Vessavaṇa Kuvera (Pāḷi; Sanskrit: Vaiśravaṇa Kubera; Thai: Thao Wessuwan Kuwen) is known as one of the Four Kings (Pāḷi: Cātummahārājāno; Sanskrit: Caturmahārājano) of the Cātummahārājika (Pāḷi; Sanskrit: Cāturmahārājikakāyika) Heaven. According to Buddhist cosmology this heavenly realm is the lowest heaven of the Desire Realm (Pāḷi: Kāmaloka; Sanskrit: Kāmadhātu), and it is located on the lower mountainside of Mount Neru (Pāḷi; Sanskrit: Meru).
Each of the Four Heavenly Kings are considered to be protectors of the Dhamma (Pāḷi; Sanskrit: Dharma) and guardians of the universe. Each cardinal direction of the universe is being watched over by one of the Four Heavenly Kings:
- Vessavaṇa Kuvera (Pāḷi; Sanskrit: Vaiśravaṇa Kubera; Thai: Thao Wessuwan Kuwen) is the Guardian King of the North;
- Dhataraṭṭha (Pāḷi; Sanskrit: Dhṛtarāṣṭra; Thai: Thao Thatarot) is the Guardian King of the East;
- Virūḷhaka (Pāḷi; Sanskrit: Virūḍhaka; Thai: Thao Virunhok) is the Guardian King of the South;
- Virūpakkha (Pāḷi; Sanskrit: Virūpākṣa; Thai: Thao Virupak) is the Guardian King of the West.
The name ‘Vessavaṇa‘ is believed to derrive from a particular region (Pāḷi: Visāṇa) located in the Northern Quarter of the Universe. In this Northern Quarter there is a city called Ālakamandā (which in Pāḷi can also mean “wealth”) where Vessavaṇa and his yakkha (Pāḷi; Sanskrit: yakṣa; Thai: yaksa) attendants live.
The name ‘Kuvera‘ comes from one of Vessavaṇa‘s past lives in which he was a wealthy Brahmin mill-owner. During that particular life time he developed his practice of generosity by giving large quantities of food produced in his mill to poor people, and by offering alms to the monastic community of monks (Pāḷi: saṅgha; Sanskrit: saṃgha). As a result of the kamma (Pāḷi; Sanskrit: karma) he had acquired from practicing generosity Vessavaṇa was reborn in the Cātummahārājikā Heaven.
After some time had passed for Vessavaṇa living in the Cātummahārājikā Heaven he would marry a wife named Bhuñjatī by whom he has five daughters – Latā, Sajjā, Pavarā, Acchimatī, and Sutā.
At a later stage of his life time in the Cātummahārājikā Heaven Siddhattha Gotama (Pāḷi; Sanskrit: Siddhārtha Gautama) was born in the world. Soon after that Vessavaṇa would become a follower of the Buddha; practicing the Buddha’s teachings Vessavaṇa realized the first stage – sotāpanna (Pāḷi; Sanskrit: ṥrotāpanna) – on the path leading to Awakening.
Vessavaṇa often travelled between the realms of the universe to deliver messages from the gods to the Buddha and his disciples in order to protect them. One time he offered the Protective Āṭānāṭā verses – an early form of paritta recitation chants – to the Buddha, which could be recited by the Buddha’s disciples to protect them from yakkhas and spirits when they are meditating in the forest. For this reason people in the time of early Buddhism would worship Vessavaṇa at shrines in the form of trees in the forest.