Photo by OjisanjakeThese protective figures are guardians of doors and entrances of temples and other holy sanctuaries. The protectors of the Sacred Space are powerful in battle and uproot trees, and hurl the tops of the mountains against their enemies. With their bulging eyes, sharp protruding teeth and tongue of unusual length they always appear fearful and with an imposing strength. They have different names, according to the place, region or period of time, for ex. Kongōrikishi or Niō in Japanese, Heng Ha Er Jiang in Chinese, or Narayeongeumgang in Korean, but the most widespread name is Dvarapala. Classified as parivara-devathas, meaning that Dvarapalas are semi-divine beings of a minor class who form the entourage of the main deity they serve.
Thai Dvarapala, 15th c.In the different countries they have the common ancient Indian origin.
In Japan, the guardians originated in Indian Buddhism have Japanese names, but are also known by their names in Sanskrit, used as sacred language of Hinduism and Buddhism. For example, Vajrapani (or Kongorikishi) means "thunderbolt holder" in Sanskrit, related to the Hindu god Indra. Vajrapani is the keeper of all tantras of Vajrayana Buddhism. Vajrapani represents the power aspect of complete enlightenment, and he is the Lord of Secrets - the keeper of all the tantras of Vajrayana Buddhism. And these Japanese Nio, the pairs of guardians, were also originally Hindu deities that have been incorporated into buddhism as protectors.
In Hinduism, Shilpa Sastra texts make a mention of the nature and appearances of the Dvarapalas to be placed at different locations in the temple complex. And they differ depending on the main deity of the temple.
the Eastern gate is the way of the mantras;
the Southern is the way of devotion or bhakti;
the Western gate is for the performance of rites and rituals, or karma-kanda.;
and the Northern gate is the way of wisdom, or Jnana.
Certainly, the guards of every gate have certain symbolical value.
The four doors of Ganapathi temple are guarded by: Avijna – Vijnaraja (East), Suvakthra – Balavan (South ), Gajakarna – Gokarna (West) and Susoumya – Shubadayaka on the North. The four pairs of Dvarapalas of Vishnu are Chanda and Prachanda, Dhatru and Vidhatru, Jaya and Vijaya; and Bhardra and Subhadra. The first named in each pair stands to the right of the doorway; and the other to the left. And the Dvarapalas of Shiva are Nandi and Mahakala (to the East), Herambha and Bhringi (to the South), Durmukha and Pandura (to the West) and Sita and Asita (to the North).
These gigantic guards of Brihadeshwara correspond to such beauty of the magnificent temple.
Brihadeshwara temple of ThanjavurAll these gatekeepers with fearsome weapons and cruel looks should be terrible. But their menacing look will not deceive a person who comes with a sincere heart. For me, they always are kind giants inviting us to enter.