Medieval and Early Modern History Gallery
Buddhist Guardian Deities of Late Joseon
Sinjung or guardian deities are heavenly beings who hold spiritually lesser status than Buddhas and bodhisattvas in the Buddhist pantheon. Originally they were gods of ancient India, but Buddhism transformed them into protectors of the Buddha and his teachings.
In the Joseon dynasty, in spite of the official oppression of Buddhism, the guardian deities were unceasingly worshipped amongst lay believers. The paintings representing Indra, Brahma, and Skanda enjoyed great popularity to the extent that they were more frequently painted than Buddhas and bodhisattvas. The devotees prayed to guardian deities and dedicated paintings of them in hope for good fortune and longevity and for removal of varying calamities.
The cult of Buddhist guardians and its art demonstrate Buddhism as an all-embracing religion and provide a window through which we can trace lives and wishes of the believers. The fascinating portrayal of guardian deities in paintings even attracts the viewers with little knowledge of Buddhism. We sincerely hope to offer the public an opportunity to enjoy the paintings of Korea’s Buddhist guardian deities expressively imbued with ardent wishes and colorful stories.