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SEVEN LUCKY GODS MENU

  maroon-check-7-luckies





Related BENZAITEN Pages


 

 

 

BENZAITEN SPELLINGS

 

 

Jp. = Benten 弁天
Jp. = Benzaiten 弁才天
Jp. = Benzaiten 弁財天
Jp. = Bionten, Mionten 美音天
Jp. = Myō-on Ten 妙音天
Jp. = Daibenzaiten 大弁才天
Jp. = Daiben Kudokuten 大辯功徳天
Skt. = सरस्वती, Sarasvatī
Chn. = Biàncáitiān 辯才天 or 瓣財天
Chn. = Miàoyīn Tiān 妙音天
Translit = 薩羅薩伐底 Sarasabatei
Krn. = Byeonjaecheon 변재천
Krn. = Myoeum Cheon 묘음천

 

 

BENZAITEN MENU


 

 
























Sources:    | 


Bishamonten, Daikokuten, Dakiniten,
Kankiten, Kariteimo, Katen, Kichijōten


Amaterasu, Azaihime, Ebumi, Inari,
 Ichikishima-hime, Itsukushima Myōjin,
Koyane-hime, Munakata Sanjoshin,
Suijin, Tengu, Ugajin, Others


Dragons, White Snakes, Turtles
 White Foxes, Peacocks, Swans

 

 

ESOTERIC SEED & MANTRA

 

 

  Benzaiten's Sanskrit Seeds in Japan = SA or SO
Esoteric Seeds <  |  >
Pronounced SA or SO in Japan

ESOTERIC MANTRA
#1 おん さらさばていえい そわか
#1 On Sarasabatei-ei Sowaka
#2 おん そらそばていえい そわか
#2 On Sorasobatei-ei Sowaka

 

 

ENNICHI 縁日 (HOLY DAY)

 

 

Benzaiten's messenger is a snake, and her holy day (when the prayers of the faithful are most likely to be answered) is a "Snake Day," i.e., Mi no hi  巳の日, or Tsuchi no tomi  己巳の日. It occurs once every 60 days in odd-numbered months, and is a bad day for getting married. For reasons unknown (to me), Benzaiten is also especially venerated on days, months, and years of the boar 亥の日. Also, the first day of the snake on the third day of the third month in the old lunar calendar was a day for ritual purification known in Japanese as JOSHI NO SEKKU 上巳の節句 (which is still an alternate name for the popular References: The Hina Doll Festival (Hina Matsuri) is traditionally held on March 3 every year. The first DAY OF THE SNAKE on the third day of the 3rd month was a day for ritual purification known in Japanese as JOSHI NO SEKKU (which is still an alternate name for the Hina Doll festival in Japan). The dolls and beautiful figurines used in the Hina Matsuri were originally used as SCAPEGOATS for taking on the impurities and bad energies of humans.

J-Sources


 

 

ONE OF 7 LUCKY GODS

 

 

Benzaiten is the sole female among the. Since she is a river goddess, her temples and shrines are almost invariably in the neighborhood of water -- the sea, a river, or a lake. As a water goddess, she became the patroness of everything that "flows" -- e.g.,  music, the fine arts (dancing, acting, visual), poetry, and other crafts. Such artistic learning and wisdom often bring prosperity, hence her inclusion in the Japanese. Another factor propelling her popularity goes back to the Muromachi period (1392-1568),, with the character 才 (zai), meaning talent, replaced with its homonym 財 (zai), meaning wealth.

 

 

DRAGON / SNAKE AS AVATAR

 

 

Benzaiten atop Dragon. Painting by Shimomura Kanzan.
Beniten playing biwa atop dragon. (snakes & dragons are her avatars). Circa 1910. By Shimomura Kanzan 下村観山 (1873-1930). Mizuno Museum of Art 水野美術館 (Nagano).

 

 

 

60 pages, 260 photos. Very Heavy. Allow one /  two minutes to load.
LINKS. Maroon = inside this page; = other site page;snap-icon-yellow = external site

Benzaiten
BENZAITEN, BENTEN
River Goddess, Water Goddess
Bestower of Language and Letters
Goddess of Wealth and Good Fortune
Patroness of Music, Poetry, Learning and Art
Defender of Nation, Protector of Buddhist Law

Origin = Hindu River Goddess Sarasvatī サラスヴァティー
Every major city in Japan has a shrine or temple dedicated to
Benzaiten. number in the thousands and
are often located near water, the sea, a lake, a pond, or a river.
She is one of the nation's most widely venerated deities.

Benzaiten playing biwa, the most common form of the deity in Japan. Line Drawing, 1783, Butsuzo-zu-i
Benzaiten playing a biwa 琵琶 (Chn = pípá, Skt = tuṇava)
Standard form as one Japan's.
Black and white drawing from the 1783


ASSOCIATIONS
One of Japan's
Associated Virtue = SEVEN VIRTUES:

Japan's Seven Lucky Gods are a popular grouping of deities that appeared from the 15th century onward. The members of the grouping changed over time, but a standardized set didn't appear until the 17th century. According to some Western scholars, Japanese monk Tenkai (who died in 1643 and was posthumously named Jigen Daishi) symbolized each of the seven with an essential virtue for the Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu (1623-1650 AD). The seven virtues are:

  • Candour (Ebisu)
  • Fortune (Daikokuten)
  • Amiability (Benzaiten)
  • Magnanimity (Hotei)
  • Popularity (Fukurokuju)
  • Longevity (Juroujin)
  • Dignity (Bishamonten)

    Source: Flammarion Iconographic Guide - Buddhism


Member of the (Sanskrit = Deva)
One of Protecting the 1000-Armed Kannon
One of appearing in Japanese Mandala
Elder sister of (lord of the underworld)
Consort, wife, or female personification of and/or
= Dragons, Snakes, Turtles, Foxes
Companion = (human-headed snake-bodied kami)
Linked closely to and mythologies
  SUMMARY UPFRONT. The water goddess Benzaiten (Benten for short) is one of Japan's most complex syncretic deities, having long ago been conflated and associated with other divinities from the Hindu, Buddhist, and Japanese pantheons. Her worship in Japan is widespread in,, and. Her many forms range from a two-armed beauty playing music to an eight-armed martial deity holding weapons to a monstrous three-headed snake to a divine representation of (the supreme Shintō sun goddess). Like Benzaiten, each creature is closely associated with water and the. Today Benzaiten is one of Japan's most popular deities. She continues to serve as the preeminent muse of Japanese artists, an unrivaled agricultural deity invoked for ample rain and bountiful harvests, and the sole female among Japan's wealth-bringing. Originally a Hindu river goddess named Sarasvatī, she was introduced to Japan (via China) in the mid-7th century CE as a multi-armed defender of Buddhism and the state. But in later times, she was "reconnected" with water and appropriated by Japan's indigenous island cults and kami cults to become, essentially, a native "Shintōized" deity of wealth and good fortune. Until only recently, scholars of Japanese religions have generally ignored this phenomenon and instead focused on the "Buddhazation" of Japan's myriad kami. In many ways, Benzaiten also exemplifies a unique form of "Japanese Hinduism," making it more fruitful to explore her within a Deva-Buddha-Kami (Hindu-Buddhist-Shintō) matrix rather than within a binary Buddha-Kami (Honji Suijaku 本地垂迹) model.

Honji Suijaku or Honji Suijaku Setsu :
Theory of original reality and manifested traces. A theory of Buddhist-Shinto syncretism. Originally a Buddhist term used to explain the Buddha's nature as a metaphysical being (honji) and the Historical Buddha (i.e. Sakyamuni) as a trace manifestation (suijaku). This theory was used in Japan to explain the relationship between the various Buddhist deities vis-a-vis the Shinto kami; the many Buddha were regarded as the honji (original manifestation), and the Shinto kami as their incarnations or suijaku (traces). Theoretically, honji and suijaku are an indivisible unity and there is no question of valuing one more highly than the other; but in the early Nara period, the honji were regarded as more important than the suijaku. Gradually they both came to be regarded as one; but in the Kamakura period, Shintoists also proposed the opposite theory, that the Shinto kami were the honji and the Buddha were the suijaku. This latter theory is called han-honji-suijaku setsu or shinpon-butsuju setsu.

This illustrated guide traces the evolution of Benzaiten iconography in Japanese artwork and explores her role as a beacon of Japan's combinatory Deva-Buddha-Kami religious matrix. To a lesser degree, this article also examines the ritualistic context of her worship – how her art was employed in religious rites, state functions, Shintō ceremonies, and folk practices. A presents presents mini case studies of Benzaiten's main sanctuaries in both old and modern Japan. The Benzaiten page is presented in approximate chronological order and can be read as a whole or sectionally. To improve readability, information is sometimes repeated. It aims to augment the efforts of students, teachers, art historians, and scholars of Benzaiten lore and art by exploring iconographic dictionaries, sculptures, mandalas, paintings, talismans, and other religious art, both old and new. It draws from pre-modern and modern texts by monks, scholars, and art historians in Japan, Asian, Europe, and America. This handbook does not cover Benzaiten's earlier evolution in India or China in great detail. For more on that topic, References: Works by Catherine Ludvik, the preeminent scholar of Benzaiten lore and artwork in India, China, and Japan.

From Sarasvati to Benzaiten (India, China, Japan). Ph.D. dissertation. University of Toronto, January 2001. South and East Asian Religions. Winner of the Governor General's Gold Medal 2001.

Also see 374 pages. Drawing on Sanskrit and Chinese textual sources, as well as Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist art historical representations, this book traces the conceptual and iconographic development of the goddess of knowledge Sarasvati from some time after 1750 B.C.E. to the seventh century C.E. Through the study of Chinese translations of no longer extant Sanskrit versions of the Buddhist 'Sutra of Golden Light' the author sheds light on Sarasvati's interactions with other Indian goddess cults and their impact on one another.

Also see La Benzaiten a huit bras: Durga deesse guerriere sous l'apparence de Sarasvati, Cahiers d'Extreme-Asie, no. 11 (1999-2000), pp. 292-338.

Also see

Also see the 15th Asian Studies Conference Japan (ASCJ), International Christian University (ICU), 25 June 2011. Presentation entitled Benzaiten and Ugajin: The Skillful Combining of Deities. (Session 16: Room 253).

Also see Uga-Benzaiten: The Goddess and the Snake, pp. 95-110. Impressions, The Journal of the Japanese Art Society of America, Number 33, 2012.

Also see pp. 507-510, from the

ORIGIN & EVOLUTION. The Sanskrit term Sarasvatī refers to both a goddess and an

The Sarasvati river of Vedic times in ancient India is often identified as the modern-day Ghaggar-Hakra river. Today this river flows only during monsoon season and originates in northwest India in the state of Himachal Pradesh.

in India's Vedic mythology. As the personification of this sacred river and of water in general, Sarasvatī came to represent everything that flows (e.g., music, poetry, writing, learning, eloquence, wisdom, performing arts). In the Rig Veda (a monumental Hindu text composed centuries before Buddhism's emergence in India in the 5th century BCE), she is described as the best of goddesses, the "inciter of all pleasant songs, inspirer of all gracious thought." > In India, she was invoked in Vedic rites as the deity of music and poetry well before her introduction to China around the 4th century CE. She eventually entered Japan sometime in the 7th-8th century, where she was adopted into Japan's Buddhist pantheon as an of the nation owing to her martial description in the. The oldest extant Japanese statue of Benzaiten is an eight-armed clay version dated to 754 CE (). However, the formal introduction of Mikkyō 密教 () to Japan in the early 9th century stressed instead her role as a goddess of music and portrayed her in the esoteric as a two-armed beauty playing a lute. Prior to the 12th century, Benzaiten's Hindu origins as a water goddess were largely ignored in Japan. But sometime during the 11th-12th centuries, the goddess was conflated with (the snake-bodied, human-headed of water, agriculture, and good fortune). Once this occurred -- once Benzaiten was "reconnected" with water -- the level of her popularity changed from a trickle into a flood. By the 12th-13th centuries, she became the object of independent worship and POPUP NOTE (PN):

Among Benzaiten's many forms and roles, she was invoked in rites for battlefield success, artistic success, rain, bountiful harvests, protection against natural disasters, and good fortune. Scholar Brian D. Ruppert says she was the object of esoteric Buddhist rites by at least the 12th century.

Ruppert, Brian D. Jewel in the Ashes: Buddha Relics and Power in Early Medieval Japan. Harvard University Asia Center (July 1, 2000). ISBN-10: 0674002458. Focused on relic worship in medieval Japan. Copious reference notes, this work is aimed at scholars. It includes a very useful glossary of terms. Highly recommended. Unfortunately, Ruppert says Benzaiten was the object of esoteric rites by at least the 12th century, but he fails to give any examples.

We might add here that the AZUMA KAGAMI, an official record of events between 1180 and 1266, says Minamoto Yoritomo visited Enoshima in 1182, where monk Monkaku conducted tantric rites dedicated to Benzaiten for Yoritomo's success.

Also see edited by Richard K. Payne and Taigen Dan Leighton, Routledge (London & New York), which mentions two Koushiki (Buddhist ceremonial liturgies) written for Benzaiten by monk Joukei (1155?1213; aka Gedatsu Shounin).

Over time her warrior image (favored by samurai praying for battlefield success) was eclipsed by her heavenly mandala representation -- even today, the two-armed biwa-playing form is the most widespread iconic depiction of Benzaiten and her standard form as one of Japan's. Once reconnected with water, she rose to great popularity as the patroness of "all things that flow" -- music, art, literature, poetry, discourse, performing arts -- and was also called upon to end droughts or deluges and thereby ensure bountiful harvests. are nearly always in the neighborhood of water -- the sea, a river, a lake, or a pond -- while her messengers and avatars are serpents and dragons. In fact, the are all intimately associated with Benzaiten in Japan. In the Kamakura period (1185-1333) she was, but such statues are rare and dressed in robes when used in ceremonies. In the Muromachi period (1392-1573), the was changed, with the character zai 才 (meaning talent) replaced with its homonym zai 財 (meaning wealth) and she subsequently became one of Japan's. With the addition of wealth and fortune to Benzaiten's earlier roles, her popularity skyrocketed and she eventually supplanted (Skt. = Lakṣmī), the traditional Buddhist goddess of wealth and beauty. The two, even today, are. In,, and, Benzaiten was associated early on (circa 11th-12th centuries) with an obscure local snake kami known as (who has the body of a snake and the face of an old man). A kami of water, foodstuffs, and good fortune, was likely derived from other in Japanese creation myths, especially one named, the kami of grains and foodstuffs, said to embody the spirit of rice, and commonly considered an aspect of (Japan's extremely popular kami of the rice paddy, grain, cultivation, and prosperity). Benzaiten's linkage with is one of the key wellsprings of Benzaiten's longstanding popularity in Japan. In artwork, a still-popular form of Benzaiten known as is commonly crowned with an effigy of. A shrine gate (torii 鳥居) typically adorns Benzaiten's headdress as well, symbolizing 's identify as a Japanese kami (or perhaps symbolizing ). Both and the gate are purely Japanese conventions, linking Benzaiten to the Shintō camp, to, and perhaps to -- thus highlighting Benzaiten's role as an agricultural deity providing ample rain, protecting the harvest, and bringing prosperity to the people. In the 12th & 13th centuries, Benzaiten was additionally fused with, a demonic flesh-eating, blood-drinking Hindu deity who ultimately converted to Buddhism. The divine (as opposed to the demonic) appears in Japanese art riding a white fox and holding a sword and wish-granting jewel. If the fox were removed, she would look exactly like (another iconic two-armed form of Benzaiten shown holding sword and jewel). The fox, in fact, is often the only clue to differentiate the two. is also closely linked to fox-related (Japan's kami of rice) and snake-related (Japan's Buddhist god of agriculture). Sometime later, both Benzaiten and were appropriated by Japan's of mountain asceticism and re-configured in their fantastically syncretic, wherein Benzaiten appears as a monstrous 3-headed snake with human body and 10 arms, surrounded by,,, other deities, white foxes, white snakes, and wish-granting jewels. This form was used to invoke her aid for bountiful harvests and good fortune, but neither this form nor the earlier Dakini form gained widespread geographical reach.

Around the late 14th century, Benzaiten began appearing in another esoteric configuration involving (defender of the nation, guardian of treasure) and the aforementioned agricultural deity. In statuary and painting, are combined into a single (and still popular) three-headed deity known as. All three were introduced to Japan early on as defenders of the state. All three are worshipped independently in Japan, all three are members of the, and all three share overlapping associations. Around the same time, another three-headed esoteric version of Benzaiten emerged. Called (or sometimes ), it includes Benzaiten,, and the elephant-headed. What prompted such syncretism? Unknown, but in the 14th and 15th centuries, the esoteric Buddhist sects () plus the orthodox competed fiercely for followers, not only among themselves, but against the newly formed and thriving schools of the (Pure Land, Zen, and Nichiren). These latter faith systems stressed pure and simple belief over complicated rites and doctrines and deplored the elitism of the court and entrenched monasteries. Amidst this volatile scene, Japan's traditional sects likely employed popular gods in new formats to attract and maintain followers. The, for example, appeared around the 15th century.

In Benzaiten's convoluted evolutionary map in Japan, one of the most pivotal links in her association with, snakes, and foxes is the (Skt. = cintāmaṇi). These creatures are Benzaiten's main avatars in Japan, and like the goddess herself,  they are closely associated with the and commonly depicted carrying it. The likewise serves as a pivot linking Benzaiten to several other important female deities of wealth, including,,, (female form), and. In Shingon circles, is considered a Buddhist manifestation of and, who in turn is a transformation body of the supreme Shintō sun goddess. In the complex web of associations that developed from the 11th century onward, various links were forged between,, Benzaiten, and other deities that grouped them into "continually expanding" families and reinvented their attributes and forms. Benzaiten's popularity skyrocketed in the Edo period (1603-1868), when she gained a large following among the merchant and urban classes, among the geisha and artisans, even among gamblers, in her old role as the water goddess and artistic muse and her new role as one of the wealth-bringing. Her conflation with (e.g.,, three ) was another wellspring of her popularity. When the government forcibly separated Shintō and Buddhism in the latter half of the 19th century, those who joined the Shintō camp stressed these identifications, allowing them to continue worshiping the quasi-Buddhist Benzaiten in her Shintō manifestations. Even so, many and icons were dismantled and replaced with Shintō-only kami counterparts. In the post WWII era, however, Benzaiten has staged a comeback at many of her former sanctuaries..
Today her cult remains strong. Temples and shrines devoted to her are still found everywhere throughout Japan, where she is worshipped by musicians, painters, sculptors, writers, POPUP NOTE (PN):

Some, like author, say Uga Benzaiten is a jealous deity, that her jealousy is indicated by the white sakes coiled around her. Chiba also says court musicians who played the biwa in Japan's medieval period remained single, for if they married, they feared they would incur the wrath of Benzaiten, who would take away their musical ability. Today, says Chiba, married couples who pray to Uga Benzaiten for a beautiful daughter are told to worship separately, never as a couple -- supposedly, if they worship Benzaiten at the same time, they will become separated. In Japanese folk traditions even today, Benzaiten is said to be a jealous deity, one identified with many curious practices and taboos that, if not followed, will lead to the breaking up of loving couples or happily married people.

, and others. are mostly Shintō shrines (not Buddhist temples). In many ways, Benzaiten epitomizes the combinatory Kami-Buddha matrix that defined most of Japan's religious history. This blending is known as Shinbutsu Shūgō 神仏習合 (lit. = Kami-Buddha syncretism) or

Honjisuijaku or Honji-suijaku Setsu :
Theory of original reality and manifested traces. A theory of Buddhist-Shinto syncretism. Originally a Buddhist term used to explain the Buddha's nature as a metaphysical being (honji) and the Historical Buddha (i.e. Sakyamuni) as a trace manifestation (suijaku). This theory was used in Japan to explain the relationship between the various Buddha and Shinto kami; the many Buddha were regarded as the honji, and the Shinto kami as their incarnations or suijaku. Theoretically, honji and suijaku are an indivisible unity and there is no question of valuing one more highly than the other; but in the early Nara period, the honji were regarded as more important than the suijaku. Gradually they both came to be regarded as one; but in the Kamakura period, Shintoists also proposed the opposite theory, that the Shinto kami were the honji and the Buddha were the suijaku. This latter theory is called han-honji-suijaku setsu or shinpon-butsuju setsu.

本地垂迹 (Buddhist deities as honji 本地 or original manifestation and local Shintō kami as suijaku 垂迹 or incarnation / trace). But more accurately, Benzaiten should be considered part of a Deva-Buddha-Kami (Hindu-Buddhist-Shintō) matrix. In terms of popular appeal and common knowledge, (Buddhist Goddess of Mercy) still perhaps eclipses Benzaiten in the mind of contemporary Buddhist devotees. But the distance is minimal, for Benzaiten, unlike, is closer to the local, where her worship is widespread. As a hybrid deity, Benzaiten demands our attention as a beacon of Japan's syncretic religious traditions in both the past and present. Today she is the predominant muse of Japanese art, one who inspires musicians, writers, poets, and artists in all professions. From a modern perspective, the realms of imagination and Jungian unconscious are often compared to deep uncharted waters from which spring life-renewing creative forces and artistic inspiration. Benzaiten's traditional links with flowing water and artistic endeavor are therefore most appropriate from a modern psychological standpoint.

 

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Translation One - Goddess of Eloquent Discourse
Spelling of Her Name Later Changed from 弁才天 to 弁財天


 

Benzaiten playing biwa. Edo-period painting, Honenji Temple, Kagawa Pref.
Benzaiten & biwa. Edo-era painting.
Busshōzan Raigo-in 仏生山来迎院,
Hōnenji 法然寺, Takamatsu, Kagawa
/

OLD SPELLING =  辯才天 or 弁才天
NEW SPELLING = 辯財天 or 弁財天
才 = talent, skill, 財 = wealth, riches

 

 

Sarasvatī was introduced to China (via India) around the 4th century CE, where her name was transliterated as 薩羅薩伐底 (Jp = Sarasabatei) and translated as 辯才天 or 弁才天 (Chn. = Biàncáitiān, Jp. = Benzaiten), meaning "excellent orator." These three characters accurately reflect her role as the Goddess of Eloquent Discourse and Speech, as set forth in the (one of three scriptures of great influence in old Japan).    

        BEN 辯 or 弁 = Discourse, Discuss, Argue
        ZAI 才 = Talent, Eloquence, Skill
        TEN 天 = Celestial Being; Sanskrit =

By the early 14th century, however, the spelling of her name was modified, with the character 才 (zai), meaning talent, replaced with its homonym 財 (zai), meaning wealth. Thereafter in Japan, Benzaiten served not only as the patroness of learning and artistic talent but also as the goddess of wealth and good fortune, becoming a standard member of Japan's sometime between the 15th and 17th centuries. This change in spelling also led to the decline in the popularity of (Skt. = Laksmi), the traditional Buddhist goddess of wealth, beauty, and merit. had her own cult at the time, but eventually she was supplanted by Benzaiten. The two share similar imagery, attributes, and functions, and even today they are often confused. See below. The most plausible reason for the name change involves, the snake-bodied human-headed Japanese kami of water, foodstuffs, good fortune, and wealth. In the 11th-12th century CE, Benzaiten and were merged into the composite deity. This linkage heralded Benzaiten's "reconnection" with water, spearheaded her association with the food crop and wealth, and propelled Benzaiten's subsequent climb in popularity. Since is a water kami of good fortune and wealth, the 才 (zai) of Benzaiten 弁才天 was replaced with its homonym 財 (zai), meaning wealth. This spelling change likely derived from the early 14th-century Japanese text 渓嵐拾葉集, a multi-volume document compiled around 1318 AD that contains many of the oral legends of the Tendai esoteric stronghold at Mt. Hiei. One section is entitled Benzaiten Hō Hiketsu 辨天法秘決, wherein the deity is said to manifest in two forms: (1) as 妙音弁天 (Wondrous Sound Benzaiten), who embodies knowledge and learning 智恵, and (2) as the combinatory deity 宇賀弁天, who exemplifies good fortune and prosperity 福徳 and appears with the fortune-bestowing snake kami atop her head.

 

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Translation Two - Goddess of Wondrous Sound, Myō-on-ten 妙音天


 

Myo-on Benzaiten, as appearing in the 1690 Butsuzo-zui
Myō-on Benzaiten 妙音天辯才天
Photo:, 1690
The text next to her face says
Honji Shaka 本地釋迦, meaning she
is a manifestation of.

 

Benzaiten is also known as the Goddess of Music. In this form she is called Myō-on-ten 妙音天 (Heavenly Sound Deva), or Bionten / Mionten 美音天 (Beautiful Sound Deva). The famous (near Kamakura) is, for example, known as Myō-on-ten. Her name stems from various sources.

1. The 24th chapter of the popular Lotus Sutra 法華経 (Hokekyō), first translated into Chinese by Kumārajīva (Jp. = Kumarajū 鳩摩羅什, 350 - 410 CE), is entitled Myō-on-bon 妙音品, in which Myō-on Bosatsu 妙音菩薩 (Wondrous Sound Bodhisattva) is described. Benzaiten, as Japan's goddess of music, is equated with Myō-on Bosatsu. We may also note that the Lotus Sutra became very popular among the women of the Japanese court during the Heian era (794-1185), for this sutra includes a passage promising the salvation of women. In the sutra's 12th chapter, the daughter of the dragon king Sagara attains enlightenment at the young age of eight, illustrating the universal possibility of for both men and women. Benzaiten's main avatar, if we recall, is the dragon.   

