Other Divinities

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Within Buddhist temples, in addition to the Bodhisattvas, groups of other divine figures help to complete the Buddha's entourage. They venerate, protect, and support the Buddha in a hierarchical structure. In this section you will be introduced to some of the more common figures. These include divine kings, gods of strength, and apsaras.

Divine Kings


In Buddhist tradition, the divine kings were responsible for protecting the Buddha and his Law, the sanctuary, and the Buddhist congregation from dangers and threats of evil forces arising from the four cardinal directions of the compass. 


What visual clues let you know that this is a protector?

Divine king from Dunhuang, ca. 700    

Height: 167 cm (5 ft 6 in)       source



Look at the posture of this divine king. Why do you think there is a figure under his foot? Does this seem in conflict with Buddhist doctrine?


Early Tang divine king from Dunhuang

Height: 93 cm (3 ft 1 in)              source



To the right is an early Tang divine king from Xinjiang.


How does the overall appearance of this figure differ from the other two divine kings you have looked at in this section? 

Why do you think this sculpture might look different?


Early Tang divine king from Xinjiang

Height: 149 cm (4 ft 9 in)          source



Gods of Strength


The Gods of Strength are wrathful deities who are often depicted as hyper masculine beings. Subordinate to the Divine Kings, they are responsible for fighting the evil forces of the world.


How do these gods of strength differ from the divine kings? Compare these two figures with each other. How are they different? Why do you think there is such a big size difference between these two sculptures (note the dimensions)?

God of Strength from Dunhuang, ca. 600   

Height: 252 cm (8 ft 3 in)             source 

Gilded bronze God of Strength from Hebei, 8th c  Height: 15.2 cm (6 in)                        source





In Buddhist traditions, apsaras are heavenly beings. In depictions of paradise they hover above the Buddha. Apsaras are often depicted as female. When they are depicted in three-dimensional forms they are almost always done in shallow relief and not as a free standing sculpture.


From the two Northern Wei stone reliefs from Yungang shown below, why do you think apsaras are most often depicted in shallow relief while the other divinities are more often produced as free standing three-dimensional figures?


Apsara stone relief from Yungang, 5th c

Width: 100 cm (3 ft 3 in)                                                                          source








Apsara stone relief from Yungang, 5th c        

Width: 100 cm (3 ft 3 in)                                                                          source


To the right is a section of a Western Wei (6th century) mural at Dunhuang.


Besides the obvious difference of medium, how do the apsaras here differ from the Yungang figures above?


These figures have been likened to what in the west is considered an angel. Do you think they seem like western angels? Why or why not?

Ten apsaras from a wall painting at Dunhuang 

Height: 161 cm (5 ft 3 in), Width: 110 cm (3 ft 7 in)     source


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