessavaṇa is mortal, and when he dies, he will be replaced
by a new Vessavaṇa.
Like other beings of the Cātummahārājika world, his lifespan is
90,000 years (other sources say nine million years). Vessavaṇa has the authority to grant the yakkhas
particular areas (e.g., a lake) to protect, and these are
usually assigned at the beginning of aVessavaṇa's reign.
born, Vessavaṇa became his follower, and eventually attained the
stage of sotāpanna (Sanskrit: srotaāpanna,
one who has only seven more lives before enlightenment). He
often brought the Buddha and his followers messages from the
gods and other humans, and protected them. He presented to the
Buddha the Āṭānāṭā verses, which Buddhists meditating in the forest
could use to ward off the attacks of wild yakkhas or other
supernatural beings who do not have faith in the Buddha. These
verses are an early form of paritta chanting.
Bimbisāra, King of Magadha,
after his death was reborn as a yakkha called Janavasabha in the
retinue of Vessavaṇa.
In the early years of Buddhism, Vessavaṇa was worshipped at trees dedicated to him as
shrines. Some people appealed to him to grant them children.
Vaiśravaṇa in Japan
In Japan, Bishamonten (毘沙門天),
or just Bishamon (毘沙門)
is thought of as an armor-clad god of warfare or
warriors and a punisher of evildoers – a view that is at odds
with the more pacific Buddhist king described above. Bishamon is
portrayed holding a spear in one hand and a small pagoda in the
other hand, the latter symbolizing the divine treasure house,
whose contents he both guards and gives away. In Japanese
folklore, he is one of the Japanese Seven
Gods of Fortune.
Bishamon is also called Tamonten (多聞天),
meaning "listening to many teachings" because he is the guardian
of the places where Buddha preaches.
He lives half way down the side of Mount
Vaiśravaṇa in Tibet
In Tibet, Vaiśravaṇa is considered a worldly
protector of the Dharma,
a member of the retinue of
is also known as the King of the North. As guardian of the
north, he is often depicted on temple murals outside the main
door. He is also thought of as a god of wealth. As such, Vaiśravaṇa is sometimes portrayed carrying a citron, the fruit of the jambhara tree,
a pun on another name of his, Jambhala (in
Tibetan pronunciation Dzambala or Zambala).
The fruit helps distinguish him iconically from depictions of Kuvera. He is sometimes represented as corpulent and covered
with jewels. When shown seated, his right foot is generally
pendant and supported by a lotus-flower
on which is a conch shell. His mount is a snow lion.
Nam Te Se. (རྣམ་ཐོས་སྲས་ or
not Dzambala. Nam Te is the king, and Dzambala is one of his
ranking ministers. Nam Te Se has eight ranks, and Dzambala is
one of these ranks.
Tibetan Buddhists consider Jambhala's sentiment regarding wealth to
be providing freedom by way of bestowing prosperity, so that one
may focus on the path or spirituality rather than on the
materiality and temporality of that wealth.