2. The practice of sutra texts performed by mōsō 妄想 (blind muscians) and the practice of chanting with biwa 琵琶 music reportedly started by the end of the 8th century CE. Says by Alison Tokita & David W. Hughes: "The ritual performance of biwa in association with the cult of Myō-on Bosatsu, and the corresponding Japanese patron of music, Benzaiten (who plays the biwa), was introduced by musicians of court society who had studied in Tang China, for the principal mōsō temple of the Kyoto region, said to have been established in 808, was named Myō-on-dera Jōraku-in 妙音寺 ・常楽寺." <end quote> The epic Heike Monogatari 平家物語 (circa 14th century), which includes passages related to Benzaiten, was originally passed down orally by numerous biwa-playing storytellers known as Biwa Hōshi: 琵琶法師 (lit. "lute monks"). See for English translations of relevant sections.

3. The famous musician Fujiwara no Moronaga 藤原師長 (1138-1192) was known as Lord Myōon'in 妙音院 in his day. He was one of the greatest musicians of his age, one who had received instruction in almost all instruments and vocal traditions of that era. Says "His scores for the lute (biwa) and zither (koto) -- known as Sango Yōroku 三五要録 and Jinchi Yōroku 仁智要録 -- are the most extensive and important collections of notation for these instruments." <end quote>

 

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Scriptural Basis - Golden Light Sutra and the Three Benten Sutra
Golden Light Sutra: Skt. = Suvarṇa-prabhāsottama Sūtra; Chn = Jīnguāngmíng zuìshèng wáng jīng


 

WHAT'S HERE
Sutra of Golden Light
Three Benzaiten Sutra
Five Benzaiten Sutra

12th century copy of the Myo-on-hon at Miyama Jinja in Hiroshima

12th-century copy of the Myō-on-bon 妙音品, the 24th chapter of the extremely popular Lotus Sutra, a treasure of Miyama Jinja 厳島神社 in Hiroshima. It describes, the Wondrous Sound Bosatsu. Benzaiten, the Japanese goddess of music, is commonly equated with.

SUTRA OF GOLDEN LIGHT. Benzaiten is a (Jp. = TEN 天), a Sanskrit term for celestial being. She is not a or. She is one who has yet to achieve enlightenment, but one who nonetheless possesses miraculous powers to instruct and defend the Buddhist teachings. Benzaiten is mentioned in numerous sutra (religious texts), especially the Konkōmyōkyō 金光明経 (Sutra of Golden Light), which has a brief section devoted to her and describes her as a two-armed goddess of eloquence. This text was translated into Chinese in the early 5th century, with other translations in later centuries as well. But it was the early 8th-century Chinese translation by Yijing 義浄 (635-713) -- his version is known as the Konkōmyō saishō ō kyō 金光明最勝王経 (Victorious Kings of the Golden Light Sutra) -- that played the most important role in Japan. The sutra is regarded primarily as a scripture for safeguarding the nation. Yijing's more-developed version was the first to describe Benzaiten as an Because the sutra promises protection of the state, Benzaiten was initially considered a warrior deity protecting the Japanese nation, but in this text, Benzaiten also promises to protect those who possess it and worship it, and help them "increase their eloquence, beautify their way of explaining, and enhance their wisdom." > The Golden Light Sutra also describes Benzaiten as the elder sister of 閻魔天 (Skt. = Yama; lord of the underworld), although in other texts she is described as the consort, wife, or female personification (Skt. = Śakti) of 梵天 (Skt. = Brahmā) or 文殊 (Skt. = Mañjuśrī). POP UP NOTE. Benzaiten as Consort of Bonten (Skt. = Brahma) or Monju Bosatsu (Skt. = Manjusri). Although I have not found "scriptural" sources to verify Benzaiten's role as the consort of Bonten or Monju, both of these contentions appear appropriate.
  • Bonten is the Japanese name for Brahma (the creator), one of the three main deities of Hinduism. In ancient Vedic myths, Brahma is born from the cosmic ocean. In the Vedic cycle of creation, destruction, and preservation (rebirth), Brahma is reborn after each cycle from the navel of Visnu (the preserver). Vishnu, if we recall, is seated atop a serpent in the cosmic ocean. Here we find the themes of water and snake -- both closely linked to Benzaiten, and therefore most appropriate. Furthermore, Suiten (the Hindu-Buddhist water deity) is closely associated with Benzaiten. Suiten is one of the 12 Deva, as is Bonten.

  • More on Brahma. Says Richard Thornhill, PhD: "In Japanese myth and folklore the dragon is associated with rivers and the sea, and in Taoist thought it represents the forces of nature. It is thus possible to understand Benten as the immanent aspect of divinity in nature. Then, if one understands Brahma to be the transcendent aspect of divinity, the perception of Sarasvati as immanent accords well with Her being His shakti. This makes it possible to see the East Asian nature-oriented religions of Shinto and Taoism as Goddess-oriented forms of devotional Hinduism." End quote from Thornhill's article Oct./Nov./Dec. 2002.>

  • Monju is the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. Benzaiten is the Deva of Knowledge. Their pairing thus seems appropriate. Monju appears frequently in the Lotus Sutra, where he helps the daughter of the dragon king to achieve enlightment. As we may recall, Benzaiten is closely associated with dragons, so again this pairing seems appropriate.
> For an English translation of an important sutra passage,
TRANSLATION FROM:

Chaudhuri, Saroj Kumar. Hindu Gods and Goddesses in Japan. Vedams, 2003, p. 44, ISBN : 81-7936-009-1.

"Oh, the venerated one! If a man explains this sutra, I shall increase his eloquence, beautify his way of explaining, and slowly enhance his wisdom. If there is a word missing in the sutra, or a passage is misinterpreted, I shall take over the monk and bestow on him the capacity of remembering. If a man does good things, if he propagates this sutra in the world extensively and incessantly, and if he persuades others around him to listen to the sutra, he shall acquire remarkable wisdom and unparalleled happiness, ways and means to do things and the capacity to deliver discourses lucidly. He shall master various mundane skills. He shall transcend life and death and never forfeit the merits he accumulates. He shall attain enlightenment."

.  To learn more about Benzaiten's differing portrayals in various translations of the sutra, see

BENZAITEN SUTRAS. In Japan's

Era Names & Dates:
Standard dating scheme found in both Japan and the West.
  • Ancient refers to the Asuka and Nara periods (538-794)
  • Classical refers to the Heian period (794-1185)
  • Medieval refers to the Kamakura era (1185-1333), Muromachi era (1336-1573), and Edo era (1600-1867)
  • Modern refers to everything since 1868 (Meiji, Taisho, Showa, & Heisei periods)

    NOTE: Ancient & Classical are sometimes used collectively to refer to everything through the Nara era. The Edo Period is also known as "Early Modern," while Meiji and after are the "Modern" period. The term "Premodern" refers to pre-Meiji.

(circa 13th century), three apocryphal Japanese texts appeared. Collectively known as the Three Sutra of Benten 弁天三部経 (Benten Sanbukyō), they contain omissions and additions, and introduce an 8-armed heavenly maiden (i.e., Benzaiten) depicted with a coiled white-snake kami (, with the face of an elderly man) atop her head, and describe her as leading, holding a wish-granting jewel, wheel, bow, spear, sword, club, lock, and arrow. This combinatory deity is, and worship of this composite Hindu-Kami-Buddha divinity is said to bring infinite blessings. is the Japanese kami of water, food, good fortune, and wealth. Today, small effigies of are still worshipped independently of Benzaiten in temples, shrines, and private homes for a host of mundane benefits. Two additional texts appeared in later times. The set was then called the Five Sutra of Benzaiten 弁天五部経 (Benten Gobukyō).
  1. Bussetsu Saishō Gokoku Ugaya Tontoku Nyōi Hōju Darani-Kyō 仏説最勝護国宇賀耶得如意宝珠陀羅尼経. Herein (aka Ugajin) manifests as an 8-armed goddess; atop her head is a coiled white snake with an old man's face; introduces (young boys, attendants).
  2. Bussetsu Sokushin Bontenfukutoku Enman Ugajinshō Bosatsu Hakujaku Jigen Mikka Jōju-Kyō
    仏説即身貧転福得円満宇賀神将菩薩白蛇示現三日成就経. < Alternative Reading

    In modern times, the sutra's title is also pronounced as:

    Bussetsu Sokushin Hinden Fukutoku Enman Ugajinshou Bosatsu Byakuja Jigen San Nichi Jouju-Kyou

    > Says the snake-bodied human-headed Divine Bosatsu Commander is Anavatapta 阿那婆達多龍王, one of (dragon-snake) kings, thus linking him to India's earlier lore; manifests as a coiled white snake; proclaims his ability to transform poverty into good fortune; says chanting his mantra on snake and boar days occurring between the 1st and 15th of the lunar month will invoke his spirit, which will then reside in the northwest corner of his followers residences and engender blessings and fortunes; this text is the likely origin of old Japanese beliefs that dreaming of a or seeing one are omens of great fortune and monetary gain.
  3. Bussetsu Ugajin'ō Fukutoku Enman Darani-Kyō 仏説宇賀神王福得円満陀羅尼経. Describes the symbolism of a two-armed, sword-wielding, jewel-holding, snake-crowned ; the white snake destroys greed, the sword overcomes obstacles, and the wish-granting jewel conquers hunger and thirst; the jewel corresponds to and his granting of good fortune; the sword personifies Benzaiten and her role as defender of Buddhist law (as per the ). <source: References:

    Catherine Ludvik, Uga-Benzaiten: The Goddess and the Snake, pp. 95-110, which appeared in Impressions, The Journal of the Japanese Art Society of America, Number 33, 2012. When describing the iconography of the two-armed Uga Benzaiten appearing in the Three Benten Sutras, Ludvik cites the work of Yamamoto Hiroko, Ijin: Chu-sei Nihon no hikyo-teki sekai, or Strange Gods: The World of Secret Teachings of Medieval Japan, Tokyo: Heibonsha, 1989, pp. 476, 481, and 482.

    > NOTE: This iconic two-armed from is closely related to.
  4. Bussetsu Dai Uga Kudoku Benzaiten-Kyō 仏説大宇賀神功徳弁才天経
  5. Dai-Benzaiten Nyo Himitsu Darani-Kyō 大弁才天女秘密陀羅尼経 NOTE: Says References:

    Quoted from Ludvik's article Uga-Benzaiten: The Goddess and the Snake, p. 98, Impressions, The Journal of the Japanese Art Society of America, Number 33, 2012.

    "The Three Benten Sutras are Buddhist texts and therefore identify as a Buddhist deity, both as a nāga and as a bodhisattva. He is a complicated figure with multiple identities -- kami, bodhisattva, and nāga."
    ,, Benzaiten scholar References: Catherine Ludvik is the preeminent Western scholar today covering Benzaiten lore and art in India, China, and Japan.

    15th Asian Studies Conference Japan (ASCJ), International Christian University (ICU), 25 June 2011. Presentation entitled Benzaiten and Ugajin: The Skillful Combining of Deities. (Session 16: Room 253).

    Also see Ludvik's article Uga-Benzaiten: The Goddess and the Snake, pp. 95-110, which appeared in Impressions, The Journal of the Japanese Art Society of America, Number 33, 2012.

    ,, and > 

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Main Forms & Functions of Benzaiten in Japan
Click any image to jump to details / photos about that specific form

Jump to 8-Armed Benzaiten Section
Happi Benzaiten
8-Armed Version
Warrior Goddess
Defender of the State

Jump to Two-Armed Beauty Playing Biwa Section
Myō-on Benzaiten
Playing Biwa.
Music Goddess.
Main Iconic Form.

Jump to Daibenzaiten Section
Daibenten; holds sword and jewel; Bestower of
Virtue & Merit.

Jump to Nude Benzaiten Section
Hadaka Benten
Nude deity playing biwa.
Kami of Art.

Jump to Uga Benzaiten Section
Uga Benzaiten
Snake & shrine gate atop head
Food kami.

Jump to Tenkawa Benzaiten Section
Tenkawa Benten
 Amanogawa; three white snake heads
Food kami.

8th Century Onward
Traditional Form

9th Century
Onward

Late 12th Century Onward
Goddess of music, art, warriors, wealth, luck. Worshipped independently.

Benzaiten, the water goddess, comes in many forms, is worshiped in many ways, and is said to bring all manner of material gain. Some of her roles include Goddess of Water, Learning, Oral Eloquence, Music, Poetry, Speech, Rhetoric, Performing Arts, Wealth, Longevity, one who can end droughts or deluges (and is thus said to control ), one who protects the nation against natural disaster, and one who protects warriors and brings victory on the battlefield. In many ways, she is best classified as a native "Shintoized" kami rather than an imported "Buddhasized" deity. Her depictions in Japan differ greatly from her conventional portrait found in the, the Dainichi-kyō, and other scriptures, thus highlighting the development of Japan's own unique Benzaiten cult. Her traditional and underwent significant alteration from the 12th-13th centuries onward. Primary changes included (1) putting a shrine gate and human-headed snake () atop her head, (2) replacing some of the weapons in her hands with wealth-bringing icons, (3) carving her in the nude, (4) linking her to the wish-granting jewel and to jewel-carrying dragons, snakes, and foxes, (5) linking her to numerous Hindu-Buddhist-Kami deities in a convoluted -- even confusing -- web of associations; and (6) depicting her as a. The below sections explore her various forms both chronologically and thematically, followed by her associations.

 

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Happi Benzaiten 八臂弁財天
Eight Arms Holding Weapons, Defender of Buddhism & Nation

 

 

Oldest extant sculpture of Benzaiten, 8th century
Japan's oldest Benzaiten statue.
754 AD, Sangatsudō 三月堂,
Tōdaiji Temple 東大寺 in Nara.
8-armed standing clay image,
badly damaged. Paired with
equally old statue.

Modern Reproduction of the 8th Century Benzaiten Statue, Nara National Museum
Modern Reproduction, Clay
Nara National Museum
Photos by M. Schumacher

Click here to read Nara Museum placard for this statue reproduction. Happi Benzaiten, a weapon-wielding warrior goddess. Form first introduced to Japan. Happi 八臂 literally means "eight arms." These arms hold martial implements, symbolizing Benzaiten's role as defender of Buddhism and protector of the state. Her attributes are described in an early 8th-century Chinese translation (by Yijing) of the, wherein Yijing describes her with eight hands holding a bow 弓 (yumi), arrow 箭 (sen), sword 刀 (katana), ax 斧 (ono), spear 三股戟 (sankogeki), long pestle 独鈷杵(tokkosho), iron wheel 輪 (rin), and rope 羂索 (kenjaku). However, in artwork, the objects she holds don't always conform to the sutra -- over time, some of her weapons were replaced with wealth-bringing icons such as the wish-granting jewel and the key to the storehouse. See for the significance of these items. The oldest Japanese example of Happi Benzaiten is an 8th-century clay sculpture at Tōdaiji 東大寺. It is badly damaged (see photo at right). Another old statue of the eight-armed Benzaiten, dated to the late 10th century, is located at Kohonji Temple 孝恩寺 in Osaka (). In later centuries, the 8-armed form of Benzaiten remained popular among samurai warriors, including Minamoto Yoritomo 源頼朝 (1147-1199; the first shogun), Oda Nobunaga 織田信長 (1534-1582; the great unifier), Toyotomi Hideyoshi 豊臣秀吉 (1536-1598; Nobunaga's chief general), and Kobayakawa Takakage 小早川隆景 (1533-1597; a powerful daimyo and ally of Hideyoshi). The multi-armed form was also appropriated by the and camps to create syncretic snake-headed deities such as and the snake-atop-head. The mentions a gold-colored six-armed manifestation of Benzaiten called Konkōmyō Benten 金光明弁天 (), but artwork of this version is much less prevalent. References: Works by Catherine Ludvik, the preeminent scholar of Benzaiten lore and artwork in India, China, and Japan.

From Sarasvati to Benzaiten (India, China, Japan). Ph.D. dissertation. University of Toronto, January 2001. South and East Asian Religions. Winner of the Governor General's Gold Medal 2001.

Also see 374 pages. Drawing on Sanskrit and Chinese textual sources, as well as Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist art historical representations, this book traces the conceptual and iconographic development of the goddess of knowledge Sarasvati from some time after 1750 B.C.E. to the seventh century C.E. Through the study of Chinese translations of no longer extant Sanskrit versions of the Buddhist 'Sutra of Golden Light' the author sheds light on Sarasvati's interactions with other Indian goddess cults and their impact on one another.

Also see La Benzaiten a huit bras: Durga deesse guerriere sous l'apparence de Sarasvati," Cahiers d'Extreme-Asie, no. 11 (1999-2000), pp. 292-338.

Also see

Also see the 15th Asian Studies Conference Japan (ASCJ), International Christian University (ICU), 25 June 2011. Presentation entitled Benzaiten and Ugajin: The Skillful Combining of Deities. (Session 16: Room 253).

shows that the multi-armed martial Benzaiten was derived in large part from Hindu battle goddess Durgā 突迦 (C=Tújiā, Jp=Toga). Durgā is an aspect of Kālī (the black one, death, wife of ). Kālī is typically depicted in India with one face and eight arms, or three faces and six arms. As we shall discover, Benzaiten shares overlapping iconography with numerous Hindu deities of battle, death, and blackness, e.g.,,,, Durgā, Kālī.

Happi Benzaiten (8-Armed Benten) at Enoshima Jinja
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8-Armed Uga Benzaiten with snake atop head
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Happi Benzaiten (8-Armed Benten)
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8-Armed Benzaiten at Hase Dera Temple in Kamakura
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  1. Happi Benzaiten (8-Armed Benzaiten). At the Hōan-den 奉安殿, Enoshima Jinja 江島神社 (Enoshima Island, Japan), Kamakura Era. Kanagawa Prefectural Asset. Wood. H = 59.2 cm,, crystal eyes.  Legend says shogun Minamoto Yoritomo asked the Buddhist monk Mongaku 文覚 to make this statue to curse his enemies. Since the Edo period, it has been prayed to by samurai seeking protection on the battle field and victory in war. Photo and data from Kamakura Butsuzo Meguri Magazine 鎌倉仏像めぐり (Gakken), 15 June 2010, p. 75.
  2. Benzaiten Mandala. Early Edo era. H = 83 cm, W = 38.5. This small cutout from the mandala depicts the 8-armed surrounded by,, &. Location unknown.
  3. Happi Benzaiten Mandala, Kōyasan Shinnō-in Temple 高野山・親王院. Mid Edo era. <Photo and the 高野山七弁天>
  4. Happi Benzaiten. Stone, Hase Dera (Kamakura). Hase Dera claims it was made by (774-835), the famed founder of Japan's Shingon sect of, but this is unsupported by all evidence and should be dismissed as crass modern-day commercialism. The statue is modern. It is no longer located on the grounds, but rather inside the cave devoted to. Photo by Mark Schumacher.
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Happi Benzaiten drawing from the 12th-century Besson Zakki spacer click to enlarge
Happi Benzaiten drawing from the 1690 Butsuzo-zui spacer click to enlarge
Happi Benzaiten drawing from the 1783 Butsuzo-zui spacer click to enlarge
Golden Light Benten from the 1783 Butsuzo-zui

Eight-Armed Benzaiten,
drawing, 12th Century,
from the Besson Zakki 別尊雑記,
a Buddhist text compiled by Shingon
monk Shinkaku 心覚  (1116-1180) and translated as "Miscellaneous Record of Classified Sacred Images.ges."

Eight-Armed Benzaiten,
drawing from the 1690
仏像図彙.
What looks like a snake
is shown atop her head.
Name spelled as 辯才天

Eight-Armed Benzaiten,
drawing from the 1783
. What looks like a snake is shown atop her head. Objects in hands changed slightly compared to 1690 image.
to 辯財天

8-Armed Konkōmyō Benten
金光明辯天, lit. Golden Light
Benten. Drawing from the 1783. Depicts deity as described in the Konkōmyō
saishō ō kyō 金光明最勝王経
(aka Golden Light Sutra).


 

8-armed Benzaiten and her four attendants appearing on an early 12th century zushi

Eight-armed Benzaiten & Four Attendants 弁才天および四眷属像
Appearing on one panel of an early 12th century zushi 厨子 (tabernacle). H = 103.6 cm, W = 62.1 cm. In the center we see Benzaiten standing atop a rocky mountain surrounded by four attendants (kenzoku 眷属). This painting symbolizes protection of the state, the granting of children, and the promise of prosperity. In the upper portion are two protective martial deities, while the lower section depicts two goddesses -- 吉祥天, the wish-granting goddess of beauty and merit (depicted here surrounded by children), and Kenrōchijin 堅牢地神, the earth goddess (shown holding an offering basket). also appears as a servant of Benzaiten in the, and in fact is often (another iconic form of Benzaiten).

The other panels of the zushi depict the (Guardians of the Nation and Four Directions), along with 梵天 and 帝釈天像. A treasure formerly at Jōruriji Temple 浄瑠璃寺 in Kyoto, but now at the Tokyo University of the Arts (Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku 東京藝術大学).

Photo from 20 Volume Set, Photographs & Collotypes by K. Ogawa, Published by Shimbi Shoin (Nippon Shimbi), 18991908. For photos of the entire zushi, see

 

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Benzaiten and the Heian-Era Mandala
Two-Armed Beauty Playing Biwa

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Sarasvati, 10th century, British Museum

Sarasvatī, 10th century, India
From Mathurā, Stone Carving
H = 68.6 cm, The British Museum
Writes Reference: Catherine Ludvik, the preeminent scholar of Benzaiten lore and artwork in India, China, and Japan.

Uga-Benzaiten: The Goddess and the Snake, p. 95, Impressions, The Journal of the Japanese Art Society of America, Number 33, 2012.

: "She holds a zither in her natural hands, and a rosary and palm-leaf manuscript wrapped in cloth in her additional right and left hands."
In Japan, wooden sculptures of Benzaiten in the Nara (710-794) and Heian (794-1185) periods emphasized her as a defender of the nation as described in the. But the introduction of Mikkyō 密教 () and the in the early 9th century stressed instead Benzaiten's role as the goddess of music and portrayed her as a two-armed beauty playing the biwa 琵琶 (four-stringed lute). This iconic two-armed biwa-playing image of Benzaiten was probably derived from earlier depictions in India, where Sarasvatī was portrayed by at least the 6th century CE playing the zither. Reference: Catherine Ludvik, the preeminent scholar of Benzaiten lore and artwork in India, China, and Japan.

Uga-Benzaiten: The Goddess and the Snake, p. 96, Impressions, The Journal of the Japanese Art Society of America, Number 33, 2012.

> In Japan, she appears throughout the Heian era in the 胎蔵界曼荼羅 (Womb World, Matrix Mandala). This portrayal reflects her conflation with 妙音菩薩 (Wondrous Sound Bodhisattva). The latter is described in the 24th chapter of the extremely popular Lotus Sutra -- translated into Chinese by Kumārajīva 鳩摩羅什 (350 - 410), aka Kumarajū in Japan -- wherein we learn that, in a previous life, offered homage in the form of hundreds of thousands of kinds of music. Benzaiten, as the Japanese goddess of music, is commonly equated with. Why the biwa rather than some other musical instrument? It's hard to say unequivocally, but in Japan, the ritual performance of biwa was used in association with the cult of by at least the late 8th century. Also, in Japan, the practice of chanting sutra with biwa music reportedly started around the same time. > Both deities ( and Benzaiten) appear regularly in the, in the Monju-in Court 文殊院 (near the East Gate) and Benzaiten in the Saige-in Court 最外院 (near the West Gate). is commonly shown holding a lotus or a sutra box (bonkyō 梵篋) in the left hand, while Benzaiten is typically depicted playing the biwa. In the Edo era (1615-1868), the two-armed biwa-playing form clearly eclipsed the in artwork due largely to Benzaiten's enlistment as one of Japan's.

PHOTO AT RIGHT. At her feet is her vehicle (Skt. = Vāhana), the haṃsa, In India, she is often shown playing a vina (zither) and often depicted with four arms.

Benzaiten and Myo-on Bosatsu and the Taizokai Mandala

PHOTO: 胎蔵界曼荼羅 ( 現図曼荼羅), still widely used and replicated by Japan's Shingon 真言 and Tendai 天台 sects. Although the can vary somewhat, it generally includes around 414 deities arranged systematically into 12 sections. Above clipart from the Mandara Zuten 曼荼羅図典 (The Mandala Dictionary). 1993. Japanese language. 422 pages. Published by Daihorinkaku 大法輪閣. ISBN-10: 480461102-9.

 

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Benzaiten with Two Arms Playing the Biwa
Goddess of Music. Most Common Form in Modern Japan.

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Benzaiten playing Biwa (from the 12-century Besson Zakki
Benzaiten Playing Biwa
Most common form in Japan.
From the 12th-century Japanese
text Besson Zakki 別尊雑記
(Miscellaneous Record of
Classified Sacred Images).

Most common form in contemporary Japan. A two-armed beautiful woman dressed in a flowing Chinese-style gown and playing a four-stringed lute (biwa 琵琶). She is also said to play the flute, but this latter form is less prevalent. Benzaiten's iconic biwa-playing form appeared early on in Japanese of the Heian era (794 to 1185) but only came to prominence in the Kamakura era (1185-1333). Second, her rise to popularity in the 12th-13th centuries was probably linked to the continuing popularity of the at court functions in those days, sparked in part by 藤原師長 (1138-1192), one of the greatest musicians of his age -- his biwa scores, even today, are considered the pinnacle of notation for this instrument. Third, the widespread popularity of the Lotus Sutra likely played a role. Its 24th chapter is entitled Myō-on-bon 妙音品, in which 妙音菩薩 (Wondrous Sound Bodhisattva) is described. Benzaiten is commonly equated with as the goddess of music. was also known as Lord Myōon'in in his day. Fourth, her linkage with (snake kami of wealth) propelled her dissemination throughout Japan. These and other factors helped to underpin the rising prestige of Benzaiten and her three main island sanctuaries --,, and. All three sanctuaries were patronized in the 12th century by powerful people like Taira no Kiyomori 平清盛 (1118-1181), Minamoto no Yoritomo 源頼朝 (1147-1199), and others. It was around this same time that Benzaiten became the object of her own independent cult. Her popularity skyrocketed in the Edo period (1603-1868) in her new role as one of Japan's wealth-brining, wherein her two-armed biwa-playing form became widely known among the masses. Today it remains her most endearing form among artists and the common folk, followed perhaps by her combinatory eight-armed Kami-Buddha representation as.

