They reside in the Cāturmahārājika heaven (Pāli Cātummahārājika, "Of the Four Great Kings") on the lower slopes of Mount Sumeru, which is the lowest of the six worlds of the devas of the Kāmadhātu. They are the protectors of the world and fighters of evil, each able to command a legion of supernatural creatures to protect the Dharma. They are:
|Meaning||“He who hears everything”||“He who enlarges” or “Patron of Growth”||"He who maintains the state" or “Watcher of the Lands”||"He who sees all"|
|Traditional Chinese||多聞天 or 毗沙門天||增長天 or 留博叉天||持國天 or 多羅吒天||廣目天 or 毗琉璃天|
|Simplified Chinese||多闻天 or 毗沙门天||增长天 or 留博叉天||持国天 or 多罗吒天||广目天 or 毗琉璃天|
|Hanyu Pinyin||Duō Wén Tiān||Zēng Cháng Tiān||Chí Guó Tiān||Guăng Mù Tiān|
|Korean Name (hangul)||다문천왕||증장천왕||지국천왕||광목천왕|
|Korean Name (romanized)||Damun-cheonwang||Jeungjang-cheonwang||Jiguk-cheonwang||Gwangmok-cheonwang|
|Japanese (kanji)|| 多聞天|
|Japanese (romanized)|| Tamon-ten|
|Tibetan Name|| rnam.thos.sras|
|Thai name||ท้าวกุเวร or เวสสัณ||ท้าววิรุฬหก||ท้าวธตรฐ||ท้าววิรูปักษ์|
|Thai Name (romanized)||Thao Kuwen or Vessavan||Thao Virunhok||Thao Thatarot||Thao Virupak|
|Symbol||Umbrella, Mongoose||Sword||Pipa||Serpent, Small stupa or pearl|
Further associations between the four directions and elements, seasons, planets, animals, internal organs, etc. can be found at Five elements (Chinese philosophy). Note, however, that the colors assigned to the Four Heavenly Kings represent an independent tradition and do not correspond to the traditional Chinese association of colors and directions.
All four serve Śakra (Jp: Taishakuten 帝釈天), the lord of the devas of . On the 8th, 14th and 15th days of each lunar month, the Four Heavenly Kings either send out messengers or go themselves to see how virtue and morality are faring in the world of men. Then they report upon the state of affairs to the assembly of the devas.
On the orders of Śakra, the four kings and their retinues stand guard to protect from another attack by the Asuras, which once threatened to destroy the kingdom of the devas. They are also vowed to protect the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Buddha's followers from danger.
According to Vasubandhu, devas born in the Cāturmahārājika heaven are 1/4 of a krośa in height (about 750 feet tall). They also have a five-hundred year lifespan, of which each day is equivalent to 50 years in our world; thus their total lifespan amounts to about nine million years (other sources say 90,000 years).
In Chinese they are known collectively as "Fēng Tiáo Yǔ Shùn" (風調雨順 / 风调雨顺 ), which translates into "Good Climate". This mnemonic reminds one of the symbols the Heavenly Kings carry. For instance, "Fēng" sounds like the Chinese word for "edge" (鋒/锋), hence the corresponding symbol is a sword. "Tiáo" sounds like "Tune", hence the corresponding symbol is a musical instrument. "Yǔ" means "rain", hence the corresponding symbol is an umbrella. "Shùn" refers to the symbol of a crimson dragon (赤龙).
These symbols also link the deities to their followers; for instance, the nāgas, magical creatures who can change form between human and serpent, are led by , represented with a snake; the gandharvas are celestial musicians, led by , represented with a lute. The umbrella was a symbol of regal sovereignty in ancient India, and the sword is a symbol of martial prowess. 's mongoose, which ejects jewels from its mouth, is said to represent generosity in opposition to greed.
The Demon Chained Under Turtle Mountain: The History and Mythology of the Chinese River Spirit Wuzhiqi.(Book Review)
Mar 22, 2004; Poul Andersen. The Demon Chained under Turtle Mountain: The History and Mythology of the Chinese River Spirit Wuzhiqi. Berlin: G....