The Lokapalas (Loka – world, pala – protector – from pa – protect) are the guardian deities (of varying numbers – four or eight) of the world or the 4 directions (and 4 intermediary directions), sometimes installed within the bhupura of a yantra.
There are varying lists of Lokapalas, and they are sometimes associated with planets and the lunar mansions – the nakshatras in Hindu astrology. The Lokapalas also appear in various Buddhist pantheons. The Lokapalas are mentioned frequently in the Mahabharata. The Lokapalas are sometimes represented as elephants – this is possibly related to the association of elephants with royalty.
Example list of Lokapalas
The relating of deities to directions predates the emergence of Tantric practice. In the Satapatha Brahmana for example, Nirriti is given to the Southwest, Aditi (the Sun) is given to the East, Soma to the West, Agni to the South, and Savitr to the North. Vayava (wind) is assigned to the Northwest, and Isana, the Northeast.