Indian painting of Vajrapani Bodhisattva – From the Ajanta Caves (Wikimedia)
Vajrapani is the embodiment of the spiritual strength of all the Buddhas. He appears in a wrathful aspect, displaying his power to overcome outer, inner and secret obstacles.
Vajrap??i (Sanskrit, “Vajra in [his] hand”) is one of the earliest-appearing bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism. He is the protector and guide of Gautama Buddha and rose to symbolize the Buddha’s power.
Vajrapani is extensively represented in Buddhist iconography as one of the three protective deities surrounding the Buddha. Each of them symbolizes one of the Buddha’s virtues: Mañju?r? manifests all the Buddhas’ wisdom, Avalokite?vara manifests all the Buddhas’ compassion and Vajrapani manifests all the Buddhas’ power as well as the power of all five tath?gatas.
Vajrapani is one of the earliest Dharmapalas and the only Buddhist deity to be mentioned in the P?li Canon as well as be worshiped in the Shaolin Monastery, in Tibetan Buddhism and in Pure Land Buddhism (where he is known as Mahasthamaprapta and forms a triad with Amit?bha and Avalokite?vara). Manifestations of Vajrapani can also be found in many Buddhist temples in Japan as dharma protectors called Nio. Vajrapani is also associated with Acala, who is venerated as Fudo-My? in Japan, where he is serenaded as the holder of the vajra.
The Buddhist Vajrapani is distinct from the entity mentioned in the Vedas as Indra, king of the gods and the most widely-mentioned deity in Hindu scriptures.