Benzaiten playing the biwa
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Benzaiten playing the biwa, British Museum
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Benzaiten playing the biwa, Butsuzozu-i
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Benzaiten playing the biwa, stone statue, Early Showa era
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Benzaiten playing the biwa, modern stone effigy
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  1. Benzaiten Playing Biwa atop a rock surrounded by the sea. Scroll, colors on silk, H = 104 cm, W = 39 cm, 14th Century, Kōyasan Hōjyōin Temple 高野山宝城院. <Photo: Treasures of a Sacred Mountain. Kukai and Mount Koya. The 1200-Year Anniversary of Kukai's Visit to Tang-Dynasty China. Tokyo National Museum, exhibit catalog, 2004. Also see, also see >
  2. Benzaiten Playing Biwa, Hanging Scroll, Kamakura / Muromachi era, 14th century AD. Most paintings of Benzaiten from this period depict her as a beauty in Chinese costume but here she appears as a bodhisattva with jeweled crown & necklace. <Photo >
  3. , "Collected Illustrations of Buddhist Images." First published in 1690 (Genroku 元禄 3). A major Japanese dictionary of Buddhist iconography. However, this image comes from the expanded 1783 version.
  4. Woodblock print of Benzaiten playing biwa. By artist Tomikawa Fusanobu 富川房信, fl. 1750-70. <>
  5. Stone statue. Private home in Kamakura. Early 20th century. <Photo = Mark Schumacher>
  6. Stone Statue. Early Showa Era, Takaosan Yakuō-in Temple 高尾山薬王院, Tokyo. <>

Other Manifestations of Benzaiten Playing Biwa
The deity sometimes faces left, sometimes right. This has no significance (to my knowledge).

Itsukushima (an avatar) of Benzaiten
Itsukushima 厳島
(1690)
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Kinyosho -- a star deity with similar iconography as Benzaiten
Kinyō Shō 金曜星
(1690)
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Myo-on Benzaiten -- a manifestation of Benzaiten
Myō-on Benzaiten 妙音
(1690)
click to enlarge

Golden Light Benzaiten
Kōmyō-ō 光明王菩薩
(1690)
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  1. Itsukushima 厳島 playing biwa, the island kami-goddess at 厳島神社 on Miyajima Island 宮島 (Hiroshima Pref.), aka 厳島姫命, 厳島明神, Miyajima Gongen 厳島権現, Miyajima Myōjin 厳島明神, or Itsukushima Myō-on Benzaiten 厳島妙音弁財天 ("wondreous sound" island kami-goddess). She was conflated with Benzaiten by at least the late Heian period (10th or 11th centuries). In the Kamakura era, she was adopted as one of four tutelary deities at Mt. Kōya (headquarters of the esoteric Shingon sect). These four are known as the 高野四所権現 (or Kōya Shisha Myōjin 高野四社明神, or Shigū Gongen 四宮権現). The text in this image says she is associated with Niu Gongen 丹生権現 (aka Niu Myōjin 丹生明神) and the Shigū Gongen (four guardians of the four shrines of Mt. Kōya), and states she is the kami incarnation (suijaku 垂迹) of Benzaten (her honji 本地 or "original manifestation"). See for more.
  2. Kinyō Shō 金曜星 (Venus) playing biwa; bird atop head. She is one of the (Kuyō 九曜). Associated with the planet Venus (Kinsei 金星 or Taibyaku 太白), metal, west, and Friday; considered the kami incarnation (suijaku 垂迹) of and. SPECULATION. Why does Kinyō Shō (Venus) appear similar to Benzaiten (i.e., goddess playing biwa) and why does a bird-like creature appear atop her head? The most probable theories involve wordplay and animal associations. Venus (金星 or 金曜星) is written with the character Kin 金, meaning gold, and represents metal (one of ). If we recall, Benzaiten is introduced in the 金光明經. Since Benzaiten is a goddess of wealth, her linkage with earthly treasures (gold, silver) is most appropriate. At 金華山 (Gold Lotus Mountain), one of her five, Benzaiten is venerated together with Kanayama Biko no Kami 金山毘古神 (male) and Kanayama Bime no Kami 金山毘賣神 (female), the Shintō tutelaries of metals and mines. Gold and earthly treasure also leads us to (lord of treasure, dispenser of riches). He appears often in Benzaiten artwork, and along with her, is one of Japan's. His messenger, the centipede, is credited with the ability to sniff out gold mines in mountain deposits. In image two (above), the bird atop Kinyō's head also leads us to Benzaiten. In artwork from India, Sarasvati (aka Benzaiten) is commonly shown sitting atop or accompanied by a resembling a goose. There are other "possible" linkages between Venus and Benzaiten, e.g., the advantages of the planet to sea navigators blends well with Benzaiten's role as guardian of  those plying Japan's waterways. Curiously, the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265–1321 CE) associated Venus with the liberal art of rhetoric. In Japan, Benzaiten is translated as "."
  3. Myō-on Benzaiten 妙音天弁才天 (lit. "Wondrous Sound Benzaiten") playing biwa. In Japan, Benzaiten is commonly equated with 妙音菩薩 (Wondrous Sound Bodhisattva), Myō-on-ten 妙音天 (Heavenly Sound Deva), or Bionten / Mionten 美音天 (Beautiful Sound Deva). Their iconography is identical. The text next to Myō-on's face says "Honji Shaka 本地釋迦," meaning she is the suijaku 垂迹 (trace) of (the Historical Buddha).
  4. Kōmyō-ō Bosatsu 光明王菩薩 (lit. "Luminous Bodhisattva King) playing biwa. One of the (Nijūgo Bosatsu 二十五菩薩) who, along with, welcome into paradise those who call upon in their last moments of life; in this paradise, the deceased are no longer trapped in the and can devote all their efforts toward attaining enlightenment. Kōmyō-ō Bosatsu appears with similar icongraphy as Benzaiten, perhaps due simply to word play -- Kōmyō-ō's name contains the same characters as the name of the, spelled variously as Kōmyō kyō 光明經, or 金光明經, or 金光明最勝王経. The Kōmyō kyō scripture has a section devoted to Benzaiten, but mentions nothing at all about.

More Artwork of Benzaiten Playing Biwa

Enoshima Benzaiten, 19th century, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
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Benzaiten, 19th century, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
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Benzaiten, 18th century, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
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Big Benzaiten, Shinminato City, Toyama Prefecture, 1986
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Benzaiten Playing Biwa, Modern, Early 21st Century

8-Armed Benzaiten atop Dragon, Meiji Era (1886), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Sarasvati playing biwa, peacock at her side. By Indian artist Raja Ravi Varma.

Sea Goddess playing biwa while standing atop dragon. Hand-colored albumen photograph, circa 1898.

  1. Benzaiten 江の島弁財天 playing biwa while riding atop a dragon (her servant & avatar). By Aoigaoka Keisei 葵岡渓栖 (active, 1st half 19th century). Edo era, 1833, woodblock, ink & color on paper. Photo
  2. Woman Representing Benzaiten playing biwa, from series Allusions to (Mitate Shichifukujin 見立七福神・弁天), by Yashima Gakutei 八島岳亭 (1786?-1868), Edo era, late 1820s, woodblock print; ink & color on paper. Photo
  3. Benzaiten playing biwa (entitled Benzaiten zu 弁財天図). Sits atop rocky island, with ocean waves at bottom of painting. By Ogawa Haritsu 小川破笠 (1663–1747). Edo era, early 18th century, hanging scroll; ink & color on silk, H = 86.5 cm, W = 42.4 cm. Photo
  4. Big Benzaiten 新湊弁財天 of Shinminato City, Toyama Prefecture. Made in 1986. Material = Aluminum. Height 9.2 meters. Photo =. Overlooks & protects the western bay area in Shinminato City 新湊市 (Toyama Prefecture), befitting her role as a water goddess.
  5. Benzaiten playing biwa while sitting atop a lotus leaf on a rocky island surrounded by water and clouds. By modern painter Watanabe 渡邉照裕 of the 真福寺仏画導場 associated with the Shingon-sect temple Shinpukuji 真福寺 in Kyoto. In this painting, she appears as a bodhisattva with jeweled crown and necklace. Photo from the. Also
  6. atop dragon; surrounded by water and clouds. Meiji Era (about 1886). By Japanese artist Hashimoto Gahō 橋本雅邦 (1835-1908). H = 164.5 cm, W = 117.5 cm. Photo
  7. Sarasvati playing biwa next to a river, with at her side. Oleograph by India painter Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906), whose many paintings often depict epic characters from Hindu mythology. Photo Cyberkerala.
  8. Sea Goddess Benzaiten playing biwa while standing atop a dragon. Hand-colored albumen photograph. Appeared originally in the "Deluxe Edition, Volume IX" of by Okakura Kakuzo and Frank (Captain) Brinkley. Published in 1897-1898. Photo from A digitized version of the book is

 


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Naked Sculptures of Benzaiten
Hadaka Benzaiten 裸弁才天、Ragyō Benzaiten 裸形弁才天

 

During Japan's Kamakura period (1185-1332), artists for the first time began to create "naked" sculptures of Buddhist deities. The object of their artistic talents was often Benzaiten, although other deities, like and, were also sculpted in the nude. But these nude icons were dressed in clothing prior to public viewing and ritual ceremonies. The practice of carving nude statues may have originated in China, although there is scant evidence to support this claim. Although naked statues became popular in the Kamakura era, the practice was never firmly established -- only 100 or so extant statues of nude deities are known in Japan. Examples include the nude statues of Benzaiten shown below, plus the 伝香寺 in Nara (dated to 1228), the nude version of the at Enmeiji Temple 延命寺 in Kamakura (13th century), and the unclothed 13th-century Amida statue at the Nara National Museum. The reasons for carving statues in the nude are unknown, but Mori Hisashi says it reflects the "enthusiasm of the warriors of eastern Japan for the new and exotic." <Mori, page 167>. Another possible reason, says scholar Iyanaga Nobumi, was the prevalence of the in those bygone days. This led to the gentle two-armed version getting some of that power -- with her nudity expressing an "excess of erotic power." <>. Let us also recall that preparations and rites were often conducted in Japan from the earliest time onward to bring icons "to life" (Shōjin Butsu 生身仏, literally "Living Buddha") to convert them from inert objects into living entities with miraculous powers. Such methods included washing the wood (prior to construction) in purification rites, the chanting of darani, the insertion of relics and dedicatory inscriptions, the provision of real clothing, and the eye-opening ceremony (kaigen kuyō 開眼供養). <see Goepper pp 73-77, also Rosenfield, p. 160.>

Enoshima Benzaiten, Myo-on Ten, Hoan-den (Enoshima), Naked Statue
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Benzaiten - Goddess of Fine Arts, Nude Wood Statue, Hase Kannon, Kamakura
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Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine (Kamakura), Naked Benten
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Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine (Kamakura), Naked Benten
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  1. Naked Benten (aka Myō-on Ten 妙音天) at the Hōan-den 奉安殿 on. H = 55 cm. Dated to the last half of the Muromachi era (1392-1573), but in modern times; reportedly re-painted every 20 years. At, the nude statue of Benten is painted milk white and never dressed in cloths. Temple monks say the humid sea air around the island causes the dyes of the cloth to come off and stain her.
  2. Naked Benzaiten. Nemuri Benten 眠り弁天 (lit. Resting Benten or Sleeping Benzaiten). Date Unknown (probably modern). Hase Dera Temple, Kamakura, Japan. Photo Schumacher. See another photo of a half-dressed reclining Benzaiten 桃厳寺, Nagoya City.
  3. Naked Benten (missing biwa), Painted Wood, H = 96 cm. Dated 1266. Housed at the Kamakura Kokuhōkan Museum 鎌倉国宝館, located at Tsurugaoka Hachimangū Shrine 鶴岡八幡宮 in Kamakura. Photo from Tsurugaoka Hachimangū. Donated to the shrine in 1266 CE by a shrine musician named Nakahara Mitsu-uji 中原光氏. It was reportedly installed in the Bugaku-in 舞楽院 (no longer extant), a center for the performance of shrine dances. <source: by Seiroku Noma, p. 282>
  4. Dressed in silk robes. H = 96 cm. Dated 1266. Photo: Tsurugaoka Hachimangū, Kamakura. Same details as photo #3. 

benzaiten-naked-enoshima-jinja-kamakura-statues-mag-BIG
Naked Benten ()
Another image of Photo #1 above.
Photo by 太田亭 from magazine 鎌倉仏像めぐり,
p. 74, Published by Gakken Mook, 16 June 2010.

Naked Benzaiten, Enoshima, Before Her Repair, 1952
Naked Benten ()
Old photo of Image #1 above before its repair.
Photo scanned from Kisho 奇書, No. 5, Nov. 1952

During the forced separation of Buddhism-Shintōsim in the early Meiji Period (1868-1912), was converted into a shrine and its Benzaiten icons were "dumped into a corner" of a hall dedicated to and "local children played with them." <quotes from > When Benzaiten was restored after the war, the nude statue was missing its left hand, left leg, and right ankle. These had to be replaced. Today the statue is on public display in an octagonal hall known as Hōan-den 奉安殿, but for most of its history, the statue was hidden from the public gaze and exhibited only once every six years (in the year of the snake and year of the boar), said to be especially effective times to worship this divinity.

 


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Uga Benzaiten 宇賀弁財天
Syncretic Form with Snake & Shrine Gate Atop Head

ESOTERIC MANTRA FOR UGA BENZAITEN <source: >
なむびゃくじゃぎょう ・ うがやじゃやぎゃらべい ・ しんだまに ・ ひんでんうんそわか
Namu Byakujagyō ・ Ugaya jaya gyarabei ・ Shindamani ・ Hinden Un Sowaka

Happi Benzaiten, Kohonji Temple, Osaka, Late 10th Century
8-Armed Uga Benzaiten.
Syncretic form with snake kami Ugajin
and Shinto torii 鳥居 (gate) in her headdress. Kohonji Temple 孝恩寺,
Jōdo Sect, Osaka. Wood,  H = 117.6 cm. Late Heian era. The snake & torii
 added in later.

Oldest extant wooden statue of the 8-armed Uga Benzaiten in Japan, 14th century.

Oldest extant wood statue (early 14th C) of the 8-armed Uga Benzaiten in Japan.
Located at Kannon-ji Temple 観音寺, Iwade City, Wakayama Pref.
H = 65.2 cm. Photo Wakayama Pref. Museum. Scanned from 2012. REFERENCE:

Catherine Ludvik, 15th Asian Studies Conference Japan (ASCJ), International Christian University (ICU), 25 June 2011. Presentation entitled Benzaiten and Ugajin: The Skillful Combining of Deities. (Session 16: Room 253).

The image of Japan's oldest Uga Benzaiten statue was scanned from Ludvik's article Uga-Benzaiten: The Goddess and the Snake, which appeared in Impressions, The Journal of the Japanese Art Society of America, Number 33, 2012. Ludvik's ASCJ presentation and her Impressions article present the same information.

> Sometime during the latter half of Japan's Heian era (794-1185), the powerful Tendai sect on Mt. Hiei (near Kyoto) assisted in the merger of the Hindu-Buddhist deity Benzaiten with an obscure local snake kami (deity) of water, rice, good fortune, and wealth named Ugajin 宇賀神 (also called Hakujaku / Byakuja 白蛇 or Ukaya 宇賀耶) to create the combinatory deity known as Uga Benzaiten 宇賀弁財天. The snake kami had other titles as well, including Uga Shinnō 宇賀神王 (Divine King Uga) and Uga Shinshō 宇賀神将 (Divine General Uga) -- titles appearing in the apocryphal around the 13th century. From Mt. Hiei, the cult of Uga Benzaiten made its way to 竹生島 (Shiga Pref.), 厳島 (Hiroshima), 江ノ島 (Kanagawa), 天川 (Nara), and elsewhere in Japan, with her iconography becoming increasingly complex. This linkage with Ugajin is one of the key wellsprings of Benzaiten's longstanding popularity in Japan. It heralded Benzaiten's "reconnection" with water, spearheaded her association with the food crop and wealth, and propelled her subsequent climb in popularity. Since Ugajin is a water kami of good fortune and wealth, the 才 (zai) of Benzaiten 弁才天 was replaced with its homonym 財 (zai), meaning wealth. By the Edo era, Uga Benzaiten had become a widespread object of worship among the masses as the deity of foodstuffs and wealth. In art, Ugajin (alone) is generally depicted as an old human-headed man with a white snake body, while the composite deity Uga Benzaiten is most commonly portrayed as an esoteric eight-armed goddess (see above) with a male-faced serpent atop her head. A shrine gate often adorns her headdress as well (not mentioned in scriptures; perhaps symbolizing, the extremely popular Japanese kami of the rice paddy, grain, cultivation, and prosperity; lore involves Ugajin and other rice kami). The serpent and shrine gate atop her head are purely Japanese conventions / inventions -- and they clearly link Benzaiten to the. The objects in her hands, though, are slightly different from those held by the -- some of the martial instruments have been replaced with the key to the treasure house, a treasure stick, and a.

Most sources believe Ugajin is the kami of foodstuffs 宇迦之御魂神 (Kojiki) or 倉稲魂命 (Nihongi). Also pronounced, this food kami appears in the Kojiki and Nihongi, two of Japan's earliest records, compiled in the early 8th century. Uga Benzaiten is further identified with, the main Shintō god/goddess of rice and agriculture, who is identified with a white fox as his/her messenger. In paintings and mandalas (presented herein), Uga Benzaiten is often surrounded by (Japan's Buddhist god of agricultural and commerce), (Buddhist guardian of the north and treasure, and commander of the ), the Hindu-Buddhist demi-goddess (whose messenger in Japan is a white fox; paired with kami in Japan's Kami-Buddha matrix), and stemming from the esoteric camp. Some, like author say Uga Benzaiten is a jealous deity, that her jealousy is indicated by the white snakes coiled around her. Chiba also says court musicians who played the biwa in Japan's

Era Names & Dates:
Standard dating scheme found in both Japan and the West.
  • Ancient refers to the Asuka and Nara periods (538-794)
  • Classical refers to the Heian period (794-1185)
  • Medieval refers to the Kamakura era (1185-1333), Muromachi era (1336-1573), and Edo era (1600-1867)
  • Modern refers to everything since 1868 (Meiji, Taisho, Showa, & Heisei periods)

    NOTE: Ancient & Classical are sometimes used collectively to refer to everything through the Nara era. The Edo Period is also known as "Early Modern," while Meiji and after are the "Modern" period. The term "Premodern" refers to pre-Meiji.

remained single, for if they married, they feared they would incur the wrath of Benzaiten, who would take away their musical ability. Today, says Chiba, married couples who pray to Uga Benzaiten for a beautiful daughter are told to worship separately, never as a couple -- supposedly, if they worship Benzaiten at the same time, they will become separated.

Others, like art historian (d. 1946), suggest that Benzaiten's linkage with a white snake stems from confusion. "The White [of Indian origin] also holds a lute in two of her four hands, but the special attribute of goddess is a white snake. In Japan the white snake is believed to be a manifestation of Sarasvati (aka Benzaiten), from which we must infer that the Japanese have confounded the two goddesses." <source p. 113, also see  

Benzaiten scholar

Quoted From:

Catherine Ludvik, 15th Asian Studies Conference Japan (ASCJ), International Christian University (ICU), 25 June 2011. Presentation entitled Benzaiten and Ugajin: The Skillful Combining of Deities. (Session 16: Room 253).

Other Writings by Ludvik

From Sarasvati to Benzaiten (India, China, Japan). Ph.D. dissertation. University of Toronto, January 2001. South and East Asian Religions. Winner of the Governor General's Gold Medal 2001.

Also see 374 pages. Drawing on Sanskrit and Chinese textual sources, as well as Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist art historical representations, this book traces the conceptual and iconographic development of the goddess of knowledge Sarasvati from some time after 1750 B.C.E. to the seventh century C.E. Through the study of Chinese translations of no longer extant Sanskrit versions of the Buddhist 'Sutra of Golden Light' the author sheds light on Sarasvati's interactions with other Indian goddess cults and their impact on one another.

Also see La Benzaiten a huit bras: Durga deesse guerriere sous l'apparence de Sarasvati," Cahiers d'Extreme-Asie, no. 11 (1999-2000), pp. 292-338.

Also see

Also see Uga-Benzaiten: The Goddess and the Snake, pp. 95-110. Impressions, The Journal of the Japanese Art Society of America, Number 33, 2012.

says the oldest extant wooden statue of the eight-armed Uga Benzaiten in Japan is found at Kannon-ji Temple 観音寺 in Wakayama Prefecture. "Ugajin was not added," says Ludvik, "but made at the same time as the statue. Often, however, Ugajin was added in later times." She continues: "The relationship of Ugajin and Benzaiten is one of opposition and cooperation. Pairs of opposites are brought together -- animal and human, male and female, old and young, small and large. Ugajin assumed an elevated position on Benzaiten's head. In the Uga-Benzaiten form, however, by virtue of Benzaiten's overwhelming size, it is the goddess who came to dominate. Benzaiten accommodated his presence, and Ugajin extended to her his sovereignty over wealth. As their unusual combination acquired fascinating representations, and the benefits they cooperatively offered appealed to the popular imagination, faith in both Ugajin and Benzaiten spread." In the Edo era, Benzaiten was additionally associated with the, a water creature closely related to -- both are guardians of the north and appear frequently in Benzaiten art.

Ugajin, Nakanoshinbashi
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Ugajin, Izumohara Benzaiten

Ugajin, Suzukuma Dera

Ugajin (Male), Koyasan Shinnouin
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Ugajin (Female), Reihokan Museum, Koyasan
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Benzaiten, Woodblock by XXXXXXX
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ugajin-butsuzou-jp-TN
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Uga Benzaiten
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benzaiten-Chikubushima-TN
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uga-benzaiten-kamakura-store-TN
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turtle-mystic-shosoin-nara-sketch

turtle-mystic-shosoin-nara-sketch-actual-stone

ugajin-atop-turtle-omamori-engagkuji
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ugajin-atop-turtle-sketch
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  1. Benzaiten with snake body. Stone, Fukuju-in Temple 福寿院, Nakanoshinbashi 中野新橋, Tokyo.
  2. Izumohara Benzaiten 出流原弁財天, Sano Seven Lucky Gods 佐野七福神.
  3. Ugajin, Wood, H = 17 cm, Edo era, Suzukuma-dera Temple 鈴熊寺, Yoshitomi City, Fukuoka Pref. <>
  4. Ugajin, Male, Kōyasan Shinnōin Temple, 高野山親王院.
  5. Ugajin, Female, Kōyasan Shinnōin Temple, 高野山親王院. <>
  6. Uga Benzaiten with white snake and Shinto gate in headdress.
    By Utagawa Kunisada 歌川豊国 (1786 - 1865), wood block print, 1860.
  7. Ugajin (old man) & Shinto gate. Modern artwork. Availabe online. <>
  8. Uga Benzaiten, Kohonji Temple 孝恩寺, Jōdo 浄土 Sect, Osaka. Wood, H = 117.6 cm. Late Heian era. <
  9. Uga Benzaiten, Chikubushima 竹生島, Shiga Pref. 滋賀県. Wood, dated to 1565. <Photo >
  10. Uga Benzaiten, Wood, Meiji Era. Found inside store near Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Kamakura. Photo Schumacher.

    Somewhere along the line, perhaps in the Edo period, the terripin (tortoise) was added to Benten's snake iconography. See for details on this iconography.

  11. Sketch of legendary that appeared before Japan's emperor in 715 AD, with the seven stars of the Big Dipper engraved on its shell. The tortoise is one of guarding the four cardinal directions in heaven and on earth. In this role, it guards the north and is associated with water. It is usually depicted as a entwined by a white snake and intimately associated with the Pole Star and Big Dipper. Photo Source (p. 210), story by Meri Arichi. ISSN 1368-6534. The appearance of this terrapin is recorded in the Shoku Nihongi 続日本紀 (Heian era) in book six. Enter search term "turtle".
  12. See Photo #11. Actual piece in collection of the Shōsō-in 正倉院 in Nara. Made of Serpentine rock (Jyamongan 蛇紋岩). H = 3.5 cm, L = 15 cm. Photo Source and
  13. Ugajin ofuda 御札 (charm, talisman) at Engakuji Temple 円覚寺 in Kamakura, early 20th century. Formerly in the collection of Alice Getty. Image appears in Getty's 1940 article
  14. Lucky snake-headed Ugajin talisman atop turtle-like creature, Jō-onji Temple 城恩寺, Kankiten Hall 歓喜天堂, Higashi Matsuyama City 東松山市, Saitama Pref. 埼玉県. Sketch by Tadami Yamada.

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MORE ABOUT UGA BENZAITEN. Uga Benzaiten appears in numerous stories in the 渓嵐拾葉集, a multi-volume document compiled in the first half of the 14th century containing many of the oral legends of the Tendai esoteric stronghold at Mt. Hiei. Another Tendai text appearing around the same time, the Bussetsu Saishō Gokoku Ūgaya Tontoku Nyōi Hōju Darani-Kyō 仏説最勝護国宇賀耶得如意宝珠陀羅尼経, describes a number of esoteric Tendai practices involving Uga Benzaiten, thereby indicating that worship of Uga Benzaiten was already substantially systematized. For more details on Era Names & Dates:
Standard dating scheme found in both Japan and the West.
  • Ancient refers to the Asuka and Nara periods (538-794)
  • Classical refers to the Heian period (794-1185)
  • Medieval refers to the Kamakura era (1185-1333), Muromachi era (1336-1573), and Edo era (1600-1867)
  • Modern refers to everything since 1868 (Meiji, Taisho, Showa, & Heisei periods)

    NOTE: Ancient & Classical are sometimes used collectively to refer to everything through the Nara era. The Edo Period is also known as "Early Modern," while Meiji and after are the "Modern" period. The term "Premodern" refers to pre-Meiji.

documents about Uga Benzaiten, see above. The depiction of Benzaiten in these documents differs significantly from her conventional appearance. "Ugajin was also adopted by Japan's Onmyōdō (Yin-Yang) circles and by, leading to the development of the Ugajinsai 宇賀神祭 (Ugajin Festival)."

