Nepal in the Mahabharata Period, Part 14


BY: SUN STAFF - 25.10 2018

Kubera, the Guardian King 
Mahabuddha Temple - Patan, Nepal

Sri Krsna's liberation of Banasura, the Yadava dynasty's presence in Nepal, and the events that preceded and followed.

As mentioned in yesterday's segment, both Arjuna and Bhima engaged in various fights with the Kirats in Nepal and surrounding regions. Bhima fought with the Rakshasa servants of the Kirat king Kubera in Alkapur, a capital city of the Himalayan Kirats. While looking for soldiers who would join his forces to fight in the Kurukshetra war, Bhima was advised by Kubera to not simply rely on these local Rakshasas.

King Kubera (Kuvera) is not on the list of 29 Kirat kings, no doubt because he was located quite a distance away from their seat of power in Nepal. His domain, Alkapur is situated at the Alkapuri Glacier, located at the base of Balakun peak, over 6,000 meters above sea level. It is 15 km. from Badrinath-dham and 3 km. from Lakshmivan. Narayana Parbat divides the glacier of Alkapuri and Goumukh.

Kubera's city is said to be located on the golden north face of Mt. Kailash. The south face is described as sapphire, the east as crystal, the west ruby, and the north gold. Kubera, the demigod in charge of wealth, is worshipped throughout the Himalayan region. In the temple at Badrinath, built two centuries ago by the Garhwal kings, Lord Badrinath is flanked by Kubera and Ganesh. He is regarded as the regent of the North (Dik-pala), and a protector of the world (Lokapala).

Jambhala, a Buddhist depiction of Kubera 
Uttar Pradesh or Bodhgaya, c. 1050 A.D. 
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

While Laksmi is the goddess of fortune, Kubera is the god of wealth. He is worshipped not only in the homes of vaisyas throughout India, but all through the Himalayan region, from Uttarakhand to Nepal, Tibet, and into China. Kuber is worshipped not only by Hindus, by also by Buddhists, Jains, and other Chinese sects. In all cases, he is associated with wealth.

Because of this diversity of worship of Kubera, his presence in Nepal is significant because Nepal is situated in the center of Kubera's Himalaya realm. And in the context of this series, the variations in iconography of Kubera will be mirrored in other deities and temple art from Nepal, where Vaisnava influences from the Mahabharata Period merge with other religious cultures.

The temple statue of Kubera pictured above from Mahabuddha Temple is a traditional Nepali depiction, showing the Guardian King mounted on his flying lion. Kubera sits outside the stupa of Mahabuddha Temple in Patan, Kathmandu. As the name indicates, Mahabuddha Temple is dedicated to the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. It was built by a priest in 1585 A.D., modeled after the Maha Bodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya.

While this Nepal temple statue is relatively recent -- not yet 500 years old -- Kubera is one of the most ancient deities mentioned in recorded Vedic history. He is considered a guardian and protector of the land itself, and ruler of the Yakshas who were once a powerful force in the Himalayan regions. The word 'Yaksha' is associated with Lord Brahma's utterance, yakshamam! -- "We shall protect!". It is not surprising, then, that Kuvera's capital city is high in the Himalayas, in the region of the Char-dhams, where he serves as guardian of the North Quadrant of the earth planet. As protector, the Sapta-matrikas, or seven great Mother Goddesses are always represented with Kuvera on one side and Ganapati on the other.

Kubera, the "God of Riches" 
Tanjore, Tamil Nadu, c. 1814


Kubera's many epithets glorify him as the overlord of numerous semi-divine species. Although he was described as the chief of evil spirits in early Vedic texts, in the Puranas he is identified as having acquired the status of a Deva.

The son of Brahma, Kuvera rules over a treasure-house full of wealth in a hidden city in the Himalayas. While the place is known to be Alkapur, the abode itself is not visible. Kuvera's wife is Yakshi, a generic term obviously, although in Buddhist texts she is called Hariti, 'the stealer'. According to Buddhist legend, the name refers to her pastimes spiriting away children, until Buddha cured her of this behaviour by concealing her own child for a time. Kuvera's half-brother is Ravana, who caused much trouble for him by taking away the other half of his kingdom, Lanka.

Vaisravana, Guardian of the North 
Silk painting, 8th c. Tang Dynasty, China


In Jainism, Kubera is known as Sarvanubhuti. In Tibet and China he is known as Vaisravana, Guardian of the North. In the painting above, he is pictured with his attendant, wearing armour and grasping a halberd-banner. There is an animal head at his shoulder, and his attendant wears a leopard-head helmet. As Kubera is depicted in other religious iconography, this Chinese Vaisravana is shown holding a mongoose and cintamani (flaming jewel). The mongoose is typically found in Buddhist iconography, a symbol of Kubera's victory over the Nagas, who are also guardians of treasures.

In Nepalese Buddhist tradition Kubera is also known as Vaisravana. The mongoose carried by the Nepali Vaisravana vomits a wish-fulfilling gem, and in this tradition he is considered chief of the Four Heavenly Kings.

Kubera is typically depicted as a dwarf, with fair complexion and a big belly. He is described in the later Puranas as having various unusual physical attributes, such as three legs, only eight teeth, one eye, etc. Nonetheless, he is always depicted with jewels or signs of wealth. He is sometimes depicted riding a man or a goat. Kubera is found in the iconography of different religions holding a variety of paraphernalia, from banner to cintamani, mace, pomegranate, and money bag.

Kubera - "Yaksha Ne-che holding sword and mongoose" 
Lhasa Tibet, 13th c.