Five Great Kings

Five Great Kings
Place Made:
c. 1800
Opaque watercolor on cotton with silk border 
comp: 17-1/4 x 14-1/2 in. (43.8 x 36.8 cm); mount: 30 x 20 in. (76.2 x 50.8 cm) 
Credit Line:
Norton Simon Museum, Gift of Arnold H. Lieberman 
Accession Number:
© Norton Simon Museum 
Not on View

The main figure in this composition is Pehar, a wrathful Central Asian deity who was installed as a protector of Buddhism in Tibet in the eighth century. With a dark-blue complexion, three bulging eyes and long, curling fingernails, Pehar rides a white elephant and brandishes a lasso and sharpened knife. He and the four corner figures are the Five Kings, or five aspects of Pehar: Body, Mind, Speech, Knowledge and Activity. The Five Kings each wear the distinctive round black Mongolian hat with a skull and vajra on top, indicative of their foreign status. The figure at the bottom center is a blacksmith protector, a Tibetan transformation of the fire god Agni, who rides a shaggy goat with twisted horns and holds a vajra hammer and tiger-skin bellows. At the top center of the painting is another important protector figure, Hayagriva. The silk brocade surrounding the painting is decorated with the svastika, an auspicious symbol that appears on a range of sacred objects and symbolizes good fortune.

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