The also states: "The Japanese kami of foodstuffs -- 宇迦之御魂神 (Kojiki) or 倉稲魂命 (Nihongi) -- is thought to refer specifically to the spirit of rice. The Kojiki describes the kami as the offspring of, while the Nihongi states that the kami was the offspring of the two kami and Izanami. The comments on the Ōtono no Hogai Norito further identify the kami with 豊宇気比売神. is most commonly known as the rice kami. From the medieval period, the deity was linked to popular combinatory kami such as the snake-bodied Ugajin and Uga Benzaiten. is enshrined at Kyoto's Fushimi Taisha and other shrines throughout Japan. <end quote> For more details on Benzaiten and her associations with Japan's kami of rice, food, and agricultural, see.

Uga Benzaiten - courtesy www.telemesse.ne.jp/daikakuji/0.html
UGA BENZAITEN, Eight-Armed
Snake & Shrine Gate Atop Head
Modern Statue,

Uga Benzaiten, Modern Statue -- Iwate, Kamaishi City, DaiKannon
UGA BENZAITEN, Naked, Eight-Armed
Snake & Shrine Gate Atop Head
Modern, Kamaishi Daikannon Complex.
Kamaishi City, Iwate Prefecture
Photo from now-defunct J-source.

The kami 's name has been conjectured to derive from the Sanskrit ugaya but most sources suggest that it originated in the tutelary of foodstuffs as found in the Kojiki and Nihongi, and that it was thus originally worshiped as a grain spirit or deity of good fortune." <end quote> Roughly translated, UGAJIN 宇賀神 means "Kami of Infinite Blessings/Felicitations/Celebrations," while UKANOMITAMA 宇迦之御魂神 means "Kami of Infinite Increase/Expansion/Additions." Ugajin's name was perhaps originally spelled 宇迦神 (UKAJIN), but at some unknown time was changed to 宇賀神 (UGAJIN) to reflect the deity's luck-bringing, fortune-bringing faculties.

 

Ofuda (talisman) of Uga Benzaiten from Mudoji Temple, Mt. Hiei.
Uga Benzaiten. Ofuda 御札 (talisman).
Snake & Shrine Gate Atop Head
  無動寺, Mt. Hiei.
Inscription reads 比叡山無動寺
(lit. = Hiei-zan Mudōji). Shown holding
wish-granting jewel, bow, iron wheel,
trident, pestle, key, arrow, & sword.
Found among the papers of Tendai
monk Nakayama Genyū 中山玄雄
(1902-1977). Photo

Founded in 865 by Tendai monk Sō-ō 相応 (831–918), this temple is dedicated to and other deities. It possesses a late 14th or early 15th century painting depicting Benzaiten with three snake heads, and attended by,,,, and three princes (two above, one below), along with wish-granting jewels atop three -related mountains (Misen,, Ōmine). This painting, not shown herein, is closely retaled to. A photo can be seen from Ludvik on.

MORE ABOUT SERPENTS & WHITE SNAKES. In Japan, Benzaiten's linkage to snakes and dragons is derived in part from earlier Hindu naga lore. The Sanskrit term refers to a group of serpent-like creatures described in pre-Buddhist and early Indian Buddhist texts as water spirits with human shapes wearing a crown of serpents on their heads. The dragon, moreover, is considered a member of the group, and Benzaiten's main avatars in Japan are snakes and dragons. 's appearance as an old man may also suggest venerable antiquity, which would lead us back to the.

Although ancient Japan probably worshipped snakes independent of outside influences (as did most world cultures), the influx of Korean and Chinese immigrants to Japan between the 2nd and 5th centuries CE no doubt introduced the Japanese to snake lore from continental Asia. But it is impossible to unequivocally say Japan's snake lore was derived entirely from the mainland. In the myths of the Kojiki 古事記 and Nihon Shoki (Nihongi) 日本書紀, two of Japan's earliest official records from the 8th century, the rice kami (rice spirit, rice soul, kami dwelling inside rice) is identified as 宇迦之御魂神, who was merged later on with, the white-snake kami of foodstuffs and wealth considered Benzaiten's companion and manifestation.

Elsewhere, in the Hitachi no Kuni Fudoki 常陸国風土記 (early 8th century document), the Yato no Kami 夜刀の神 were described as fearsome and meddlesome snake kami who lived in the fields near government offices. <Also see 鹿屋野比売, the kami of fields and grasses>. These nature deities tried to impede farming and the expansion of the Japanese nation, and went unworshipped initially, but later they were enshrined as a means to end their meddling. Also, the Kojiki describes snake kami of the field as female. In countless Japanese tales, Benzaiten assumes the form of a snake or a dragon to assist her followers. Snakes also figure prominently in the myths surrounding Miwa Jinja Shrine 三輪神社 in Nara (also known as Ōmiwa Jinja 大神神社), one of Japan's oldest. A sacred white snake is said to reside in and around Mt. Miwa. The mountain's protective deity is Miwa Daimyōjin 三輪大明神 (aka kami 大物主尊, aka 大国主神). Ōmononushi's true form, as described in the Ninhogi, is a snake. In later centuries, the deities of Mt. Miwa were identified with. The latter is a Hindu deity who was initially a fierce god of war depicted with white snakes curled around his wrists, but later adopted into Japan's Buddhist pantheon as the god of agriculture and good fortune. Not surprisingly, is closely linked to Benzaiten and her white snake. For more on snakes and the color white, see.

<SOURCES> , the, and the (login = guest).

Pictorial votive tablets known as EMA that, in this case, are dedicated to White Snakes

Pictorial votive tablets known as EMA that, in this case, are dedicated to White Snakes

PICTORIAL VOTIVE TABLETS. Known as EMA 絵馬 in Japan, such tablets can be purchased at most shrines
(less so at temples). You write your name and petition on the back, and then hang it inside the shrine compound.

MODERN. Votive tablet at Karikayadō 刈萱堂. Near Zenkōji Temple 善光寺, Nagano City. The above tablet shows a white snake (with gold in its mouth) curled around 's magic mallet (uchide nokozuchi 打ち出の小槌). This mallet is said to miraculously produce anything desired when struck. Some Japanese say that coins fall out when shakes it. The tablet's theme is prosperity -- the white snake & golden mallet represent the treasures of rice and agriculture, hence wealth. Photo

MODERN. Votive tablet at Murayama Sengen Jinja 村山浅間神社 (Shizuoka). The above tablet shows a white snake (with a coin in its mouth) surrounded by the. The wish-granting jewel is said to miraculously produce anything desired for devout followers. Thus, the theme of this tablet is wealth and the granting of wishes. The red characters are pronounced Kaiun 開運, which mean "Open to Luck, Fortune, and Prosperity." Photo

Dragons and the "Inviting Rain" Mandala. Mid-to-late 12th century.
 Shōugyō Mandara 請雨経曼荼羅
"Inviting Rain" Mandala, Mid-to-Late 12th century
Hanging scroll, ink on paper, H = 151.1 cm, W = 65.4 cm.
As per the description in 大雲輪請雨経.
Photo

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PHOTO AT LEFT. Says the "This unusual mandala, a sketch from a compendium of esoteric Buddhist images, set in the watery world of dragon kings, was used in rites to end drought. Interestingly, there are no known polychrome or highly finished versions of this type of mandala, though they are recorded as having been used in sutra-reading services performed by monks from the Tōji and Daigoji temples in Kyoto as early as the ninth century. Perhaps these diagrams were made each time an extraordinary plea for rain was required. The transcendent repose of the bodhisattva, seated on a and cloud at the center, is particularly striking amid the serpents and swirls of water that surround him. The text from which this visualization is drawn is known in Japanese as the 大雲輪請雨経." For more on the Shōugyō Mandara 請雨経曼荼羅, Also see Benzaiten does not appear in this mandala, but she is associated with all its symbolism -- rain bringing, dragons, snake-bodied and snake-headed deities, and (she is his consort according to ). Also, if we recall, (considered Benzaiten's counterpart in Japan) appears in the Monju-in Court 文殊院 (near the East Gate). Benzaiten's connection to is obscure, but the bird-man of Hindu lore is  the mortal enemy of serpents & dragons. This drawing suggests the pacification of by Buddhist forces. Another intriguing set of links include Garuda →  mount of → Kichijōten (wife of Vishnu) → Benten (often ). More study is required to determine the relationship (if any) between such art & Benten.

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Tenkawa Benzaiten 天川弁才天 or 天河弁才天
Multi-Armed Esoteric Form with Three Serpent-Dragon Heads
Associated with Various Hindu / Buddhist / Shinto Deities

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Tenkawa Benzaiten, CLOSEUP
Tenkawa Benzaiten with three
serpent (or dragon) heads. 15th C.

Tenkawa Benzaiten, Kofukuji Temple (Nara)
Kubo Benzaiten 窪弁才天
A form of Tenkawa Benzaiten.
Kōfukuji 興福寺 Temple, Nara
Early 17th Century
See photo 4 (caption 4)
below for full details.

The worship of snake-related was substantially systematized by the early 14th century. The 渓嵐拾葉集, a Japanese text compiled around 1318 AD, contains many of the oral legends of these times.
REFERENCE:

Chaudhuri, Saroj Kumar. Hindu Gods and Goddesses in Japan. Vedams, 2003, p. 44, ISBN : 81-7936-009-1.

"Long ago, this place [Amanogawa, aka Tenkawa] was a big sea. Two dragons, one good and another bad, lived here. The bad dragon troubled people living in the neighbourhood. Two gods took pity on the people and decided to subdue the bad dragon. The [bad] dragon appeared and started emitting his poisonous breath. One of the gods took out an eight-eyed arrow and shot it into the throat of the dragon. The subdued bad dragon sank into the sea. Next, it enveloped its body in water and rose into the sky. This water became the present Amanogawa River. The good dragon, in this case, is the goddess Sarasvati. The two gods who subdued the bad dragon are her children. This is the most important Sarasvati shrine in Japan. Regarding Sarasvati of Chikubushima, it says that she is the second daughter of [Dragon] King Sagara. The Ke-gon-gyo Sutra [Sutra of Golden Light] says that there is a small country in the north-east, where there is a lake with an island in it. This island is the residence of Sarasvati. It is her holy site."

. At some point in the 15th and 16th centuries, Benzaiten was conceived purely as a human-bodied snake-headed deity at 天河神社 in Nara Prefecture. This shrine, even today, is a cultic center of Benzaiten worship and a sacred site and practice location for devotees of -- a syncretic sect that combines Taoist magic, Shintō beliefs, ascetic training, and Shrine authorities say traces its origins back to antiquity, to the hagiographies of (Japan's mythical first emperor), to Shugendō founder (late 7th century), and to Shingon founder (774-835; aka Kōbō Daishi). Geographically situated inside a triangle consisting of Japan's three most sacred mountain centers of "divine energy" -- Kōya 高野, Yoshino 吉野, and Kumano 熊野 -- venerates a fantastic esoteric form of, one portrayed in paintings with three snake (or dragon) heads and ten arms, accompanied by (Hindu goddess), (Japanese rice god),, and other deities, numerous wish-granting jewels, white foxes, and snakes. This iconography is unique to Japan, and not found anywhere in mainland Asia. Unlike the popular and iconic, the snake-headed Tenkawa Benzaiten failed to achieve widespread geographical reach. Whether or not the three-headed snake derives in part from earlier Hindu lore is unclear, but in the ancient collection of Vedic hymns from India known as the Rig Veda (6.61.7), Sarasvatī is mentioned as killing a three-headed snake named Vritra (this episode appears nowhere else in Hindu texts).

is also known as Tenkawa Daibenzaitensha 天河大弁財天社 (Grand Benzaiten Shrine of Tenkawa) and is considered one of. Tenkawa 天川 is sometimes read Amanogawa (lit. Heavenly River, Milky Way), and the shrine itself is located near the scenic Ten-no-kawa 天の川 mountain stream. Since the celestial maiden Benzaiten is a river goddess, her association with the shrine is most appropriate. The Tenkawa Mandala 天川曼荼羅 -- also known as the Tenkawa Benzaiten Mandala 天川弁財天曼荼羅, or 10-Armed Ugajin Mandala 十臂宇賀神曼荼羅, or Mystical Tenkawa Benzaiten Mandala 天河秘密弁財天曼荼羅 -- is used to invoke Benzaiten's aid for bountiful harvests and good fortune. Other artwork sharing affinities with the Tenkawa Mandala are the 8-Armed Mandala and paintings of the (representing, Benzaiten, and According to one of many legends that surfaced in the Kamakura period (13th century), Tenkawa Benzaiten first appeared to sect founder sometime in the late 7th century. Writes at Kokugakuin University: "While En was meditating at Mt. Yūjutsu, the deity Benzaiten appeared on the seventh day, becoming known as the Tenkawa Benzaiten; on the 14th day a appeared, and this became known as the (Battle Field Jizō) of Kawakami. Finally, on the 21st day appeared as the fierce deity." 

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Tenkawa
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Tenkawa
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Uga Benzaiten
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Kubo Benzaiten
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Tenkawa Benzaiten
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  1. Tenkawa Mandala 天川弁才天曼荼羅, Hase Dera Nōman-in 長谷寺 能満院, Sakurai City 桜井市, Nara Pref., 1546 CE. Color on Silk, H 99.4 cm  W 39.4 cm. Attributed to Takuma Hōgen 詫間法眼. Records suggest that a similar painting (no longer extant) was made in 1487. See detailed description below.
  2. Tenkawa Mandala 天川弁才天曼荼羅, Hase Dera Nōman-in 長谷寺 能満院, Sakurai City 桜井市, Nara Pref. See full details below. Muromachi era. Photo from Now preserved at Osaka Museum.
  3. Mandala 天川弁才天曼荼羅 ・天河曼荼羅図. 15th-16th century. Surrounded by the black-colored holding his magic mallet and bag, by holding his pagoda of treasure, and by. Above the 8-armed deity are two astral bodies floating on clouds (probably the sun and moon), and two flying white foxes (probably representing and ) dashing toward the central icon. and Shinto shrine gate atop the central deity's head. Photo from Also see
  4. 8-Armed Uga Benzaiten & holding wish-granting jewels, Kōfukuji 興福寺 Temple, Nara, H 38.5 cm, Wood,, Crystal Eyes, Early Edo Period, 17th century. Also known as Kubo Benzaiten 窪弁才天. Temple legend claims that 弘法大師 (774 - 835 CE) invited-invoked the Tenkawa Benzaiten to also reside at Kōfukuji. These statues are located inside a three-storied pagoda (itself a national treasure) on the grounds at Kōfukuji. They are shown to the public only one day per year, usually on the 7th day of the 7th month. <Source: Kōfukuji placard plus Also see
  5. Tenkawa Benzaiten & 天川弁財天 和州芳野山. Also known as Dainichirin Benzaiten 大日輪弁財天. Painted wood. Date unknown (perhaps 16th century). Treasure of. These carvings are shown to the public only once every 60 years. Photo from. Also see and

Tenkawa Benzaiten Mandala

Tenkawa Benzaiten Mandala - Closeup

Tenkawa Mandala, Hase Dera, Noman-in, Sakurai City, Nara Prefecture

Tenkawa Benzaiten Mandala 天川弁才天曼荼羅, Dated 1546
Source:   |    | 

Tenkawa Benzaiten, Muromachi Era
|

DESCRIPTION OF ABOVE TENKAWA MANDALAS. Treasures of Hase Dera Nōman-in 長谷寺 能満院, a Shingon temple in Sakurai City 桜井市, Nara Pref. At the top of both mandala are three sacred gems (hōju 宝珠) with flame nimbus (kaenkō 火焔光) shown atop three mountains. These mountains perhaps represent the three sacred peaks of Mt. Misen 弥山 (mountain behind Tenkawa Shrine), Mt. Ōmine 大峰山 (Kumano side), and Mt. 金峯山 (Yoshino side) -- the three surround and form a triangle. At the center of the mandala is a 10-armed Benzaiten shown in human form but with three serpent (or dragon) heads. She stands on the outstretched palms of (Goddess of Fire) and (Goddess of Water) -- who perhaps represent yin (water) and yang (fire). To her left and right are the goddesses 吉祥天 and 訶梨帝母, who are portrayed as with rice offerings in their hands. Above her are two snake-headed guardians. Around her are the Jūroku Dōji 十六童子 (), all holding various symbolic objects or riding a bull, deer, jackal, white snake, stork, or horse. The centipede (mukade, hyakusoku 百足) also appears. This creature is attributed with sniffing out gold mines in mountain deposits, and as such, is considered the messenger of (the lord of treasure and wealth in Japan; one of the ; a deity who appears often in artwork with Benzaiten, as in Photo 3 above, and in statues of ). Strewn everywhere throughout the painting are images of white snakes and foxes, as well as the Hōju 宝珠 (), which represent the power to expel evil, cleanse corruption, remove suffering, and grant every mundane wish. In some esoteric traditions in Japan, this sacred jewel is said to have emerged from the head of the dragon king (Ryū-ō 竜王; dragons are a type of serpent). The snake-headed Benzaiten represents the syncretic Shinto-Buddhist deity known as. Although their identity is unclear, the half-naked male-female pairs (there are two pairs) in the painting probably symbolize the merging of 稲荷 (the Japanese kami of rice; his messenger is the white fox) with the esoteric deity known as 荼吉尼天 (a Hindu goddess adopted into the Buddhist pantheon; her messenger is a white fox)., in fact, is often considered identical to Benzaiten. The male figure in both pairs sports bird-like legs, while the female sports fox legs and fox tails. Their identities remain a mystery, but there are indications to suggest their references. For example, in India, Sarasvatī's mount/vehicle (Skt. = Vāhana) is the haṃsa, This might help to explain the bird legs of the male figure. Another similar piece is kept at Ishiyama-dera 石山寺, a Shingon temple in Otsu City (Shiga Pref.). Such syncretic pieces are relatively rare in Japan. Records suggest that such pieces began appearing sometime in the late 15th century. The Nezu Museum (Tokyo) has a Muromachi-era Tenkawa Benzaiten Mandala, as does Shinnō-in 親王院 at Mt. Kōya.

MORE DETAILS ABOUT TENKAWA MANDALA, PLUS SPECULATION

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    Scarf, Modern Reproduction of the Tenkawa Benzaiten Mandala, from Marca-scarf.jp.
    Scarf, Modern Reproduction of
    the Tenkawa Benzaiten Mandala,
    from
    Photo

    Bernard Faure, a noted scholar of Japanese Buddhism, says the two mandala above form a set. "They differ by their color. In the second one, the dominant color (and in particular the color of Benzaiten's dress and of the three snake/dragon heads) is green, whereas in the first one (above), brown tones are more important. This set could be related to specific spring and autumn rituals." Faure also says: "At the top of the picture, the three mountains in the distance, themselves crowned by large cintamanis [wish-granting jewels], probably represent the three peaks of Yoshino, with Misen (abbreviation of Shumisen, that is, the cosmic Mount Sumeru), the mountain behind, at the center; on the Yoshino side, and Ōmine on the Kumano side." See page 175 of Delivered at a three-day symposium entitled "Images and Objects in Japanese Buddhist Practice" at the Columbia Center for Japanese Religion, New York. Held on Oct. 7, 8, and 9, 2010. Faure also points out affinities between the Tenakwa Benzaiten Mandala and another type of representation known as the.
  • Says Saroj Kumar Chaudhuri in his (p.48): "The (Tendai esoteric commentary dated first half 14th century) mentions a shrine dedicated to Sarasvatī (Benzaiten) in Amanogawa () in Wakayama Prefecture near Osaka. It gives the following account of Amanogawa Sarasvatī. "Long ago, this place was a big sea. Two dragons, one good and another bad, lived here. The bad dragon troubled people living in the neighborhood. Two gods took pity on the people and decided to subdue the bad dragon. The dragon appeared and started emitting his poisonous breath. One of the gods took out an eight-eyed arrow and shot it into the throat of the dragon. The subdued bad dragon sank into the sea. Next, it enveloped its body in water and rose into the sky. This water became the present Amanogawa River. The good dragon, in this case, is the goddess Sarasvatī. The two gods who subdued the bad dragon are her children." <end quote>
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    Rokuji Myo-o from the 12th-century Besson Zakki
    Rokuji Myō-ō 六字明王
    From 12th-century Besson Zakki

    SPECULATION. The above artwork of Uga Benzaiten (photo #3) shares certain lexicographical similarities with the image of Rokuji Myō-ō 六字明王 (literally "Six-Syllable Luminescent King") that appeared in the 12th-century Japanese text Besson Zakki 別尊雑記 (Miscellaneous Record of Classified Sacred Images). See image at right. Rokuji 六字 refers to a powerful six-syllable incantation to ward off evil spirits, enemies, and malicious influences used in esoteric Shingon rituals known as Chōbuku Shinpō 調伏信法 or Chōbuku-hō 調伏法.

    This may or may not shed light on the strange iconography of or. The iconographic similarities include:

    • eight-armed deity holding weapons
    • sun disc and moon disc shown in image
    • serpent or dragon atop head
    • appearance of numerous foxes
    • appearance of numerous different animals

 

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Benzaiten's Hindu, Buddhist, & Kami Associations
DAKINITEN 荼吉尼天 ・ 叱枳尼天 AND BENZAITEN
Plus Inari, Kankiten, Daikokuten, and Bishamonten
Benzaiten → Durgā → Kālī → Mahākāla → Dakini → Jackal/Fox → Inari → Ugajin (snake) → Uga Benzaiten

 

 

Dakini holding sword & wish-granting jewel while sitting atop fox
Dakini atop fox holding sword
and wish-granting jewel. These are
her common attributes in Japan.
Photo: 17th century (1690)
仏像図彙.

Without the fox, Dakiniten appears exactly like -- the two are, in fact, considered identical, or, more accurately, Dakiniten is one of Benzaiten's many manifestations. The fox provides the clue to differentiating the two deities.

Sanskrit Seed for Dakini = Kirikaku
Alternative Sanskrit Seed
Pronounced KIRIKAKU in Japan

Esoteric Mantra
おん だきに ぎゃちぎゃかねい そわか
おん きりかく そわか
On Dakini Gyachigyakanei Sowaka
On Kirikaku Sowaka
<Source: >

Naumaku Samandabodanan Kirika Sowaka
ナウマク サマンダボダナン キリカ ソワカ
Shingon mantra said to bring luck and business success to those who chant it.

At Toyokawa Inari Temple (Aichi),
the esoteric mantra is given as:
On Shira Batta Niri Un Sowaka.
<Source: Chaudhuri, p. 161>

Eight (8) Armed Dakini, a manifestation of Happi Benzaiten
Eight-Armed Dakini (manifestation of ). Painting on Wood.
Kakusei-in Temple 覚性院, Ashikaga City, Tochigi. Date Unknown. Photo this J-Site.

 

 

 

Benzaiten in Japan is associated with and conflated with numerous Hindu, Buddhist, and Shintō deities. Among the most curious and complex links is "Benzaiten Equals Dakiniten" -- this link is an altogether independent strain of Benzaiten faith in which Dakiniten (Hindu/Buddhist) is also combined with (Japan's kami of rice) and associated with a white fox. In Japanese artwork, she is nearly always shown atop a fox holding a sword and. In Hindu mythology, the Dakini 荼吉尼 (Skt. = Ḍākinī) are a class of demonic female demons who drink blood and eat human flesh (especially livers). Scholars consider them acolytes of the Hindu goddess Kālī (the black one, death, consort of ), and the scene of worship in Hindu legends is usually a cremation ground or grave mound. Let us recall that References: Works by Catherine Ludvik

From Sarasvati to Benzaiten (India, China, Japan). Ph.D. dissertation. University of Toronto, January 2001. South and East Asian Religions. Winner of the Governor General's Gold Medal 2001.

Also see 374 pages. Drawing on Sanskrit and Chinese textual sources, as well as Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist art historical representations, this book traces the conceptual and iconographic development of the goddess of knowledge Sarasvati from some time after 1750 B.C.E. to the seventh century C.E. Through the study of Chinese translations of no longer extant Sanskrit versions of the Buddhist 'Sutra of Golden Light' the author sheds light on Sarasvati's interactions with other Indian goddess cults and their impact on one another.

Also see La Benzaiten a huit bras: Durga deesse guerriere sous l'apparence de Sarasvati," Cahiers d'Extreme-Asie, no. 11 (1999-2000), pp. 292-338.

Also see

says the was derived in large part from the Indian battle goddess Durgā 突迦 (Chn. = Tújiā, Jp. = Toga). Durgā is another name for Kālī, the wife of. She is typically depicted in India with one face and eight arms, or three faces and six arms, a necklace of skulls, and other attributes. Kālī is the feminine form of Mahākāla (Jp. = ). Mahākāla is the subduer of the Dakini (jackal), who in turn (in Japan) corresponds to (fox), who in turn is considered the popular aspect of rice kami, who in turn is equated with the snake kami and the combinatory deity. In another configuration, 11th-century esoteric Buddhist rituals identified Dakiniten with the jewel-holding. Later, in the 14th century, Dakiniten became the central deity in the Shingon ceremony (administered by Ono monks) for imperial ordination, in which was revealed to be a form of both Dakiniten and the kami   -- the latter, in turn, was considered a transformation body of the supreme sun goddess.

