The Relationship between Buddhism and Indigenous Beliefs and People as Reflected in the Names of Lokapālas in Early Buddhist Literature

  • Natchapol Sirisawad Chulalongkorn University, Thailand


The purpose of this article is to analyze aspects of the relationship between Buddhism, indigenous beliefs and people through the names of lokapālas in early Buddhist literature, and especially the names of the three great kings, Dhataraṭṭha, Virūḷha (or Virūḷhaka), and Virūpakkha. The study revealed that the name of the three great kings, Dhataraṭṭha, Virūḷha (or Virūḷhaka), and Virūpakkha, may reflect traces of earlier or contemporaneous indigenous beliefs and people who had cultural encounters with Buddhism. The indigenous beliefs consist of the nāga cult, belief in spirits, early practice of urn-burials and belief in the soul or spirit of the dead rising from the grave, primitive beliefs of Aryan people and, nāga as a tribe. Buddhism shows an attempt to incorporate these beliefs and people into the Buddhist cosmology by elevating some local gods, indigenous beliefs and tribal people to divine status, such as lokapālas, who become chieftains of the gandhabbas, the nāgas, and the kumbhaṇḍas, in order to show acceptance of earlier or contemporaneous indigenous beliefs and tribes. These findings may help to improve understanding more of the sociology of early Buddhism.

Author Biography

Natchapol Sirisawad, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand