Lokapāla, Sanskrit and Pāli for "guardian of the world", has different uses depending on whether it is found in a Hindu or Buddhist context.
In Hinduism, lokapāla refers to the Guardians of the Directions associated with the four cardinal directions.
In Buddhism, lokapāla refers to the Four Heavenly Kings, and to other protector spirits, whereas the Guardians of the Directions are referred to as the 'dikpālas' (Wikipedia)
Brahma & four Lokapalas (the Hindu origin)
Brahma standing on a turtle in the center, surrounded by the four Lokapalas, guardians of the Cardinal directions, Anuradhapura Period, Sri Lanka, 9th century.
Brahma is Lord of the center. (from the left) Varuna, the Lord of the West and knowledge, with his mount, a horse. Kubera, the Lord of the North and wealth, carrying a mace and with a lion. Yama, the Regent of the south and Lord of death, with a bull. Indra, the Lord of the East and heaven with an elephant, holding a thunderbolt.
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org Brahma and the 4 Lokapalas:
Four Lokapalas: Guardians of the Buddha land
(Chinese and Vietnamese adaptation)
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org Guardians of the Buddha in Dan Pagoda, Dình Bang, Tu Son, Bac Ninh, Viet Nam
#2: 4 Deva (Heavenly) Kings (North, East, West and South) surrounding Taishakuten (the ruler of the gods of the Veda) in the middle.
Image source: en.wikipedia.org
#8: Virupaksha: Deva-raja Virupaksha (Wide-Eye Deva King) is the Guardian of the Western Direction and lord of the nagas (dragons/serpents)
Image source: www.flickr.com
#11: Dhritarashtra: He is the Guardian King of the East and chief of the gandharvas, the musicians of the heavens.
Image source: www.rigpawiki.org
Vaishravana, Guardian of the north
Painting on ramie, 41.0 x 27.5 cm. Khocho, 9th century
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 5015)
Vaishravana is one of the four lokapalas, or guardians
of the universe. Specifically, he is the guardian of the
north and is depicted with a stupa or pagoda in one
hand and a lance in the other. In China, since the
middle of the T'ang dynasty (618-906), he has been
revered as the god of wealth and as a guardian at the
entrances to Buddhist temples.
On both sides of this fragment of a temple banner Vaishravana can be clearly identified by his attributes, a pagoda, here octagonal, and a lance, here entwined with ribbons. Both figures were oudined with the aid of stencils, painted, and outlined again in ink; the hand and face of one are done over in red. The two Vaish- ravanas, haloed and wearing armor and helmets, differ only in the position of the hands and in the design of the earrings and breastplates. Beards enhance their martial appearance. Behind both shoulders their scarves billow in oval forms.
The triangular top of the banner is marked off from the main portion by a decorative band. This is conceived as a draped dais on which a meditating Buddha, with a red nimbus and a green mandorla, is seated on a lotus pedestal before a violet background. The Buddha is flanked on each side by a tendril with a lotus bud.
This small temple banner shows a different lokapala
on each side. Looking to the left (Image on the right) is the guardian of
the east, Dhritarashtra, identifiable by his attributes:
in his left hand he holds a bow and with his right he
is laying an arrow to its string. The other guardian
cannot be identified (Note: Likely Virupaksa, the guardian of the south). Notwithstanding the flaming
pearl, which Vaishravana, guardian of the north, can
be shown holding in his left hand instead of the stupa
or pagoda (cf. No. 139), it is unlikely that this is a
portrayal of the most high-ranking of the four lokapalas. Vaishravana was gready revered, particularly in
Central Asia, and he would hardly have been depicted
without his complete attributes, the lance being missing here.
Both lokapalas presumably stood on cowering demons. They are dressed as generals in full, flexible armor. Shawls flutter around them, billowing up behind their shoulders and lending additional emphasis to the impression of martial strength. The head of each is surrounded by a nimbus; the bands holding the headgear in place flutter in the wind. Under their armor, which was probably composed of segments of lacquered leather, both lokapalas wear long robes which cover the legs to just above the knee. Below the knee their loose-fitting trousers are tied with ribbons.
The section at the top of the banner shows a small Buddha in the attitude of meditation on what was originally a violet background, decorated with scroll-work. This triangular field is marked off from the main picture by a decorative band transected by the nimbus.
The impact of this unpretentious stencil painting is enhanced by its use of strong color.
A Lokapala (Virudhaka?)
Painting on ramie, 14.5 x 12.5 cm. Murtuk, 9th century
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 163 )
This full-face depiction of a lokapala probably represents Virudhaka, the guardian of the south, an iden-
tification based on the sword he holds in his right
hand and possibly the predominant blue coloring of
With a grim expression on his face, knitted brows, eyes bulging, and mouth open, the lokapala wards off evil. His bushy eyebrows and beard contribute to his martial appearance. The face and hands are white; the addition of a delicate pink enhances their plasticity. The hair is tied up and held in place by a headdress studded with gold and jewels. The two blue breast-plates are fastened by a gold buckle to the richly gold- plated shoulder armor and held in place on the body by a broad strip of cloth.
The painting combines the artistic traditions of Central Asia and China, dominated by the Chinese linear style of calligraphy.
Head of a Lokapala (?)
Painting on silk, 6.3 x 8.4 cm. Toyok, Manuscript Room, 8th century
A Lokapala (Virudhaka?) (MIK III 6350)
This small fragment of a painting on silk was found,
like the reliquary (No. 106), in the cave at Toyok
known as the Manuscript Room. It shows a male head
with an angry look — possibly a lokapala, one of the
guardians of the four quarters of the universe. His eyes
bulge, his mouth is open in a snarl to reveal the teeth.
The ends of his thick mustache reach nearly to the
ears. The face is drawn with reddish lines, the bejeweled hair is brown. Part of his headdress can be seen
behind the ear and above the hair.