At first, the Dakini were incorporated into (Esoteric, Tantric) traditions as lower-ranking evil beings associated with black magic, cursing one's enemy, and achieving ulterior motives. They were also said to have the power of flight, and to appear as beautiful enchantresses to lead people astray. In Japan, however, the Dakini group never gained a large following, except for one named Dakiniten 荼吉尼天, who appears in two different forms -- the demonic and barbarous Jitsurui type (実類 or 実利) who eat human flesh yet bestow wealth when worshipped, and the benevolent and heavenly Mandala type 曼荼羅 who eat the filth that accumulates in the human heart, purify the heart-mind, represent the true body of the, and grant wealth and prosperity to devotees <Chaudhuri, Saroj Kumar, pp. 157-158>. It is the latter benevolent type that is equated with Benzaiten & in Japan.

The demi-goddess Dakiniten appears in in China by the 8th century and in Japanese records by the 9th century, but it wasn't until the Kamakura era (1185-1332) that she gained much celebrity in Japan. In the famous medieval epic Heike Monogatari 平家物語 and other texts of that period, Dakini's demonic type was invoked in various esoteric rites to gain complete mastery in human affairs, to hex one's enemies, to win favor at court, to realize political ambition, to pray for good fortune, and other mundane matters. But, around the same time, she was also appropriated by Japan's kami cults, mountain cults, and as a benevolent goddess and identified with both Benzaiten and (Japan's kami of rice, depicted mostly as male but sometimes female, whose messengers are white foxes). Two plausible reasons for the fusion with involve (1) earlier Hindu myths in which Dakini (companions of goddess Kālī) are described as appearing in graveyards and cremation grounds alongside a jackal (considered a scavenger); since there are no jackals in Japan, the Japanese replaced the jackal with the fox (the closest approximate); (2) 's messenger is a divine fox, but foxes come in two varieties in Japan --  the demonic type and divine type; as mentioned earlier, Dakini herself can be either barbarous or benevolent. Another probable reason for Dakini's linkage with involves the shape-shifting powers of the fox -- in both China and Japan, the evil fox (as opposed to 's divine fox) can shape-shift into human form, usually that of a bewitching enchantress. In Tantric lore, the Dakini are represented as beautiful young women who lead men astray. This overlapping iconography is very compelling. Since is the kami of agriculture, and hence prosperity, Dakini probably derives her benevolent character via her linkage with. In her new role as a goddess of prosperity, Dakini was then linked up with Benzaiten, who had by this time been merged with the snake kami of water/food/wealth known as. Dakini's also linked her (by the 11-century) to.

Dakiniten is likewise related to (Skt. = Mahākāla; deity of five grains and agriculture; one of Japan's ; the lord of the grave mound in Hindu mythology; depicted in Hindu art with white snakes around his wrists). In the 8th-century CE text Dainichikyōsho 大日経疏, Dainichi Buddha appears as in order to subdue Dakiniten., moreover, from the

Era Names & Dates:
Standard dating scheme found in both Japan and the West.
  • Ancient refers to the Asuka and Nara periods (538-794)
  • Classical refers to the Heian period (794-1185)
  • Medieval refers to the Kamakura era (1185-1333), Muromachi era (1336-1573), and Edo era (1600-1867)
  • Modern refers to everything since 1868 (Meiji, Taisho, Showa, & Heisei periods)

    NOTE: Ancient & Classical are sometimes used collectively to refer to everything through the Nara era. The Edo Period is also known as "Early Modern," while Meiji and after are the "Modern" period. The term "Premodern" refers to pre-Meiji.

onward, was commonly identified with 大国主命 (lit. = Great Land Master), the mythic Japanese kami of abundance and agriculture whose name Ō-kuni 大国 can also be read "Daikoku 大黑."  Daikoku 大黑 literally means "great black deva." It is also an alternative name for Durgā. Two pivotal themes in these convoluted associations are agriculture and the , i.e., (1) & Benzaiten; (2) & Dakini & Foxes; and (3) & Dakini & Benzaiten

Dakiniten appears often in Benzaiten artwork, including the (which also includes,, white foxes, and others). Elsewhere, in the, she appears as a three-headed deity with Benzaiten on the left and the elephant-headed Hindu-Buddhist deity 歓喜天 (aka 聖天; Skt. = Gaṇeśa) on the right (although the arrangement of the heads may vary). Dakiniten is customarily depicted in Japan as a benevolent goddess riding a white fox and holding a sword and wish-granting jewel. If the fox were removed, she would look exactly like goddess, who also carries a sword and sacred jewel. Dakiniten appears in other forms as well, including an eight-armed martial deity similar to, a, and a crow-like. But in all, she is depicted atop a fox, which is often the only clue to differentiate her from Benzaiten. Another plausible reason for the Dakinten-Benzaiten linkage involves "confusion" in the convoluted esoteric practices of Japan's medieval Buddha-Kami temple-shrine multiplexes <Source Minobe Shigekatsu, p. 222>. As already noted, Benzaiten was linked early on with an obscure local deity named (a white serpent-bodied kami of foodstuffs and wealth). is another local kami of rice and foodstuffs, whose messenger is a white fox. Once was linked-up with Dakini, the shared elements between the three (,, and Dakiniten) became food, the color white, and wealth. When/why Dakiniten (and her white fox) was equated with Benzaiten (and her white snake) is still unclear, but the close association of these creatures with the food crop (and thus abundance and wealth) is perhaps the most plausible explanation. [NOTES: Dakini are also servants of (lord of the underworld), and Benzaiten is 's sister. Hindu deities Mahākāla/Durgā/Kālī all share overlapping iconography that relates to Benzaiten. Japanese scholar Minobe Shigekatsu 美濃部 重克氏, in his 1982 article, says: "Benzaiten, at some unknown period of time, came to be thought identical to Dakiniten." He also says that fox-goddess Dakiniten is linked, among other things, to Benzaiten belief at (Hiroshima), at (Shiga), and at (Kanagawa). These three shrines remain the in both olden and modern times.

Aichi Prefecture, Found on Web, No reference provided
Dakiniten & white fox
click to enlarge

dakini-mandala-full-view-SS-TN
Dakiniten & white fox
click to enlarge

dakini-mandala-snake-in-headdress-main-SS-TN
Dakiniten & white fox
click to enlarge

dakiniten-mandala-nambokucho-NYMET-SS-TN
Dakiniten & white fox
click to enlarge

  1. Dakiniten atop white fox. Toyokawa Dakiniten Shinten 豊川叱枳尼真天, Myōgonji Temple 妙厳寺 (aka Toyokawa Inari 豊川稲荷) in Toyokawa City, Aichi Pref. Also known as 三州豊川 or 三州本山豊川稲荷. No date / size given. This temple-shrine worships both Dakini & Inari.
  2. Dakiniten Mandala 荼枳尼天曼荼羅. Color on silk. Dimensions = 94.5 cm x 44.0 cm. Edo Period. Four-armed Dakini holding sword, wish-granting jewel, wheel of Dharama, and treasure stick. Used for all manner of benefits, including fecundity, cursing one's enemies, wealth, power, and others mundane concerns.
  3. Closeup of Photo Two. Fox with wish-granting  jewel in mouth and atop tail.
  4. Dakiniten atop white fox. Nambokucho Era (1333–92 AD). Hanging scroll; ink, color, gold on hemp. 29 1/2 x 13 in. Photo: Says at the NY Met: "Riding a white fox on a cloud held aloft by a pair of dragons, she clenches a vajra (thunderbolt) surmounted by a sword, a symbol of Buddhist power. In her palm she cradles a triad of sacred jewels, and others are scattered around her as abundant blessings. In her crown are auspicious protectors of the harvest: diminutive foxes on coiled white snakes, like those that encircle her wrists. Above, another triad of sacred jewels rests on an open lotus, flanked by Chinese symbols of the complementary forces of sun and moon. Originally a blood-sucking man-eating demoness, Dakiniten was converted by into a powerful life-engendering deity. In the complex interaction of Buddhism, Shinto, and Taoist yin-yang practices in medieval Japan, this icon embodied near-magical powers of fecundity that were invoked not only in enthronement rituals but also in personal contexts. The mantra identified with this deity was chanted to achieve control over the mind. Medieval tales recount invocations of Dakiniten by both men and women to win position and favor at court, as well as in matters of the heart." <end quote>

 

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Textual Resources Linking Dakiniten, Benzaiten, & Daikokuten

 

 

Dakini Mandala with two Tengu manifestation below
Dakini atop white fox.
Attended by two Tengu-like creatures.
Considered among the first such
paintings in the Muromachi era.
Taho Collection 田万コレクション.
Osaka Municipal Museum.

Dakini atop white fox, modern drawing
Modern painting. Fox with wish-granting
jewel in mouth & atop tail.

 

 

 

Dakiniten appears in a Chinese text of the late 8th century called the Issai-kyō-ongi 一切経音義 by Erin 恵琳 (a monk from Kashgar) and in a Japanese commentary of the 9th century entitled Ichi-ji-chō-rin-ō-kyō 一字頂輪王經, but it wasn't until the Kamakura era (1185-1332) that she gained much celebrity in Japan, when she appeared in the famous medieval epic Heike Monogatari 平家物語 and other texts of that time, including the Genpei Jōsuiki 源平盛衰記 (The Rise and Fall of the Minamoto and the Taira), Sankō Genpei Jōsuiki 参考源平盛衰記, the 渓嵐拾葉集 (Tendai esoteric commentary dated approx. 1318), and the Hokinaiden 簠簋内伝 (a Yin-Yang fortunetelling book among Onmyōdō 陰陽道 followers reportedly written at the end of the Kamakura period). In these works, she is nearly always related to black magic -- with powerful people such as Fujiwara no Narichika 藤原成親 (1138–1178), Taira no Kiyomori 平清盛 (1118-1181), monk Ninkai 仁海 (d. 1046; founder of the Ono branch of Shingon), and others calling on her to gain mastery in human affairs, to hex one's enemies, to win favor at court, and to realize political ambition or rank. Japanese scholar Minobe Shigekatsu in presents many of these stories to support his claim that Dakiniten was ultimately converted into a benevolent deity who was eventually considered identical to Benzaiten. Indian scholar Saroj Kumar Chaudhuri in has likewise covered these tales. Below are some highlights:
  • The Hokinaiden 簠簋内伝 (Yin-Yang or Onmyōdō 陰陽道) fortunetelling book was written sometime at the end of the Kamakura era by Abe no Harutoki. It says: "The day of the snake, according to the zodiac, is from the Shinto point of view, a good day. The reason for this is said to be that on that day the three daughters of an Indian fox king flew to Japan, where one appeared at each of the three (Benzaiten) shrines --,, &." <Minobe, pp. 222-223>
  • The (14th century) tells the story of monk Ryōkanbō Ninshō 良観房忍性. While Ninshō was practicing religious seclusion in the dragon cave at the, three foxes appeared before him. These were buried under the residence for the chief monk of Gokurakuji Temple (in Kamakura) and two other temples, and the three temples then flourished. After his death, the monk who succeeded Ninshō at Gokurakuji decided to rebuild the residence, and had it taken down. At that time a white snake appeared on the spot. The workmen killed it. Gokurakuji was soon destroyed by fire, and this incident was suspected as its cause. The author of makes his own speculation at the end of this story that Ninshō was really conducting services for at, and notes the fact that the fox transformed itself into a white snake is in agreement with a now unknown sutra called Ukatojimekyō 宇賀刀自女経." <Minobe, p. 222>
  • Taira no Kiyomori 平清盛 (1118-1181), whose family controlled Japan for less than two decades before being defeated by Minamoto no Yoritomo 源頼朝 (1147-1199), prayed to 厳島明神 to assist him in his struggle to seize imperial authority. This deity, venerated at the (Hiroshima Prefecture), was said to be the daughter of the sea dragon king, and somewhere along the line belief in her became merged with belief in the Buddhist deity Benzaiten, with the two being worshiped as one. Kiyomori revived this shrine in the mid-12th century and popularized the diety. In his youth, Kiyomori also worshiped to insure his own personal glory, and the story of Kiyomori's worship of is linked, among other things, to his belief in the. The medieval epic Nagatobon Heike Monogatari 長門本平家物語 contains the following story: "When he was hunting, a fox he thought he had shot suddenly transformed itself into a beautiful woman, and said that if he would not kill it, it would see to it that Kiyomori was granted all his desires, so Kiyomori spared the fox's life. From that time onward, Kiyomori worshipped." Both the Genpei Jōsuiki and the Sankō Genpei Jōsuiki (dated to the Era Names & Dates:
    Standard dating scheme found in both Japan and the West.
    • Ancient refers to the Asuka and Nara periods (538-794)
    • Classical refers to the Heian period (794-1185)
    • Medieval refers to the Kamakura era (1185-1333), Muromachi era (1336-1573), and Edo era (1600-1867)
    • Modern refers to everything since 1868 (Meiji, Taisho, Showa, & Heisei periods)

      NOTE: Ancient & Classical are sometimes used collectively to refer to everything through the Nara era. The Edo Period is also known as "Early Modern," while Meiji and after are the "Modern" period. The term "Premodern" refers to pre-Meiji.

    ) mention the appearance of Benzaiten during a pilgrimage by Taira no Tsunemasa 平経正 (Kiyomori's nephew) to (another ). The manifestation came in the form of a white fox jumping down from the altar, although other texts say it appeared as a white serpentine dragon. See English translation of story in Heike Monogatari and in In the latter, jump to Chapter Two for story of Tsunemasa and the white dragon.
  • The (early 14th century) tells the tale of Ninkai 仁海 (d. 1046), the founder of the Ono branch 小野流 of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism, who was able to leap through the promotion ladder in a single bound to achieve the rank of Sōjō 僧正 (highest rank among clergy). His secret was. While worshipping for 1,000 days, he was brought food offerings by the daughter of Gion no Shōnin Hōshi 祇園上人. This woman eventually became the consort of retired Emperor Shirakawa 白河天皇 (1053-1129), and Ninkai was able, through her influence, to leap straight to the top of the clerical ladder. <Minobe, p. 220>
  • Says Minobe Shigekatsu (pp. 221-222): "At some unknown point in time, Benzaiten came to be thought identical to. This explanation was the result of a confusion of esoteric Buddhism and Shinto in the context of services for and."
  • King Hansoku 斑足王 in the Benevolent Kings Sutra 仁王經 (Ninnōgyō) becomes king through his worship of a deity called Tsuka-gami 塚神. He is able to do so because of a relationship between Tsuka-gami and. The deity Tsuka-gami is none other than or (the deities who live among the grave mounds). The theory that the god of the grave mounds was was transmitted to Japan, but there was also a theory that this deity was. was said to know of people's deaths six months before the event, and was said to eat the livers of those who had died. The origin of this belief stems from the Dainichikyōsho 大日経疏 (8th-century text), which says: " originally ate the livers of the living, but in order to put an end to this practice, transformed himself into and beat. When then complained that she would not have any food to keep her alive, taught her the art of knowing six months before a person's death that the person would die, so that she would be able to have first claim on the livers of the dead. <Minobe, pp. 223-226>

Other Dakini Resources

  • Faure, Bernard. Delivered at a three-day symposium entitled "Images and Objects in Japanese Buddhist Practice" at the Columbia Center for Japanese Religion, New York. Held on Oct. 7, 8, and 9, 2010.
  • Iyanaga, Nobumi., 1997, 62 pages.

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Dakiniten, Tengu, and White Foxes

Tonyugyo Tengu and Suyochiso Tengu in the Dakini Mandala (Osaka)spacerSometime in the Muromachi period (1392-1568), for reasons unknown (to me), two warrior-like crow-faced goblins began appearing in artwork, the white-colored Tonyūgyō 頓遊行神 holding a spear (or other weapon) and the red-colored Suyochisō 須臾馳走神 sporting wings. These goblins appear, for example, in the. Their names suggest "swiftness" and thus they appear animated. <> The two are considered Dakini's attendants, as well as martial deities who serve Inari Daimyōjin 稲荷大明神 at 伏見稲荷大社 in Kyoto (Japan's first and oldest shrine). Prior to the appearance of Tonyūgyō and Suyochisō in artwork, various cults had sprung up at numerous holy mountain sites. One well-known example is Dōryō Daigongen 道了大権現. Dōryō was a mountain ascetic before becoming a Soto Zen monk. He was eventually appointed as head cook and administrator at 大雄山 (Kanagawa Prefecture). After his death in 1411 CE, legend says he metamorphosed into a and became the monastery guardian. According to scholar (2005): "[Upon his death] his body was engulfed in flames as he appeared transformed and stood on a white fox to promise a life free from illness and full of riches for those who sincerely worshipped him." Other important fox-riding include Izuna Saburō 飯綱三郎天狗 at sacred Mt. Iizuna (Izuna) 飯綱山 in Nagano Prefecture, whose cult is first mentioned in the Kamakura-era text Asabashō 阿婆縛抄 (1279), and Akibasan Sanshakubō 秋葉山三尺坊 (Nagano), who is also thought to have originated in the Mt. Iizuna area. See photos below.

Dakini with Five Heads atop White Fox
5-Headed Dakini (one head is a Tengu)
aka Five-Headed Yaksha 五面夜叉
Scroll. Color on Silk. H = 82 cm, W = 31 cm.
Edo Period. Artist Unknown.

Dakini in the Guise of a Tengu (atop white fox)
MODERN. Akibasan Sanshakubō 秋葉山三尺坊 (Nagano)
and Izuna Saburō 飯綱三郎天狗. (Sendai)
Both depicted atop a white fox, holding sword and rope.
Both are manifestations of.

The deity sits atop a white fox. The central head is, surrounded by Benzaiten, the elephant-headed 歓喜天 (aka 聖天), 荒神 (the syncretic Shinto-Buddhist deity of the kitchen and cooking stove), and the syncretic deity Iizuna Saburō 飯綱三郎天狗 (see photo at right).

Says Chaudhuri (p. 157): "The Edo-era text Reijū Zatsuroku 霊獣雑録 mentions shrines dedicated to Iitsuna (Iizuna, Izuna) 飯綱. The deity at such places is the. People say the evil rites of are practiced here, and the fox used for ulterior motives." For more, see &


 

izuna-gongen-1783-butsuzozui-mt-takao-H302
Izuna Gongen 飯繩権現
or Izuna Gongen 飯綱権現
Drawing in the 18th-century
Honji is Fudō Myō-ō
仏像図彙

MORE ON THE IZUNA CULT. The Izuna cult (in Nagano prefecture) was closely connected with belief, as well as belief in and (in his manifestation as ). Says "A kind of magical technique was adopted from the Era Names & Dates:
Standard dating scheme found in both Japan and the West.
  • Ancient refers to the Asuka and Nara periods (538-794)
  • Classical refers to the Heian period (794-1185)
  • Medieval refers to the Kamakura era (1185-1333), Muromachi era (1336-1573), and Edo era (1600-1867)
  • Modern refers to everything since 1868 (Meiji, Taisho, Showa, & Heisei periods)

    NOTE: Ancient & Classical are sometimes used collectively to refer to everything through the Nara era. The Edo Period is also known as "Early Modern," while Meiji and after are the "Modern" period. The term "Premodern" refers to pre-Meiji.

involving the use of fox mediums. This belief spread even among members of the court and warriors; the deputy shogun Hosokawa Masamoto 細川政元 (1466-1507) was known to have practiced the Izuna-Atago techniques (ref. Ashikaga Kiseiki 足利奇跡 of the 14th-15th century, Jūhen Ōninki), and the imperial regent Kujō Tanemichi 九条稙通 (1506-1594/7) is likewise said to have studied Izuna practices (ref. Matsunaga Teitoku, Taionki). These fox-related practices, known as kitsune tsukai 狐使い, later came to be called izuna tsukai 飯綱使い." Izuna Gongen was also venerated by top military commanders such as Takeda Shingen 武田信玄 (1521–1573) and Uesugi Kenshin 上杉謙信 (1530–1578).

SPECULATION. The "food chain" may be the common connection between Dakiniten-Benzaiten and the. Let us also recall that Benzaiten's holy days occur on days, months, and years of the snake and the boar. Consider the following Zen story: "One day a hunter was in the mountains when he happened to see a snake killing a bird. Suddenly a boar appeared and began to devour the snake. The hunter thought he should kill the boar, but changed his mind because he did not want to be a link in such a chain and cause his own death by the next predator to come along. On his way home he heard a voice call to him from the top of a tree. It was the voice of a. It told him how lucky he was, for had he killed the boar, the tengu would have killed him. The man subsequently moved into a cave and never killed another animal." <Sources: (by Carol Mack, Dinah Mack) and (by Katherine M. Ball).> This tale is an adaptation of a much earlier story from Japan's Konjaku Monogatari 今昔物語, a late-11th-century collection of stories from India, China, and Japan. In one, the Chinese sage Chuang Tzu has the chance to kill a heron that is trying to catch a prawn that is trying to catch a tiny bug. Chuang thought to himself: "Neither the heron nor the prawn knows that someone is going to harm it. Each thinks only of harming another. I likewise was going to kill the heron. For all I know there might be a being superior to me who is going to harm me. I'll run away to prevent that," and he took to his heels. Read the English version in Marian Ury's p. 79, or Also see by Wakabayashi Haruko.

 

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DAI BENZAITEN - Holding Sword & Jewel
Kichijōten (Skt. = Lakṣmī) Confusion
Daibenten 大弁天, Daibenzaiten 大弁才天, Daibenkudokuten 大弁功徳天

 

Another name for Benzaiten
She is also one of

Spellings
Jp. = Daibenten 大辯天
Jp. = Daibenzaiten 大辯財天
Jp. = Daibenkudokuten 大辯功徳天
Chn. =Dàbiàn tiān
Krn. = 대변천
Krn. = Daebyeon cheon

 Art historian translated Daibenzaiten as "Great Divinity of the Reasoning Faculty," but it is more commonly translated
as "Goddess of Eloquence."

Daibenzaiten holding sword and wish-granting jewel
Daibenzaiten holding sword
and wish-granting jewel.
Snake coiled atop head.
Photo: 1783

Kichijoten holding and spreading wish-granting jewel, 1783 Butsuzo-zui
Kichijōten holding wish-granting
jewel and spreading them about.
Photo: 1783

Daibenzaiten with serpent or dragon tail, Meiji Period, 27
Daibenzaiten. Modern, with snake
tail, holding sword & jewel. By
Iwamoto Han 巌本繁, 1894. Color
on Silk, 116 x 42 cm.

Kichijoten holding and spreading wish-granting jewel, 1783 Butsuzo-zui
Dakiniten holding sword & jewel,
riding atop white fox.
Photo: 1783

spacerDaibenzaiten 大弁才天 (Daibenten for short) is an iconic two-armed form of Benzaiten that became popular from Japan's Kamakura era (13th century) onward. In this manifestation, she is commonly depicted with the good-fortune snake deity atop her head, and hence may also be identified as. Dressed in heavenly gowns, Daibenten's right hand holds a sword (riken 利劍, symbolizing wisdom, discrimination, power over evil, the slashing away of ignorance) and the left a (hōju 宝珠, a magical gem that represents the power of Buddha's teachings and brings forth whatever one desires, including treasure, food and clothing, healing of sickness or suffering, and victory on the battlefield). While the sword is one of Benzaiten's traditional attributes, the wish-granting jewel is not standard and should be viewed as a purely Japanese convention. The jewel became one of Benzaiten's defining attributes sometime in the 13th century, when she was merged with the snake-kami. Her two-armed, sword-wielding, jewel-holding, snake-related form is described in 13th-century texts known as the. In some traditions, the jewel was obtained from the dragon king of the sea -- and the serpentine dragon, if we recall, is one of Benzaiten's main avatars. <; sign in with user name = guest>

Edo-era scholar Amano Sadakage 天野信景 (1663-1733), in his famous work Shiojiri 塩尻, pointed out various errors in Benzaiten iconography. First, he said, Benzaiten is not the deity of fortune -- it is 吉祥天 (Skt. = Lakṣmī) who performs that role. Therefore it was wrong to of Benzaiten's name from 弁才天 to 弁財天, with the character 才 (zai), meaning talent, replaced with its homonym 財 (zai), meaning wealth. Second, depictions of Benzaiten holding the wish-granting jewel are incorrect. It is (the Hindu-Buddhist goddess of beauty, luck, prosperity, and merit) who holds the jewel. Alas. No one was listing to Amano.

In modern Japan, Benzaiten has clearly supplanted (the former goddess of wealth, one of the in early groupings, but since dropped). Today both Benzaiten and are still conflated and confused in popular imagination. Both are considered celestial goddesses of fortune. Both arrived in Japan at approximately the same time -- the oldest extant images of the two (from the 8th century) are housed together at Sangatsudō 三月堂 of Tōdaiji Temple 東大寺 in Nara. Both deities were introduced to Japan via their descriptions in the (a scripture of great influence in old Japan for protecting the nation). Both are members of the (Nijūten 二十天), a grouping that appeared in the 9th-century Nittō Shingu Shōgyō Mokuroku 入唐新求聖教目錄. In this text they are known as Daibenzaiten 大辯才天 (aka Sarasvati or Benzaiten) and Daikudokuten 大功德天 (aka Lakṣmī or ). Both appear in Japanese artwork wearing beautiful gowns and holding a wish-granting jewel. Both were listed as members of Japan's in the 1783 Zōho Shoshū Butsuzō-zui 増補諸宗仏像図彙 (Enlarged Edition of the ). But, by the late Edo period (19th century), had disappeared from the group. Today the sole female member of the is Benzaiten.

