The eighteen Arhats were the original disciples of Buddha. They were freed from the cycle of reincarnation when they achieved enlightenment. They went onto become ‘the guardians of the law’. There were originally sixteen Arhats, but over time the number increased to eighteen. The earliest representations of the Arhats can be traced to the 4th century AD, but it was not until the 8th century that the tiger taming Arhat appeared. The eighteen Arhats are always represented as elderly monks with shaved heads, although each is identifiable through distinctive symbols.
Legend has it that Pindola, the tiger taming Arhat, was a general. However he was devoted to Buddhism, which forbids killing. He was ordered by the king to become a monk and he joined a monastery in the mountains. Not far from the monastery he could hear a tiger howling every day. He though that the tiger must be hungry and decided to feed it vegetarian food, so that it wouldn’t turn into a man eater. The tiger came to be fed every night. Eventually the tiger was tamed. From then on, Pindola became the tiger taming arhat.
This painting on silk dates to around the 17th to the 18th century. An inscription at the lower right says, ‘Respectfully commissioned by the imperial prince Zhuang’.