Another cause of confusion involves the deity Daibenkudokuten 大辯功徳天 (Dai Ben Ku Doku Ten), a member of the protecting the, one presiding over virtue, merit, prosperity and good luck, and fulfilling the wishes of devotees. In Chinese texts and scriptures, Daibenkudokuten is an alternative Chinese spelling for (i.e. Benzaiten). <>. In Japan's famous medieval epic Heike Monogatari 平家物語, Tsunemasa (a poet and musician) visits Benzaiten's sanctuary at, where he kneels and declares Daibenkudokuten to be the "bringer of salvation for sentient beings.....those who worship here even once will have every wish granted." <> However, in the and other Japanese texts, Daibenkudokuten is considered a manifestation of 吉祥天 (aka Lakṣmī aka Makashiri 摩訶室利). The famous 13th-century statue of Daibenkudokuten installed at Sanjūsangendō 三十三間堂 in Kyoto (see photo #6 below) is classified by the temple as, not Benzaiten. In Hindu myths, Lakṣmī was born from the sea and is considered the wife of. In Japan, she is said to be the younger sister of (or sometimes his wife) and is considered the daughter of the dragon king and goddess (Skt. = Hariti). In Japanese artwork (see below), Daibenkudokuten holds a wish-granting jewel (nyoi hōju 如意寶珠) -- a magical gem that brings forth one's wishes. Since both Benzaiten and are associated in Japan with water, dragons, good luck, and the wish-granting jewel, the two are sometimes confused. This confusion is compounded by their linkage with Daibenkudokuten.

Adding further bewilderment is the Itsukushima Engi 厳島縁起 (aka Itsukushima Honji 厳島本地), a 13th-century Japanese text about the origins of the Benzaiten stronghold in Hiroshima called 厳島神社. Inexplicably, this document fails to mention Benzaiten's name even once. Instead, the story begins with the main character falling in love with a picture of drawn on a fan (his family heirloom). The shrine has a sanctuary dedicated to Benzaiten but nothing whatsoever for worship of. <see Chaudhuri, p. 38 and 47> Incidentally, had her own independent cult from Japan's 8th century onward, but for reasons unknown (to me), her popularity declined steadily and by the Edo period she was largely supplanted by Benzaiten. In addition, the martial deity (also of Hindu origin) is revered in Japan as a Buddhist goddess of wealth and prosperity. She was counted along with Benzaiten and as one of a trio of "three deities" (Santen 三天) invoked by merchants for good fortune during the Edo period, but her place too was largely supplanted by Benzaiten. 's mount is a boar -- and, if we recall, Benzaiten's holy days are on days of the snake and the boar.

Curiously the standard sword-and-jewel iconography of Daibenzaiten is likewise a hallmark of the Hindu-Buddhist goddess (see photo at right). is customarily depicted in Japan as a benevolent deity riding a white fox and holding a sword and wish-granting jewel. If the fox were removed, she would look exactly like Daibenzaiten -- the fox, in fact, is often the only clue to differentiate the two. Furthermore, and appear often in Benzaiten artwork (e.g., ). SPECULATION: Both are associated with rituals for consecrating the emperor -- with accession ceremonies for new emperors (Sokuishiki 即位式), and with the New-Year ritual Goshichinichi Mishuhō 後七日御修法. This may or may not have played a role in their linkage with Benzaiten and their frequent appearance in Benzaiten art.

Let us end this section with some salient points from by scholar Saroj Kumar Chaudhuri (Vedams 2003; see partial book preview at ):

  • Just like Lakṣmī, Sarasvatī was also introduced to the Japanese by the [mid 8th century] It can be imaged that with more potent Lakṣmī around to bestow wealth, the promise [of Benzaiten] of bestowing scholarly attainment roused very little interest among the Japanese, who had no tradition of scholarship.....the rulers of the period were more eager to stabilize the economy, rather than promote learning. Contemporary literary works of Japan virtually ignored Sarasvatī. (p. 44)
     
  • Itsukushima Engi 厳島縁起 [13th-century Japanese text], narrating the origin of the [a in Hiroshima], fails to mention the name Sarasvatī. However, for some strange reason, it mentions Lakṣmī (p. 47)......the 1447 ū 臥雲日件録 suggests the possibility of both Lakṣmī and Sarasvatī being enshrined in........according to one legend, a beautiful lady came to the island by boat in the reign of Empress Suiko 推古天皇 (554-628).......the lady said she had been wandering on the sea. This place was very solemn and majestic. So she would settle here. She next turned into a big snake. This serpentine form suggests that the lady may be Sarasvatī. However, in the next breath, the same entry says that, according to popular legend, the has two husbands, one old and another new. The new husband is Vaiśravaṇa (aka ). In Japanese works, it is Lakṣmī (not Sarasvatī) who is mentioned as the consort of Vaiśravaṇa.

Daibenzaiten, Daibenkudokuten, and Kichijōten
Below black-and-white images from the 1690 仏像図彙 (Illustrated Compendium of Buddhist Images) and the expanded 1783 version Zōho Shoshū 増補諸宗仏像図彙 (Enlarged Edition Encompassing Various Sects of the Illustrated Compendium of Buddhist Images).

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Daibenzaiten in the 1690 Butsuzo-zui
Daibenzaiten
大辯財天, 1690
spelling changed

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Daibenzaiten in the 1783 Butsuzo-zui
Daibenzaiten
大弁才天, 1783
spelling changed

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Daiben Kudokuten in the 1690 Butsuzo-zui
Daibenkudokuten
大弁功徳天
1690

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Daiben Kudokuten in the 1783 Butsuzo-zui
Daibenkudokuten
大弁功徳天
1783

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Kichijoten in the 1690 Butsuzo-zui
Kichijōten
吉祥天
 1690

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Kichijoten in the 1783 Butsuzo-zui
Kichijōten
吉祥天
 1783

daibenzaiten-yokohama-city
Daibenten
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The world's largest statue of Benzaiten, completed in year 2000 in southern Kyushu.
Daibenten
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daibenzaiten-Tokyo
8-Armed Daibenten
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13th-century-daibenzaiten
Daibenten
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Daibenkudokuten at Sanjusangendo in Kyoto, Kamakura Period
Daibenkudokuten / Kichijōten
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Kichijoten at Todaiji Temple (Nara), 8th century CE
Kichijōten
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kichijoten-horyuji-116.7cm-wood-sarai-oct-20-2005
Kichijōten
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kichijoten-1340-kofukuji-wood-busshi-kankei-#56-Japan-Natl-Treasures
Kichijōten
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  1. At Seto Jinja 瀬戸神社 (Yokohama City). Muromachi Era. Important Cultural Property of Yokohama. Left hand holds wish-granting jewel; missing right hand with sword; the snake kami appears atop her head.
  2. The world's largest statue of Daibenzaiten, completed in year 2000 in southern Kyushu..
  3. holding sword, jewel, and other objects. and shrine gate atop head. Takahatasan Myō-ō-in Temple 高幡山明王院金剛寺  in Tokyo. Painted wood. No date given.
  4. Wood with polychromy, cut gold leaf, and inlaid crystal eyes. Kamakura Period, 13 Century, Private Collection. Photo taken at Tokyo National Museum (July 2010). Small effigy of (god of foodstuffs) atop head.
  5. Daibenkudokuten 大弁功徳天 (another name for Benzaiten or for ). Treasure of Sanjūsangendō 三十三間堂 in Kyoto. Wood. Height = 164 cm. Kamakura Period. National Treasure. The temple says this statue of Daibenkudokuten is not Benzaiten, but rather a manifestation of 吉祥天 (Skt. = Lakṣmī), a goddess often confused with Benzaiten. Yet, technically speaking, the term "Daibenkudokuten" is an alternative Chinese spelling for Benzaiten. It can be translated as "Deva of Great Virtue and Merit," and somewhere along the line the Japanese applied the term to. Photo scanned from Sanjūsangendō catalog.
  6. Japan's oldest statue. H = 202 cm. 754 CE, Sangatsudō 三月堂, Tōdaiji Temple 東大寺 in Nara. Standing clay image, badly damaged. Paired with an equally old Benzaiten statue (). Photo scanned from magazine 日本の仏像 (Japan's Buddha Statues), No. 8, Aug. 2007.
  7. . This goddess is often mistaken for Benzaiten, as both are depicted as beauties holding a wish-granting jewel. Wood. H = 116.7 cm. Late Heian period (1078 AD). Hōryūji Temple 法隆寺 in Nara. Photo courtesy magazine Serai サライ, 20 Oct. 2005.
  8. . Painted wood. Kōfukuji Temple 興福寺 in Nara. Dated to 1340 and carved by Busshi Kankei 覚慶. Photo courtesy National Treasures of Japan 日本の国宝 magazine, published 22 March 1998, V.056.

Daibutsu - Big Benzaiten in Kyushu, completed in year 2000
The world's largest statue of Daibenzaiten, completed in year 2000 in southern Kyushu.
Located at Saifukuji Temple 最福寺, Kagoshima City 鹿児島市, Kyushu.
Height = 18.5 meters, Weight 15 tons, Sword 8 meters in height. Shrine Gate & (H = 3 meters) in headdress.
Carved by 松本明慶 and his team from a 500-year-old Canadian cypress tree (Hiba, 檜葉).
During the statue's Kaigen Kuyō 開眼供養 (eye-opening ceremony), a string was attached to Benzaiten's hand which
extended out to the entrance, where visitors/worshippers could touch it to gain a karmic connection with the goddess.
Photo Sources: (J-site) and (J-site).

 

 

 

 

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Daikokuten, Benzaiten & Bishamonten
Three-Faced Sanmen Daikokuten 三面大黒天
Plus other artwork involving the trio

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sanmen-daikoku-butsuzozui-1690-TN160
3-headed, 6-armed Sanmen Daikokuten 三面大黒天
From the 1690

Jump to Kojin page (god of the hearth, the kitchen fire, and the protector of land, cattle, and horses.
Sanmen Daikoku's role is similar
to, the 3-headed
Shintō kami of the kitchen & cooking stove. In the popular mind, and are identical. Effigies of
or Sanmen Daikokuten placed
in kitchens are thus
sometimes called Kōjin.

Says JAANUS: "It appears that came to be a protector of the food supply because images of him were placed in monastery kitchens in India and in China. In Japan this practice is said to have been begun by Saichō on Mt. Hiei. Later became more closely associated with food and good forture. This tendancy was reinforced by his identification with the Shinto deity 大国主命." <end quote>

 

 

Benzaiten appears as one of three deities in the still-popular three-faced six-armed Sanmen Daikokuten 三面大黒天 esoteric form. Saichō 最澄 (767-822), the founder of Japan's esoteric Tendai sect, is traditionally credited with introducing Sanmen Daikokuten to Japan, but the deity did not appear in artwork until around the late 14th century. The three -- with in the center, to his right, and Benzaiten to his left -- stand atop bales of rice and hold various objects symbolizing protection and wealth, including the key to the granary and the. The three, all of Hindu origin, are believed to protect the three Buddhist treasures (the Buddha, the law, and the community of followers). Sanmen Daikokuten also awards followers with virtue and wealth. An alternate name for the deity is Bumon Daikoku 武門大黒 (Warriors' Daikoku 武門大黒), with Daikoku typically holding a wish-granting jewel and sword. He also comes in a wrathful form, as a war deity who conquers evil, has three faces, six arms, and is colored black. In this latter form, he wears a snake as a bracelet and a skull as a necklace. and appear frequently as members of Benzaiten's retinue in the and in paintings of and. It is important to note that Benzaiten appears in from the Shingon camp, a trio that includes Benzaiten,, and (Kangiten). Sanmen Daikoku was created by the Tendai school -- most probably an attempt to compete against the. MORE ABOUT SANMEN DAIKOKUTEN. Says the (login = guest): "A special form of Mahākāla, having a unique body with three faces, the center being Mahākāla (Jp. ), the left being Vaiśravaṇ (Jp. ), and the right being Sarasvatī (Jp. Benzaiten). This form was created in Japan, probably around the latter half of the 14th century or later, in the Tendai school. Legends say that when Saichō wanted to found the Enryakuji Temple on Mt. Hiei, he prayed for divine protection and assistance. In reply to his prayer, a divinity with three faces appeared and promised to grant his request: that was Sanmen Daikokuten. Traditionally, the protecting deity of Mt. Hiei is the deity of Mt. Miwa 三輪山, Miwa Daimyōjin 三輪大明神, who is 大物主尊 (cf. Hie Taisha 日吉大社 and 山王權現). [also known as Ō-Hiei Gongen, the 17th kami of the.] There was an assimilation of Miwa Daimyōjin with according to the Miwa Daimyōjin Engi 三輪大明神緣起, which is dated from 1318, but based probably on a document written by Eison 叡尊 (1201-1290) in 1285. At the latest from this period onward, was believed as the protecting deity of Mt. Hiei. On the other hand, the idea of one deity with three faces can be traced back to the protecting yakṣa deity of the Shingon headquarters temple in Kyōto, the Tōji 東寺 (officially named Kyō-ō Gokoku-ji 教王護國寺), named Yashajin 夜叉神 or 摩多羅神, who was constituted of 聖天 (Gaṇeśa) at the center, 荼吉尼天 at the left, and Benzaiten (Sarasvatī) at the right, according to a work by Shukaku 守覺 (1150-1202). In the tradition of Tōji, this deity was connected to the Japanese deity 稲荷, who was considered as the protecting deity of the whole temple. Thus, it is possible that the cult of Sanmen Daikoku was created in Mt. Hiei, on the basis and in competition with Yashajin of the Tōji. In the later Era Names & Dates:
Standard dating scheme found in both Japan and the West.
  • Ancient refers to the Asuka and Nara periods (538-794)
  • Classical refers to the Heian period (794-1185)
  • Medieval refers to the Kamakura era (1185-1333), Muromachi era (1336-1573), and Edo era (1600-1867)
  • Modern refers to everything since 1868 (Meiji, Taisho, Showa, & Heisei periods)

    NOTE: Ancient & Classical are sometimes used collectively to refer to everything through the Nara era. The Edo Period is also known as "Early Modern," while Meiji and after are the "Modern" period. The term "Premodern" refers to pre-Meiji.

and during the Edo period, the cult of Sanmen Daikoku as a god of fortune was very popular, and there exist many little statues of this deity in wood. [Bibliography: Hōbōgirin, 7.902b-905a; 彌永信美 (Nobumi IYANAGA), 大黒天変相 — 佛教神話学 I, Kyoto, Hōzōkan 法藏館, 2002, p. 547 [Iyanaga, Nakamura]"

The competition between these two sects is also emphasized by scholar Chaudhuri Saroj (p. 158), who says: "The rivalry between the Shingon and Tendai sects may also have a hand in the association of foxes and. Under the doctrine of Shinbutsu Shūgō 神仏習合 (

Honjisuijaku or Honji-suijaku Setsu :
Theory of original reality and manifest traces. A theory of Buddhist-Shinto syncretism. Originally a Buddhist term used to explain the Buddha's nature as a metaphysical being (honji) and the Historical Buddha (i.e. Sakyamuni) as a trace manifestation (suijaku). This theory was used in Japan to explain the relationship between the various Buddha and Shinto kami; the many Buddha were regarded as the honji, and the Shinto kami as their incarnations or suijaku. Theoretically, honji and suijaku are an indivisible unity and there is no question of valuing one more highly than the other; but in the early Nara period, the honji were regarded as more important than the suijaku. Gradually they both came to be regarded as one; but in the Kamakura period, Shintoists also proposed the opposite theory, that the Shinto kami were the honji and the Buddha were the suijaku. This latter theory is called han-honji-suijaku setsu or shinpon-butsuju setsu.

), the Shintō gods Ōyamakui and, the presiding deities of the famous Hiyoshi Taisha 日吉大社 (aka Hie Jinja 日吉神社; located on Mt. Hiei), became the guardian deities of Enryakuji Temple, the head temple of the Tendai Sect [on Mt. Hiei]. was considered to be the messenger of these. Perhaps, out of rivalry, the Shingon Sect accorded similar status to and the fox for the Tōji Temple, one of their premier temples."  

sanmen-daikokuten-benzaiten-holding-key-Better-SS-TN
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Sanmen Daikokuten
Daikokuten, Benzaiten, Bishamonten

sanmen-daikokuten-benzaiten-BA-SS-TN
Click Photo  to Enlarge.
Sanmen Daikokuten
Daikokuten, Benzaiten, Bishamonten

sanmen-daikokuten-1690-1783-butsuzou-zui-TN
Click Photos  to Enlarge.
Sanmen Daikokuten
From the 1690 & 1783

benzaiten-siebold-W200
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plus Daikokuten & Bishamonten.
From Philipp Franz von Siebold.

8-Armed Uga Benzaiten
Click Photo  to Enlarge.

Benzaiten, Bishamonten, Daikokuten
Plus white foxes, 15 disciples, etc.

TN-benzaiten-tenkawa-mandala-2
Click Photo  to Enlarge.

Benzaiten, Bishamonten, Daikokuten
Plus white foxes, 15 disciples, etc.

  1. Sanmen Daikokuten at Eishinji Temple 英信寺 in Tokyo's Taitō Ward. One of three famous effigies of the 3-headed Daikoku in the Edo period. To 's right is, to the left Benzaiten (shown here holding the key to the storehouse).
  2. Sanmen Daikokuten inside zushi. Modern wood statue. Available online at
  3. Sanmen Daikokuten, with (center), Benzaiten (left), and (right). Drawings from the 1690 and 1783.
  4. , plus and. From Philipp Franz von Siebold's Nippon Archiv zur Beschreibung von Japan. Leiden (1831 CE). Siebold got the images from the    |      |      |  
  5. Benzaiten Mandala. Early Edo era. H = 83 cm, W = 38.5. This small cutout from the mandala depicts the. She is surrounded by,, and. Location unknown.
  6. Mandala 天川弁才天曼荼羅 「天河と能楽」. Surrounded by,, and. Two white foxes fly above her head. They represent,, or both. (photo #3, caption #3).       
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Seven Lucky Gods, 1783 Butsuzo-zui (includes Kichijoten, excludes Fukurokuju)
From the 1783
As members of the
Click to Enlarge.

Daikokuten with miniature statue of Benzaiten hidden inside the main statue
Daikokuten with miniature
icon of Benzaiten inside.
See details at left.

Why Benzaiten,, and?
Why do these three appear together in numerous Japanese groupings? Unknown, but all three are worshiped independently, all are members of the, and all share various associations that involve the iconography of warfare, treasure (hence agriculture), and prosperity. For example, all three were introduced to Japan in the 6th-8th centuries as state-protecting warrior deities. This helps to explain why the trio are portrayed together as the and held in high esteem by warriors. All three came to great prominence during the Kamakura & Muromachi periods (approx. 1185 to 1573), a time of incessant civil disturbance. The great military commanders of those days adopted these deities as personal saviors. The, for instance, was popular among samurai warriors like Minamoto Yoritomo 源頼朝 (1147-1199; the first shogun), Oda Nobunaga 織田信長 (1534-1582; the great unifier), Toyotomi Hideyoshi 豊臣秀吉 (1536-1598; Nobunaga's chief general), and Kobayakawa Takakage 小早川隆景 (1533-1597; a powerful daimyo and ally of Hideyoshi). Both Minamoto Yoritomo and Taira no Kiyomori 平清盛 (1118-1181) worshipped to keep personal enemies at bay. The founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Tokugawa Ieyasu 徳川家康 (1543-1616), was said to be a fervent believer in (need to give primary resource for this). Finally, from the 13th through 15th centuries, the orthodox Buddhist sects () plus the ) competed fiercely for followers, not only among themselves, but against the newly formed and thriving schools of (Pure Land, Zen, & Nichiren), which stressed pure and simple faith over complicated rites and doctrines and deplored the perfumed embroidery of the court and the intellectual elitism of the entrenched monasteries.

Amidst this volatile scene, Japan's orthodox sects probably employed popular gods in new formats to attract and maintain their followers. The of Japan, for example, appeared sometime in the 15th century. If the above overview is accurate, it helps to explain why,, and Benzaiten began appearing often together in Japanese artwork and why they are included among Japan's.

There are various other configurations that overlap in less obvious ways. For instance, the color white is closely associated with all three (Benzaiten's companion, white rat and white hare, and ), not to mention white fox, as discussed earlier. Benzaiten was fused with, who was fused with (kami of rice whose messenger is a white fox)., moreover, is a servant of (the lord of five grains and agriculture; who in Hindu myths wears a snake bracelet). is a powerful defender of Buddhist law and the lord of treasure -- and since rice and food are considered treasure and indicative of prosperity, association with the group is most befitting. See.

PHOTO AT RIGHT. Daikokuten with miniature icon ( 懸仏 or 像内納入品) of Benzaiten playing biwa located within. Kamakura era, Saidaiji Temple 西大寺, Nara. Photo Kanazawa Bunko 金沢文庫 Exhibtion Catalog (Dec. 9 - Feb. 5, 2012) Messages from Within: The World of Icons Hidden Inside Buddhist Statues. 仏像からのメッセジ-像内納入品の世界

 

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Benzaiten, Dakiniten, Kankiten
Three Devas as One Composite Fox-Riding Deva
In this configuration, Benzaiten once again appears with her standard (and by now familar) cast of supporting characters, i.e.,,,, a white fox, wish-granting jewels, and. But it introduces a newcomer, the elephant-headed 聖天 (aka Kangiten 歓喜天). How do we account for the newcomer? It is not hard. There are at least three different ways: (1) the unction of enthronement rite for installing new emperors, in which (the central deity) is flanked by Shōten and Benzaiten; (2) the Shōten = Kannon = Inari = Dakini = Benzaiten route; (3) the Mahākāla route.

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Jump to three-headed, fox-riding deva
3-Headed Fox-Riding Deva
Muromachi Era, 15th Century.
Its three faces are those of
, Benzaiten, &
(or Kangiten).

In contrast to the Tendai school's three-faced standing atop bales of rice, the three-faced Shingon version features Benzaiten,, and (Kangiten) sitting atop a white fox. This three-faced deity is considered a messenger of. Although the disposition of the faces may vary, one of the faces commonly includes an effigy of atop its head. Such paintings flourished in the Nanbokuchō and Muromachi periods (14th through 16th centuries). Says scholar Bernard Faure in "Toward the end of the Heian period, an esoteric Buddhist text referred to a strange three-faced deity called Yakṣa or as the protector of Tōji 東寺, the headquarters of the Shingon school. Its three faces were those of the devas, Benzaiten, and (or Kangiten), three major figures of medieval esotericism. Unfortunately, no representation of that deity remains. It is only some three or four centuries later, during the Muromachi period, that a series of painted scrolls representing the Three Devas as one composite fox-riding deity surrounded by its acolytes became popular. These paintings present affinities with another type of representation known as the. This paper is trying to address the iconological problems raised by such paintings and their cultic background."

The ritual text Gyoki 御記 (1179 CE; T. 78, no. 2493, p. 614a15-21) by Japanese monk Shukaku 守覺 (1150-1202) mentions this three-faced deity -- with as the central golden face, Benzaiten on the right with a red face, and on the left with a white face. The color of the faces no doubt indicates some function (unknown to me). Perhaps "red" and "white" represent male and female energies, which would help explain the inclusion of the duel-headed (male-female). Continues Faure: "It was said to be a messenger of, and was believed to predict future events, eliminate calamities, and bring good fortune." In later times, he says, this three-headed image fit quite naturally the ternary logic of the Tendai school. "These Devas were said to represent the Three Truths of Tendai, corresponding to the Womb Realm, the Vajra Realm, and the Realm of Realization (susiddhi). The Three Devas were also worshiped on the margins or outside of Buddhism, in religious trends that came to be known as Onmyōdō 陰陽道 [Yin-Yang Divination],, and. The importance of the fox of and the role of the 'Three Foxes' in apotropaic rituals, have perhaps paved the way to the representation of the Three Devas as a fox-riding deity." <end quote Faure> This strange grouping of three Hindu deva is not as "arbitrary" or incoherent as it may seem. With just a little digging, we can find at least two sets of associations.

  • SET ONE. Shōten → Eleven-faced Kannon → Mahākāla → Dakiniten → Benzaiten
    The duel-bodied (or Kangiten) embodies the story of the assuming female form to subjugate an evil king; also see story of the evil flesh-eating King Kalmāṣapāda who hopes to ascend the throne but eventually becomes good; one version of the story mentions Mahākāla (), who is the leader of the flesh-eating, and it was who served as the central deity in Japanese enthronement rites from the 14th century onward. When was the main deity in enthronement rites, she was flanked by and Benzaiten. <See Iyanaga, pp. 150-153, Logic of Combinatory Deities>
  • SET TWO. Inari → Nyoirin Kannon → Benzaiten → Dakini → Mahākāla → Shōten
    Except for, all are associated with the wish-granting jewel and fox. (fox, jewel) = (fox, jewel) = (fox, jewel) = Benzaiten (dragon-snake, fox, jewel). A white elephant is also part of the interlocking mythological of  the "jewel woman" (aka ). However, the association between the elephant-headed and Mahākāla-Dakini requires a few extra steps. <See Fremerman, p. 27; also includes research by Faure>
  • SET THREE. Mahākāla (Jp. = ) is the subduer of the. The dakini are demons under the orders of the goddess Kālī, who is the feminine form of Mahākāla. The was derived in large part from the Hindu battle goddess Durgā, who is a manifestation of Kālī. Finally, in the various myths involving, we encounter Mahākāla as well. Thus, in this configuration, two faces are probably female (, Benzaiten) while one face is male ().

Three-Headed Dakiniten Mandala (Osaka Municipal Museum of Art)

Dakiniten Mandala, or the Mandala of Three Deva

Dakiniten Mandala, or the Mandala of Three Deva

Dakiniten Mandala, or the Mandala of Three Deva

Dakiniten Mandala, or the Mandala of Three Deva

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Dakiniten Mandala 荼吉尼天曼荼羅. Click images to enlarge.
Three-Headed, 12-Armed, Fox-Riding Goddess. Early Muromachi Era 室町時代, 15th C
Color on Silk. H 82.5 cm x W 41.4 cm. Taho Collection 田万コレクション.
Also known as the Mandala of the 3-Headed, 12-Armed Dragon-Fox King 三面十二臂辰狐王曼荼羅
NOTE: Not sure why this is called the Dakiniten Mandala, as the central face is Benzaiten.
Photo:   | 

DESCRIPTION OF ABOVE MANDALA. Various syncretic themes appear in the above mandala. The central head represents Benzaiten (atop which is, a snake with an old man's face), the red face depicts (with a white lunar disk above her head), and the third face shows the elephant-headed 歓喜天 (aka 聖天) with a red solar disk (containing a ) atop her head. Above their heads are the. The museum says this piece "incorporates motifs that also reflect Inari Shinkō 稲荷信仰 and Sangaku Shinkō 山岳信仰." This can be translated as faith in (Japanese rice & food kami) and faith in mountain worship and star worship. In Japanese artwork, is often paired with. The messenger of both is a white fox. In addition, the museum says an inscription was found at the back of the mandala, giving it the name 三天合形曼荼羅 (Mandala of Three Deva), and suggesting that it came from Myōtoku-in Temple 比叡山明徳院 (Mt. Hiei, Tendai stronghold). Most of the figures along the border are the 十六童子 (Sixteen Sons or Disciples of Benzaiten), some riding white foxes or other animals. Two appear at the bottom of the scroll (the white-colored 頓遊行 and the red-colored 須臾馳走. The two are considered Dakini's attendants, as well as martial deities who serve Inari Daimyōjin 稲荷大明神 at Japan's first and oldest shrine (in Kyoto) known as 伏見稲荷大社. In the lower third of the painting, we see a red-colored man wearing a black hat (his body sports a fish tail) and a white-colored woman with a fox tail. Their identity is still unclear. The two foxes appearing next to them are biting their tails (details below).

SPECULATION: The identity of the male-female couple sporting a fish tail and fox tail remains a mystery, but there are indications to suggest their reference. The fish-tail male with black hat may be the aforementioned (aka 新羅明神), an esoteric deity who in artwork from the Kamakura-period onward is commonly depicted wearing a black hat and considered a "god of destiny," thus perhaps explaining the appearance in this scroll of the, which were worshipped in the form of the deity 妙見 (the deification of the North Pole Star & Big Dipper), one believed to control the life spans and destinies of the people. is also closely associated with the sun and moon disks and a black. Moreover, "Matarajin," says, "first appeared to the Japanese priest Enchin 円珍 (814-891) as a theriomorphic figure, with a man's head and a serpent's body; as such, he calls to mind, a god associated with the dragon-goddess Benzaiten." Then again, the man with the black hat might be himself (in the guise of Matarajin). As for the fish tail, let us recall that was worshipped in fishing villages as the kami of fishing, and in artwork, is sometimes portrayed wearing a hat. More remotely, the fish tail might be an obscure reference to Tsukuyomi 月読命 (Kami of Agriculture, the Moon, and Ruler of the Night) who killed the food goddess 保食神 after she vomited rice and fish from her mouth to feed him, and from her dead body emerged all manner of cereals (food) and game, including oxen and horses. The fox-tailed female might be herself, who is closely associated with the rice crop and with. The image of two foxes biting the couple's tails brings to mind the imagery of Tantric wheel-of-life paintings. In the center of such paintings one finds three animals () biting each others' tails -- to show that these evils are inseparably connected.

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Mandala of Dakiniten of Kasuga Shrine
Mandala of Dakiniten of Kasuga Shrine ( 春日大社)
Kasuga Daikiniten Mandara Zu 春日荼吉尼天曼荼羅図. Japanese, Muromachi period, 14th century
H = 109.1 cm, W = 32.1 cm, Panel; ink, color, and gold on silk. Photo from Boston Museum of Fine Arts
NOTE: Not sure why this is called the Dakiniten Mandala, as the central face is Shōten (aka ).

DESCRIPTION OF ABOVE MANDALA. Although the details of this painting are hard to see, the 3-headed main deity sits atop a white fox, which appears to be plunging through space with its rear legs shown thrusting prominently behind it. The central face is 歓喜天 (aka 聖天), surrounded on either side by Benzaiten and. A coiled snake representing appears atop 's head. At the top of the mandala is Mt. Kasuga, under which is a deer (the sacred animal of ), an important 8th-century shrine founded in Nara by the Fujiwara 藤原 clan. Along the borders are various deities. Above the 3-headed deity, to the left and right, are the goddesses 吉祥天 and 訶梨帝母. is surrounded by children, while is riding a red bird-like creature, which might be 朱雀 (guardian of the south) or perhaps a. These two goddesses appear often in artwork of Benzaiten, as shown above in the, as well as in the aforementioned. Four female attendants also appear; two (drawn smaller than the rest) below, and two others (riding white foxes) below the central deity. Directly below the main 3-headed deity is a brown-colored figure, which seems to be the traditional dual-headed, dual-bodied form of. Below that is a red-colored deity engulfed in a fire-like circle (probably, who often appears in this form; in the late Edo period, he also appears in artwork as a white snake). Flanking 's upper region are two unknown attendants. One appears to be riding a dragon. These two unidentified deities might be the same two that appear in the. The last two figures at the bottom are the, and the three-headed, six-armed, black-colored, who in artwork commonly carries an elephant skin and sword while grasping the hair of a Gaki 餓鬼 () and the horns of a sheep. Various offerings are strewn about the bottom of the painting. 

AIZEN & DAKINI. MORE RESEARCH REQUIRED
Who is the red deity engulfed in a fire-like circle in the Dakini Mandala shown above? Why might it be? And why is portrayed as a snake? Certain iconography strongly suggests this to be Aizen (e.g. the bright red color). But the pivotal link is the wish-granting jewel, an attribute shared by,,, and others., the king of passion, converts earthly desire (love / lust) into spiritual awakening. By the 13th century he was invoked in rites to avoid calamity, to obtain prosperity, or to bring harmony, friendship, and love. In later times he became the protective deity of courtesans. This three-eyed six-armed deity is commonly depicted holding a bow and arrow. The undeniable temptation is to compare to Eros in Greek myth (aka Cupid in Roman myth). But the bow & arrow had nothing to do with love in Buddhism's early development. Rather they symbolized the protection of the state. Perhaps, by the Edo period, Japan linked the Greco-Roman Cupid with, and equated the striking of one's heart by the arrow as causing one to fall in love. Aizen is an example of a who was linked with various femininely-inclined deities, including,, and, and sometimes with. Aizen possesses both male and female natures. <source Bernard Faure; see Raging Gods. spacer

click to enlarge
Aizen (perhaps) in the Mandala of Dakiniten at Kasuga Shrine

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Aizen as a snake

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Aizen as a snake

The red-colored deity engulfed in a fire-like circle (as shown in the above Mandala of Dakiniten at Kasuga Shrine) may or may not be.

Aizen as a snake. Edo era. Sitting atop lotus. Wish-granting jewel atop head. H = 50.8 cm, W = 27.0 cm. Saidaiji Temple 西大寺, Nara. Scanned from exhibit catalog at Kanazawa Bunko 神奈川県立金沢文庫, Yokohama.

Aizen as a snake. Edo era. Sitting atop a three-pronged vajra atop a lotus. H = 41.6 cm, W = 27.2 cm. Saidaiji Temple 西大寺, Nara. Scanned from exhibit catalog at Kanazawa Bunko 神奈川県立金沢文庫, Yokohama.


 

 

Aizen Myō-ō
愛染明王

Aizen - Seed Sound - U-UN; Image courtesy of http://www.tctv.ne.jp/tobifudo/
Aizen's Seed Syllable
U-UN

Name: Rāga-rāja

MORE ABOUT AIZEN. is closely connected with the magical wish-granting jewel (Jp. = Hōju 宝珠 or 寶珠; Sanskrit = cintāmaṇi, cintamani), as are Benzaiten,,,, and many other deities. Depending on the deity involved, the jewel can signify the bestowal of blessings on all who suffer, grant wishes, pacify desires, and bring clear understanding of the Dharma (Buddhist law). worshippers often used the jewel to pray for success in their romantic relationships. One important ceremony was called the Jewel of Aizen Myō-ō Rite 如法愛染王法, pronounced Nyohō Aizen ō hō, which was used in the 13th and 14th centuries by esoteric sects to pray for the love and respect of others. This rite is a variant of the main esoteric ceremony known as the Wish-Granting Jewel Rite (Nyoi Hōju Hō 如意宝珠法). This rite began sometime in the late Heian period, spearheaded by the Daigo-ji Temple 醍醐寺 (Shingon) in Kyoto. Elsewhere, the Ise Kanjō Ritual 伊勢勧請 (circa mid-13th century) was preseved on slips of paper called 切紙 (literally "paper strips") describing secret instructions, mudras, mantras, and other esoteria that were handed down from generation to generation. This initiation rite involved the syllable UN -- a syllable at the heart of the ritual -- which is also the seed syllable (shuji 種子) for. The "kirigami go on to teach that the kami of the Inner and Outer Shrine of Ise appear in our world as a golden and a white snake, and in attached kuden 口伝 [editor: secrets orally taught or only written down in secret initiation documents] point out that Aizen's siddham seed syllabe UN, too, has the form of a snake. It would seem that it was this teaching, the revelation that both the kami of Ise and are snakes, that constituted the centre piece of this Ise Kanjō." <Breen, Teeuwen in > Elsewhere, is said to personify lust, anger, and impurity. Please read for many other descriptions of the linkages of these and other deities of desire, demonic features, and esoteric associations (see pages 102-104, 109-111, & 115). The triad of lust, anger, and impurity calls to mind another similar triad associated with the Tibetan Tanka. In the latter, the triad is represented by -- a pig (greed), a snake (anger & hatred), and a rooster (ignorance & delusion). The are often shown biting each others tails, to show that these evils are inseparably connected. It is said these evils stem from fundamental ignorance. Together, the triad is said to represent the root causes of trouble on earth. For a few more details on and avoiding calamity and gaining prosperity, see

 

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Benzaiten's 15 or 16 Disciples
Jūgo Dōji 十五童子 = Fifteen Sons, Boy Attendants, Disciples, Escorts, or Daughters
Jūroku Dōji 十六童子 = Sixteen Sons, Boy Attendants, Disciples, Escorts, or Daughters

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Rokuji Myo-o from the 12th-century Besson Zakki
Uga Benzaiten & 15 Attendants. Early 14th century, hanging scroll, ink & color on paper. H = 129.1.9 cm x 52.4 cm. Coiled snake atop her head. At bottom is a dragon king making offerings. Kotohira-gū Shrine 金刀比羅宮 (Kagawa). Considered the oldest extant painting of and her 15 attendants. Photo Nara National Museum, but scanned from Impressions, Number 33, 2012, story by Catherine Ludvik, Uga Benzaiten: The Goddess & the Snake.

In Japanese Esoteric Buddhism (Mikkyō 密教), Benzaiten is associated with 15 disciples (Jūgo Dōji 十五童子) said to symbolize the crafts for which she is the patroness. They appeared in spurious medieval scriptures (circa 13th century) known as the, as well as the early 14th-century (see ). However, the late 17th-century lexiconical dictionary lists 16 dōji (disciples). This discrepancy "probably" stems from the story appearing in, wherein we learn that a king from southern India named Tokuzen Daiō 徳善大王 (Jp. reading) had 15 sons, but the youngest son mysteriously disappeared seven days after his birth. After making inquires with the semi-divine human Nāgārjuna 龍樹 (Jp. = Ryūju), the king learns that his missing son is living at 背振山 in Japan. The king is overjoyed and together with his 14 sons and Nāgārjuna he travels to Japan, where he becomes an avatar of Benzaiten named Sefuri Gongen 背振権現. His 15 sons, led by the youngest Sensha 船車 (aka 乙護法善神), become Benzaiten's 15 disciples (dōji 童子). The king plus his 15 sons represent a group of 16, so perhaps the confusion lies here -- with the addition of the king. In the same story from the, the king is further identified as one of the (Jūroku Zenshin 十六善神) and one of the 十六大菩薩. Here again we find the number sixteen, which may have prompted the addition of a 16th member. In Japanese artwork, the 15 or 16 Dōji appear in paintings and sculpture portraying the snake-related. Let us note that Nāgārjuna (who journeyed to with the king) literally means "Serpent-Dragon Tree 龍樹." The central pillars at Ise (which we may liken to a tree post) are the residence of Benzaiten, and Nāgārjuna represents the white snakes that reportedly live under the central pillars of the inner and outer shrines at Ise. <source: > Various shrines and temples (e.g., ) represent all 16, and at some locations (e.g. Hase Dera in Kamakura), Benzaiten is associated with 16 daughters. At Kamakura's Hase Dera, a cave with 16 life-size statues, all female, is found on the ground level of the temple. As discussed earlier, Benzaiten artwork is closely related to Japan's main agricultural deities, namely (Japanese kami of rice) and (Buddhist deity of agriculture and wealth). Among the 15-16 sons-daughters, one in particular is related to -- Tōchū 稻籾, who assumes the common iconography of holding bundles of rice -- and another named Zenzai 善財, who is considered a manifestation of either or. It is Zenzai, the 16th member of the group, who was the "addition" and became the group's leader. But in traditions involving only 15 disciples, as at, it is the youngest son Sensha (aka ) who leads the group. is enshrined at, where he is venerated as a servant/manifestation of Benzaiten. He is also venerated at Asosan 阿蘇山 and Shoshazan 書写山.

SPECULATION: In modern-day commentary from the 2005 reprint of the, scholar Ito Takemi 伊藤武美 (b. 1927) mentions a 15-day ritual, starting on the first day of each month and ending on the 15 day of each month, in which daily offerings are made to the wealth-bringing snake kami (Benzaiten's companion). This required one of the sixteen (Zenzai 善財) to be dropped and placed into a class by himself -- as their leader. Ito Takemi says this 15-day offering may have evolved from Chinese Taoist concepts.

Inari Daimyojin as appearing in the 1690 Butsuzo-zui

Tochu Doji as appearing in the 1690 Butsuzo-zui

Inari Daimyojin as appearing in the 1783 Butsuzo-zui

Tochu Doji as appearing in the 1783 Butsuzo-zui

Zenzai Doji as appearing in the 1690 Butsuzo-zui

1690
Inari Daimyōjin
稲荷大明神; rice kami.
22nd Day; One of the

1690
Tōchū Dōji 稲籾童子
5th of Benzaiten's
15/16 Attendants
Holding rice & jewel.

1783
Inari Daimyōjin
稲荷大明神; rice kami.
22nd Day; One of the

1783
Tōchū Dōji 稲籾童子
5th of Benzaiten's 15/16 Attendants
Holding rice & jewel.

1690
Zenzai Dōji 善財童子
Leads the 15; an
avatar of
(god of agriculture)

Benzaiten's 15 (16) Disciples Listed in Their Customary Order. In Japan, these 15 (16) disciples are known as Dōji 童子, meaning boy, youth, prince, or child. Dōji is the Sino-Japanese translation of the Sanskrit term Kumāra 倶摩羅, which refers to those who wish to join the priesthood and begin by becoming servants of the monks.

Sensha Doji, God of Traffic Safety
1783

Gyuba Doji, God of Animals and Husbandry
1783

Shusen Doji, God of Distillers
1783

Hanki Doji, Good of Food and Cooks
1783

Tochu Doji, God of Farmers
1783

Jugo Doji = 15 Sons of Benzaiten. Click to enlarge.
1690

 

Name

Manifestation

Attributes

Esoteric Mantra

1

Inyaku 印鑰 or
Jyakō 麝香

Holds wish-granting jewel and square key; represents guardians, and those who help others achieve enlightenment

おんうかや。ぎヤちぎヤかねい。
えいけいきそわか。

2

Kantai 官帯 or
Sekion 赤音

Holds belt; represents the law; helps people observe the law

おんぎヤかぎヤか。
うかやえいけいきそわか。

3

Hikken 筆硯 or
Kōsei 香精

, aka ; also

Holds brush & writing tablet (ink stone); represents students and civil servants; the god of learning;

おんうかや。えいひじヤ。
えいけいきそわか。

4

Konzai 金財 or
Shōjō 召請

Holds balancing scale; represents doctors; some traditions say Konzai is the god of gold, silver, and treasure, and holds the balancing scale to measure coins; said to bring prosperity

おんうかや。ほされいじヤ。
えいけいきそわか。

5

Tōchū 稻籾 or
Daijin 大神

Shoulders bundles of harvested rice and holds wish-granting jewel; represents farmers and  brings bumper crops

おんされいあされい。
うかや。そわか。

6

Keishō 計升 or
Akujo 悪女

Holds a masu 升 (square container for measuring grain); represents fairness; the god of accounting

おんしつりしつみり。みりはり。
はりさんまんだきヤらしヤに。
うかやえいけいきそわか。

7

Hanki 飯櫃 or
Shitsugetsu 質月

Carries plate of rice on head; represents cooks; the god who bestows food

おんぎヤぎヤなう。
びしユだねい。うかや。そわか。

8

Ishō 衣裳 or
Jōki 除哂

Carries cloth; represents weavers; god who ensures that people are clothed and are not naked to the elements 

おんびもら。びまれい。
うかや。そわか。

9

Sanyō 蠶養
or Himan 悲満

Holds bowl full of silkworms; represents silkworm breeders; the god of silkworms and cocoons and the benefits they bring

おんひまれい。
うかや。そわか。

10

Shusen 酒泉 or
Misshaku 密迹

Muryōju Nyorai
aka

Holds sake jar & wish-granting jewel; represents distillers; god of alcohol; sometimes depicted as though dipping into the keg

おんうかや。
ぎヤらべいぎヤりぎヤり。
そわか。

11

Aikyō 愛敬
or Sekon 施願

Holds bow and arrow; represents military class; the god of love

おんぎヤぎヤりぎヤぎヤり。
そわか。

12

Shōmyō 生命 or
Seiko 臍虚空

Holds sword & wish-granting jewel; represents magistrates; god of longevity

おんうかや。
げんばりげんばり。そわか。

13

Jūsha 従者 or
Semmui 施無畏

or
Ryūju Bosatsu 竜樹菩薩

Holds tray of wish-granting jewels; represents jewellers; god of commerce. Ryūju is the Japanese name for Nāgārjuna.

おんうかや。ぎヤちぎヤち。
我まねいぎヤれい。そわか。

14

Gyūba 牛馬
or Zuirei 随令

Leads a horse and ox; represents livestock breeders and husbandry; the god of animals

おんうかや。まそに。
そわか。

15

Sensha 船車 or
Kōmyō 光明

Guards boat and cart loaded with rice; represents carriers; god of traffic safety; the 14th-century (chapter entitled Gohō no Koto or Matters About Dharma Protectors), Sensha is another name for, the yougest son of an Indian king (who is Benzaiten's avatar). Sensha/Otogohō is thus Benten's adopted son & leader of the others. He is enshrined at (see below), a Benten stronghold.

おんうかや。ほだたつま。
そうぎえい。
ひやくえい。そわか。

Otogohō 乙護法 strongholds include 背振山, Asosan 阿蘇山, and Shoshazan 書写山. Linked also to.

16

Zenzai 善財 or
Otsugo 乙護 or
Otogohō Zenshin
乙護法善神
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or
Benzaiten; also
Sudhana śreṣṭhidāraka
(see note below)
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Holds treasure bag; adopted son of Benzaiten; also one of Monju's 500 Dōji; the leader of the other 15; represents the Kegon-kyō 華厳経 (Garland Sutra), protects Buddhist devotees and those who do good deeds; two conflicting stories about him (see note 5 below);

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Confusion with
Sensha (#15 above)
stemming from two
varying traditions, i.e. are
there 15 disciplines or 16?
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Sources & Notes

  1. 仏像図彙. Above images from both the 1690 original and 1783 expanded version.
  2. , p. 336-337.
  3. Esoteric Mantra Readings. Above mantras come from a spurious medieval-era text known as the 仏説最勝護国宇賀耶頓得如意宝珠王陀羅尼経.
  4. Kōyasan Shingon-shū 高野山真言宗・亀乃瀬弁才天・国分寺.
  5. Zenzai 善財 (#16 in list). There are two conflicting theories about his identity. In one tradition, he is a manifestation of Sudhana śreṣṭhidāraka. (user name = guest): "The story told is of a merchant-banker's son (śreṣṭhidāraka) named Sudhana (lit. 'Good Wealth;' Jp. = Zenzai Dōshi 善財童子), who searches for enlightenment in ancient India during the time of. On the advice of the bodhisattva 文殊師利 (Jp. = Monju), he sets out to visit 'good friends' (善知識; Skt. kalyāṇamitra) in order to learn how to carry out the course of conduct of a. After traveling far and wide across India visiting fifty-two good friends of various occupations (including the bodhisattva 彌勒; Jp. = ), Sudhana has his final visionary experience of the supreme bodhisattva 普賢 (Jp. = ) and merges with him." <end quote> This story appears in the Garland Sutra 華厳経 (devoted to ). Japan's Zenzai Dōshi personifies this sutra. At Hase Dera in Kamakura, Zenzai is considered a manifestation of. For a detailed English version of the Sudhana story, In another tradition, the leader of Benzaiten's 15 disciples is known as Otogohō Zenshin 乙護法善神, who is venerated as Benzaiten's adopted son and avatar at 背振山, Asosan 阿蘇山, and Shoshazan 書写山. is quite different from that of Zenzai.
  6. 16 Children of Benzaiten (editor: below unconfirmed). One story is that 15 Princes and one Princess set out from Japan, which at that time was still part of the ancient continent of Mu, to populate the world. They went to various parts of the globe. Apparently their names are similar to the names of the various continents & countries. 

Benzaiten's 15 (16) Disciples
Other Artwork including Daikokuten, Bishamonten, and the Dragon King

click to enlarge
Uga Benzaiten, 15 Attendants (MFA Boston), 14th century

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Uga Benzaiten, 15 Attendants (MFA Boston), 14th - 15 th century

click to enlarge
Uga Benzaiten, 15 Attendants (Bonhams Auction), 17th century

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Uga Benzaiten, 15 Attendants (Michann Auctions), Edo-Meiji Period

click to enlarge
Uga Benzaiten & 15 Attendants.

The above paintings of and her 15 (or 16) attendants share very similar iconography. In addition to the attendants, is often shown holding a wish-granting jewel and flanked by and. are strew throughout the paintings, while ocean waves are shown at bottom (sometimes with the dragon king emerging from the water to offer a bowl of jewels). One of the oldest extant paintings of this theme () is a treasure of Kotohira-gū Shrine 金刀比羅宮 (in Shikoku) dated to the early 14th century. <source Ludvik> Other oft-seen elements are the sun and moon, symbols of the complementary forces of nature. The sun and moon appear frequently in Japanese Buddhist paintings and sculpture and are not specific to Benzaiten. The cart and boat loaded with bundles of grain (mentioned earlier) are another common theme in paintings.

  1. 8-Armed Uga Benzaiten & Fifteen Attendants, Muromachi period, 14th century. Scroll, ink, color, & gold on silk. H = 98.7 cm, W = 39.3 cm.. Photo Purchased originally by Ernest Fenollosa (1853–1908). The painting actually includes 16 attendant figures -- one of whom is. One of the deity's hands hold a wish-granting jewel.
  2. 8-Armed Uga Benzaiten, 15 Attendants,, and, 14th-15th century, H = 88.6 cm, W = 36 cm. Purchased originally by Ernest Fenollosa (1853–1908). Photo Another similar painting, from the 15th century, was in 2009 (with writeup by Ludvik). One of the deity's hands hold a wish-granting jewel, with multiple jewels appearing at the top of the painting as well. Another similar painting, known as, is located at in Tenkawa Village (Yoshino region, Nara Prefecture).
  3. 8-Armed Uga Benzaiten, 15 Attendants,, and. 17th century. Hanging scroll, ink, color and gold on silk. H = 97.4 cm, W = 47.1 cm. Holding martial instruments; the coiled snake Ugajin atop her head. She is flanked by,, and 15 disciples. Sits atop rocky island, with ocean waves at bottom of painting. Above her are clouds, a jewel-topped mountain, and the sun and moon icons. One of the deity's hands hold a wish-granting jewel. Photo
  4. Uga Benzaiten, 15 Attendants,, and, ink and color on silk, Edo/Meiji Period, H = 98 cm, W = 43 cm. One of the deity's hands hold a wish-granting jewel. Photo
  5. 8-armed Uga Benzaiten & 15 Attendants. 15th or 16th century, scroll, ink & color on paper. H = 135.9 cm x 49.2 cm. Coiled snake atop head. Photo To Benzaiten's left are two laborers bringing bundles of grain to port, depicted here as a small pond with a boat and cart. Next to the pond is Sensha Dōji (aka Kōmyō Dōji). The boat & cart form a pair, as Sensha's name literally means "boat & cart." They symbolize a bountiful harvest and appear often in art. The New York Met dates this drawing to the 13th century, but this appears mistaken. is generally considered that at 金刀比羅宮 (in Shikoku) dated to the early 14th century.

daikokuten-TN-with-benzaiten-scroll-inside
Daikokuten, Wood

benzaiten-dakiniten-TN-daikokuten-scroll-nanbokucho-era
Benzaiten Scroll, H 71.2 cm, W 36.6 cm.

statue, Nanbokucho period, private collection, with scroll of Benzaiten, Inari-Dakini, 15 attendants hidden within. Snake atop her head. A large comical-looking black Mahakala () with mallet carries the scroll in his treasure sack. Kamakura era, Saidaiji Temple 西大寺, Nara. Photo Kanazawa Bunko 金沢文庫 Exhibtion Catalog (Dec. 9 - Feb. 5, 2012) Messages from Within: The World of Icons Hidden Inside Buddhist Statues. 仏像からのメッセジ-像内納入品の世界. Click here to read Nara Museum placard for this statue reproduction.

 

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Wish-Granting Jewel and Nyoirin Kannon
The Jewel, Foxes, Snakes, Benzaiten, Amaterasu, Inari, Dakini, Seiryō Gongen and Others

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Benzaiten as part of the Nyoirin Kannon Configuration
Nyoirin Kannon is part of a three-pronged
configuration involving jewel-bearing goddesses of
wealth and fertility. Pivotal links among the three
groups involve wish-granting jewels, dragons and snakes and foxes, plus "feminine" gender.

Benzaiten's cult is part of a complex web of associations and deity families that emerged from the Shingon and Tendai esoteric camps from the late 11th century onward. One of the most important pivot points in these configurations is the Buddhist deity 如意輪観音菩薩 and her (Jp. = Hōju 宝珠 or 寶珠 or Nyoi Hōju 如意寶珠). For all practical purposes, Benzaiten and Nyoirin share the same cast of supporting characters, including, (female form),, and others like Seiryō Gongen (discussed below). The defining attributes of Nyoirin are the and the eight-spoked (rinpō 輪宝), both which s/he is always holding. The jewel signifies the bestowal of blessings on all who suffer, for it grants wishes, pacifies desires, and brings clear understanding of the Dharma (Buddhist law). This equates to "wealth" in  Buddhist philosophy. The wheel symbolizes the and the eight-fold path to salvation. This also equates to "wealth" in Japanese Buddhism. Nyoirin's name is thus commonly translated as "Bodhisattva of the Jewel and Wheel" or "Sovereign of the Wish-Granting Wheel" (Skt. = Cintā-maṇi-cakra Avalokitêśvara). The configurations explored below touch only briefly on this vast topic. Central to each is the, which links Benzaiten to other jewel-bearing deities (see above chart) and to jewel-holding dragons, snakes, and foxes. Resources for further study are given at the end of this section. Some key configurations are:
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    Nyoirin Kannon Bosatsu, 9th Century, Kanshinji Temple, Osaka
    Nyoirin Kannon Bosatsu holding jewel, wheel, and other objects.
    9th Century, Kanshinji 観心寺,
    a Shingon temple in Osaka.
    Oldest extant Nyoirin statue in Japan.

    Seiryo (Seiryu) Gongen painting at the Hatakeyama Memorial Museum of Fine Art in Toky. No date given at J-site where photo was discovered.
    Seiryō Gongen 清瀧権現 or 青竜権現
    hold a wish-granting jewel.
    Hatakeyama Memorial Museum
    畠山記念館蔵 (Tokyo). No date
    given by

    Nyoirin Kannon Bosatsu, 9th Century, Kanshinji Temple, Osaka
    Zennyo Ryū-ō 善女竜王 (Great Female Dragon King) holding sword and wish-granting jewel surrounded by a dragon.  Muromachi Era, Ishikawa Nanao Art Museum, Ishikawa Pref. While many extant images depict the deity as male, this cutout of a painting by artist Hasegawa Tōhaku 長谷川等伯 (1539-1610) portrays the deity as female.
    Photo

    Ofuda (talisman) of Fushimi Inari Taisha (head shrine of Inari worship, located in Kyoto)
    Talisman of (Kyoto)
    depicting wish-granting jewels, foxes,
    snakes, and rice bales, all dedicated
    to the rice kami, who is
    generally considered to be.

     

    In the 14th-century 渓嵐拾葉集, a multi-volume document compiled between 1318-1348 AD containing many of the oral legends of the Tendai esoteric stronghold at Mt. Hiei, Nyoirin is equated with, who is equated with at Ise. In the same document, Benzaiten is equated with Nyoirin and with the dragon girl -- the latter is the daughter of the dragon king Sāgara 娑竭羅. She appears in the Devadatta chapter of the Lotus Sutra, wherein she attains enlightenment and offers her wish-fulfilling jewel to Sakyamuni (the ). Sāgara is the dragon king who causes rain to fall. Dragons, rain, and female gender all equate with Benzaiten's evolution in Japan.
  • Seiryō Gongen 清瀧権現 or 青龍権現, a jealous mountain deity on Mt. Kasatori 笠取山 northeast of Kyoto; a dragon kami goddess depicted holding a wish-fulfilling jewel. Seiryō Gongen is portrayed in two iconographic forms: (1) as a beautiful woman similar to holding a wish-granting jewel, or (2) as a two-headed snake symbolizing and. In India and China, was considered a female deity granting conjugal happiness, fertility, and safe childbirth, whereas was originally male but in Japan was "feminized." <source Fremerman> Seiryō Gongen bears a striking resemblance to Benzaiten. Seiryō legend originated in China, where the deity was associated with the Chinese temple Qinglóngsì 靑龍寺 in Cháng'ān 長安 (present-day Xi'an 西安 in Shanxi province). After arriving in Japan, the spelling of her name was changed from Seiryū 青龍 (blue/green dragon) to Seiryō 清瀧 (pure waterfall), with the water radical added to the original characters (青龍 → 清瀧). Says "She was enshrined in Jingoji 神護寺 in Takao 高尾 as a guardian of the Shingon 真言 sect by Kūkai 空海 (774-836) upon his return from China. She was worshipped by Priest Shōbō 聖宝 (832-909) at Daigoji 醍醐寺 as a manifestation of 如意輪観音. This Kannon was said to grant long life, safe births, and to stave off natural disasters. Structures dedicated to her were built at the summit and foot of Mt. Takao in 1097. She usually appears as a lady wearing court robes (jūnihitoe 十二単) and carrying a jewel (hōju 宝珠). However she is also identified with Zennyo Ryū-ō 善女竜王 [editor: also read Zenmyō) a legendary dragon king who appeared and brought rain to Kūkai and who is usually seen in Chinese robes with a dragon's tail poking out from under them." <end quote> As for Zennyo Ryū-ō (Virtuous Female Dragon King), "The subject of a painting by one of the disciples of Kūkai. In 824 Kūkai prayed for rain at Shinsen'en 神泉苑 in the Imperial Palace Kyoto as a result of which Zennyo Ryū-ō is said to have appeared on Mt. Atago 愛宕 and caused it to rain. In a painting of the same event made by Jōchi 定智 (active mid 12c) housed in Kongōbuji 金剛峯寺 on Mt Kōya 高野, Wakayama Prefecture, the deity appears in the guise of a Tang official riding a cloud. He holds a tray with a jewel in his left hand and has a snake's tail showing behind his robes. Images of him are likely to have been used in prayers for rain, and such prayers were addressed to him at Shinsen'en in later times." <end quote>
     
  • = (fox), both associated with the wish-granting jewel. Nyoirin Kannon is considered Inari's original form. For example, Inari Daimyōjin is Nyoirin's transformation body in a grouping known as the.
     
  • is considered the honji 本地 (original Buddhist manifestation) of the Japanese sun goddess. Benzaiten is also considered a transformation body of Amaterasu. Hence, Nyoirin = Amaterasu = Benzaiten.
     
  • By the 11th century, was identified with the jewel-holding (formerly demonic). Later, in the 14th century, became the central deity in the Ono-branch Shingon-sect ceremony for imperial ordination, in which Nyoirin was revealed to be a form of both and the kami -- the latter, in turn, was considered a transformation body of the supreme sun goddess. <Fremerman, p. 14>. For more on imperial ordination rites, see The Daijōsai: A "Shinto" Rite of Imperial Accession, pp. 168-198, in by John Breen & Mark Teeuwen, 2010.
     
  • In the 14th-century, the term Shindamani-ō 辰陀摩尼王 is clearly linked to Benzaiten. The Sanskrit word for wish-granting jewel is maṇi, cintā-maṇi, or cintamani. Shindamani-ō is "an epithet for (see T. 76, 2410, 732a). This passage explains that the cintamani is s samaya form [editor = symbolic/object form], and then describes her seven fox attendants, which symbolize the seven jewels of the cakravartin [editor = wheel-turning king, one who spreads the teachings]. In a move typical of this text, in the name Shindamani 辰陀摩尼 it plays with the first character, normally a transliteration of the Sanskrit 'cin,' but here replaced with the 'shin' 辰 of 'shinko' 辰狐, or astral fox. 'Shindamani-ō' is also linked to Benzaiten, who in the Tendai esoteric is sometimes called by the epithet 'Nyōi hoju ō' (Cintāmani Sovereign). It is probably no accident both and Benzaiten are referred to by variations of this name." <source: Fremerman, p. 156> NOTE: is said to appear as an astral fox while hiding in the heavenly cave.
     
  • In esoteric Tendai at Mt. Hiei, equals (kami of agriculture and wealth) -- the latter appears in both a male and female form, although the male form is more common. The female form is known as Seijo Gongen 聖女権現 (Holy Woman Avatar)., as we have seen, is often shown holding a wish-granting jewel, as is, as is Benzaiten. This convergence of Seijo/Inari with Nyoirin appears to have been a central defining feature of Nyoirin's identity in the Taimitsu tradition (台密 or Tendai esoteric Buddhism). 's link to Mt. Hiei is not surprising, as the first kami enshrined on this mountain were probably. <Freherman pp. 142-149>
     
  • Like Benzaiten and, Nyoirin has strong "underworld" aspects. Her links to hell deities are evident in her identification with, who in turn is identified with (Skt. = Yama, lord of the underworld); her links with Benzaiten, the elder sister of as well as a form of Hindu goddess Kālī (aka Durgā, the black one, death, consort of ); and her links with, an earth god identified with, one known for saving those suffering in hell. In the, Benzaiten also features in an earth-quelling ritual (see T. 76, 2410, 724a2-10). On Amaterasu and the lord of the underworld, see Mark Teeuwen, The Creation of a Honji Suijaku Deity: Amaterasu as the Judge of the Dead, in Buddhas and Kami in Japan: Honji Suijaku as a Combinatory Paradigm, ed. Mark Teeuwen and Fabio Rambelli (London: Routledge Curzon, 2003), 115-44. On Nyoirin's underworld associations, see also Faure, Raging Gods. Page 172.

PHOTO AT RIGHT
ESOTERIC SEVEN LUCKY GODS
Ofuda 御札 (talisman) from Asamagatake (Mt. Asama) 朝熊ケ岳, located near 伊勢神宮 in Mie Prefecture. Ise Jingū continues to play a pivotal role in modern-day Shintōism. It and its numerous sub-shrines are devoted to Ōmikami 天照大神 (female, sun goddess, chief deity of Ise's inner sanctuary or Naikū 内宮) and Toyōke Hime no Kami 豊宇気比売神 (female, kami of agriculture and foodstuffs, chief deity of Ise's outer sanctuary or Gekū 外宮). The adjacent drawing shows an unconventional grouping of the seven deities, with 如意輪観音 (at top center) holding a wish-granting jewel. is considered the honji 本地 (original Buddhist form) of the Japanese sun goddess (Nyoirin's kami counterpart). The others include the (atop dragon), (riding fox), (holding pagoda), (atop bales of rice), (with fish/fishing rod), and (riding a horned deer, holding a long staff, and wearing a nage zukin 投頭巾 or squared-off bonnet). No date given. Perhaps the 17th century. Importantly, is also the honji of kami Inari Daimyōjin (see ). = and ; = Benzaiten; = Benzaiten.

Esoteric Seven Lucky Gods -- An Unconventional Grouping

Learn More about Wish-Granting Jewels and Nyoirin / Amaterasu / Benzaiten / Dakini / Inari Linkages

  • Ruppert, Brian D. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 2002 29/1.2. Explores connections between jewels, royal authority, and Amaterasu. Also see Jewel in the Ashes: Buddha Relics and Power in Early Medieval Japan. Harvard Univ. Asia Center (July 1, 2000).
  • Iyanaga, Nobumi. (PDF file), 1997. 62 pages. Also see (scroll to bottom of this link for English review).
  • Fremerman, Sarah Alizah, Ph.D. Dissertation, Stanford University, 2008, 230 pages; AAT 3332823. Available at Proquest. See (p. 172)
  • Faure, Bernard. (scroll to bottom for English review).
  • Smyers, Karen A. Honolulu, Univ. of Hawaii Press, 1999, iii, Questia, Web, 28 Dec. 2011.

 

 

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Seven Lucky Gods, Seven Deities of Good Fortune
Benzaiten, Bishamonten, Daikokuten, Ebisu, Fukurokuju, Hotei, Jurōjin

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Modern Wood Statue of Benzaiten
Benzaiten, Ivory, Date Unknown
Collection of Andres Bernhard - Italy

 

Benzaiten is the sole female among Japan's. Since she is a water goddes, she became the patroness of everything that "flows" -- e.g.,  music, dancing, acting, poetry, and other crafts. Such artistic talent often brings prosperity, hence her inclusion in the Japanese. Another factor propelling her popularity goes back to the Muromachi period (1392-1568), when the, with the character 才 (zai), meaning talent, replaced with its homonym 財 (zai), meaning wealth.

The 七福神, or, are an eclectic group of deities from Japan, India, and China. Only one is native to Japan () and Japan's indigenous. Three are from the Hindu-Buddhist pantheon of India (,, Benzaiten) and three from Chinese Taoist-Buddhist traditions (,, ). Each deity existed independently before Japan's "artificial" creation of the group. The origin of the group in unclear -- although most scholars point to the Muromachi era (1392-1568) and the 15th century. The group's seven members have varied over time and did not become standardized until the late 17th century. By the 19th century, most major cities had developed special for the seven. These remain well trodden today, but many people now use cars, buses, and trains to move between the sites. Why the number seven?

Today, painted, sculpted, and printed images of the seven appear with great frequency in Japan. They are popular with people from all walks of life as an auspicious omen and motif of good fortune and longevity. Although,, and Benzaiten originated as martial deities, they often appear friendly and jolly in contemporary times. Visit our page for details. As a member of the seven, Benzaiten is depicted as a -- an iconic form that. This iconic form of Benzaiten was probably derived from earlier depictions in India, where Sarasvatī was portrayed by at least the 6th century CE playing the zither. <source:

Reference: Catherine Ludvik, the preeminent scholar of Benzaiten lore and artwork in India, China, and Japan.

Uga-Benzaiten: The Goddess and the Snake, p. 96, Impressions, The Journal of the Japanese Art Society of America, Number 33, 2012.

>

On New Year's Eve, the seven enter port together on their 宝船 (treasure ship) to bring happiness to everyone. On the night between Jan. 1 and 2, tradition says, children should put, under their pillow, a picture of the seven aboard their treasure ship, or a picture of the (eater of nightmares). If you have a lucky dream that night, you will be lucky for the whole year, but you must not tell anyone about your dream -- if you do, you forfeit its power. If you have a bad dream, you should pray to or set your picture adrift in the river or sea to forestall bad luck <Sources: Chiba Reiko, Kodo Matsunami, and >

Seven Lucky Gods, 19th Century Japanese Painting

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Five of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune

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, the standard set, early 19th century. Collaborative painting by Hokusai Katsushika 葛飾北斎 (1760-1849), Utagawa Kunisada 歌川 国貞 (1786-1865), Utagawa Toyokuni 豊国 (1769-1825), Torii Kiyonaga 鳥居清長 (1752-1815), and others. The image of Hotei holding huge white bag by Hokusai Katsushika. Benzaiten shown playing her customary biwa. Photo from

Five of the Gods of Fortune 五福神図, by Kanō Tanyū 狩野探幽 (1602-1674). One of the oldest extant drawings of an abbreviated assemblage of the group. (red fish), (rice bale), (spear), Benzaiten (biwa), (big bag). Photo from I'm not sure, but I think this piece is at the University Art Museum, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts & Music.

 

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Modern Artwork of Benzaiten (Benten for short)
Cutification and Commercialization of Religious Icons

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Enoshima Benten Votive Tablet of Benzaiten Playing Biwa, with Dragon in the Background, Modern
Cutification of Religious Icons
Modern Votive Tablet of Benten
Japan.

Modern example of Cutification.
Modern example of Cutification.
Giraffexcavator. Umeda, Osaka.
 

The "cutification" and commercialization of Benzaiten shifted into high gear in the second half of the 20th century, with temples, shrines, and retail stores capitalizing on her popularity as a member of the beloved by selling Benzaiten amulets, votive tablets, toys, confectionaries, and other products. Although traditional statues and artwork of the goddess remain available, she is just as likely to appear as a cute, lovable, and child-like character. The cutification of religious icons in Japan is widespread and part of a much larger social trend toward cuteness in billboard advertising, corporate branding, sports mascots, street fashion, greeting cards, public-safety messages, movies and entertainment, product design, and a host of other areas. In some ways, the Land of the Rising Sun (Japan) may more aptly be named the Land of Hello Kitty.

In a broader historical context, we must also note that the commercialization of religious icons in Japan began in the late 17th century under the rule of shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi 徳川綱吉 (1646-1709). Between 1688 and 1696, a major portion of the military government's budget went to temple and shrine repair. But financial hardship forced Tsunayoshi to reduce such spending and look to other sources for funding these projects. <source: Graham, p. 26-28> Toward this end, Tsunayoshi allowed temples to raise their own money. Temples responded by holding public displays of their treasures that required viewers to pay admission fees. Such events were known as Kaichō 開帳 (lit. opening the curtain) and Degaichō 出開帳 (lit. external openings of the curtain). In the latter case, temples in remote locations would display their treasures in more populous areas in concert with a host temple. Says scholar and art historian "By the Edo period, though, such viewings had become moneymaking ventures for temples, especially in Edo (Tokyo), where huge crowds guaranteed generous profits. The viewings enabled temples to raise money for expensive reconstruction and general upkeep and were also sometimes held to offer divine benevolence and alleviate suffering, after particularly horrific disasters. To attract the desired crowds, temples concurrently set up carnival-like performances and exhibitions of exotic curiosities (misemono 見世物) within their grounds." <end quote> For more, see Patricia Graham's 2007, pp. 25-29 and 84-87. Also see exhibition (Japan Times, April 6, 2012)

Benzaiten atop Dragon. Modern Talisman.
Modern Talisman
Click to Enlarge
From

Modern. Benzaiten used on label of alcoholic drink.
Modern Alcoholic Beverage
Click to Enlarge
From

Modern. Benzaiten Confectionary (waffle).
Modern Confectionary
Click to Enlarge
From

Modern. Benzaiten Talisman in shape of Daruma amulet.
Modern Talisman
Click to Enlarge
From

Modern Statue of Sanmen Daikokuten
Modern Statue
Sanmen Daikokuten

Click to Enlarge

Modern Statue of Benzaiten and Dragon
Modern Statue w/ Dragon

井波彫刻協同組合
Click to Enlarge

Modern Japanese Statue of Dakiniten
Dakini atop Fox
Modern Statue

Click to Enlarge

Modern Reproductions of Dakini atop white fox
Dakini and Foxes
Modern Reproduction

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HINDU, BUDDHIST, & SHINTŌ ASSOCIATIONS
Table 1. Benzaiten's Many Convoluted Linkages
This chart provides a simplified "one glance" guide to the complex web of associations between Benzaiten and other deities in Japan's Deva-Buddha-Kami matrix. It is by no means comprehensive, yet helps one visualize the extreme degree of syncretism in Benzaiten faith and art. Says Iyanaga Nobumi: "From the Buddhist cosmological/metaphysical point of view, all Japanese kami are exactly on the same level of existence as the Hindu deities (though, perhaps, they were felt to be a little inferior, since Japan was considered as a small country very far from the center of the world, which people situated in India, or more precisely at the Diamond Seat where the had attained enlightenment. The only way people had to think about Japanese deities was according to the model of Hindu deities as they appear in Buddhist cosmology and mythology......I think that they were conscious of the fact that this kind of [Hindu-related] myth was not really in conformity with Buddhist doctrine in the strict sense. But this did not stop them -- to the contrary, I would think that they were intentionally creating a new type of theology........the new theology that they were trying to create was a mythical theology of kami-devas, built on the model of Hindu mythology as they could unveil it from within the Buddhist mythical corpus. In this sense, I think that it is possible to argue that medieval Buddhist-Shinto was an attempt to create a kind of 'Japanese Hinduism' inside Buddhism, itself self-revolutionizing in an incessant movement." <end Iyanaga quote, page 175, > 

Benzaiten Symbolism

Key attributes of     chart-arrow
Benzaiten shared with other deities who are associated with her in artwork, rituals, and faith systems. Listed in no particular order.

chart-female

chart-fertility1

chart-rice2

chart-wealth2

chart-snake-dragon

chart-fox3

chart-warrior

chart-jewel1

 Yes = Shared Iconography
Main configurations
in Japanese artwork
when deities appear
alongside Benzaiten
(discussed in this report)

Buddhist Deities from Hindu Pantheon

1

(Mahākāla)

 

 

Yes

Yes

Yes

 

Yes

 

,,,

2

(Vaiśravaṇa)

 

Yes

 

Yes

 

 

Yes

 

,,,

3

(ḍākinī)

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

,,,

4

(Gaṇeśa)

Yes

Yes

 

Yes

 

 

 

 

,,

5

Yes

 

Yes

Yes

 

 

 

 

,,

6

(Varuṇa)

Yes

 

Yes

Yes

Yes

 

 

 

(involves Suiten, a water deva)

7

(Lakṣmī)

Yes

Yes

 

Yes

 

 

 

Yes

,,

8

(Hārītī)

Yes

Yes

 

Yes

 

 

 

 

,

9

Yes

 

 

Yes

 

 

 

Yes

Japanese Kami

10

Yes

 

Yes

Yes

 

Yes

 

 

,,

11

 

 

Yes

Yes

Yes

 

 

 

,,,

12

Yes

 

 

Yes

 

 

Yes

Yes

=

13

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

 

 

 

worship Benten together with

14

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

; very localized faith system

15

Yes

 

 

Yes

Yes

 

Yes

 

,,

spacerspacerspacerspacerspacerspacerspacerspacerspacerspacerspacerspacer

   NOTES TABLE 1

  1. Deva is a Sanskrit term meaning celestial being or demigod. In both China and Japan, deva is written as 天 (read "tiān" in China, "ten" in Japan). When "ten" is added as a suffix to deity names (e.g., Benzaiten,, ), it means the deity originated in Hindu myth but in later centuries was adopted into the Buddhist pantheon as a protective god or goddess. See the for details.Most were associated with a kami counterpart in Japan's Buddha-Kami matrix (

    Honjisuijaku or Honji-suijaku Setsu :
    Theory of original reality and manifest traces. A theory of Buddhist-Shinto syncretism. Originally a Buddhist term used to explain the Buddha's nature as a metaphysical being (honji) and the Historical Buddha (i.e. Sakyamuni) as a trace manifestation (suijaku). This theory was used in Japan to explain the relationship between the various Buddha and Shinto kami; the many Buddha were regarded as the honji, and the Shinto kami as their incarnations or suijaku. Theoretically, honji and suijaku are an indivisible unity and there is no question of valuing one more highly than the other; but in the early Nara period, the honji were regarded as more important than the suijaku. Gradually they both came to be regarded as one; but in the Kamakura period, Shintoists also proposed the opposite theory, that the Shinto kami were the honji and the Buddha were the suijaku. This latter theory is called han-honji-suijaku setsu or shinpon-butsuju setsu.

    ).
  2. Wealth is broadly defined, e.g. blessed with children, good fortune, talent, bountiful harvests, others. Rice and the food crop represent riches and are invariably associated with the fertility of the earth. Benzaiten,, and are all water goddesses and each is venerated to ensure the fecundity of the land.,, and are all agricultural deities and each is worshipped to ensure plentiful harvests.
  3. . The snakes, dragons, and foxes associated with Benzaten and related deities are commonly white (suggesting "divinity") and shown carrying atop their heads or tails or in their mouths.
  4. is not generally linked with fertility, but in some tales (Konjaku Monogatari, 11th C) he grants children.
  5. and can be portrayed as either male or female. The elephant-headed is typically represented as two figures embracing each other. The male is Gaṇeśa (the eldest son of ), and the female is.
  6. Benzaiten's are a purely Japanese convention. They appear in the 13th-century and the 14th-century (see ). For an English overvew of their origin, see.
  7. ; linked also to and.

   DEITIES NOT SHOWN IN TABLE 1

  1. (Goddess of the Arts). Not shown in above chart. A minor Buddhist deity revered as patroness of the arts. In Japan, she has been largely supplanted by Benzaiten.
  2. (God / Goddess of prosperity, the warrior class, and entertainers in Japan). Not shown in above chart. The warrior goddess was counted along with Benzaiten and as one of a trio of "three deities" (Santen 三天) invoked by merchants for good fortune during the Edo period, but today her place has been largely supplanted by Benzaiten. 's mount is the boar. is also known as Candī / Cundi 準提 ・ 准胝 ・ 尊提 or as Cundī-Guanyin 準提觀音 (a form of ). In Brahmanic myth, Candī / Cundi is a vindictive form of Hindu goddess Durgā 突迦 (Chn. = Tújiā, Jp. = Toga), who can appear in the form of a wild boar. If we recall, the was derived in large part from the Indian battle goddess Durgā, who is an aspect of Kālī (the black one, death, the wife of ). Kālī is typically depicted in India with one face and eight arms, or three faces and six arms. We may also note that Benzaiten's holy days (ennichi 縁日) in Japan are days/months/years of the snake and the boar.
  3. 乙護法 (guardian deity of the Tendai stronghold on Mt. Hiei, as well as a Dharma-protecting deity at 背振山 (Saga Pref.) Not shown in above chart. Considered a manifestation of Benzaiten. See for Otogohō's story.
  4. Bodhisattva 龍樹菩薩 (one of the most esteemed figures in Buddhist history; active 2nd-3rd centuries CE). His name literally means "Dragon Tree," which one might translate figuratively as "Dragon Pillar." The central pillars at Ise's Outer Shrine are said to be the residence of Benzaiten. (Chn. = Lóngshù) also represents the white snakes that reportedly live under the central pillars of Ise's inner and outer shrines. <source: M. Teeuwen, F. Rambelli, Introduction, p. 49, 2003> For more on Nāgârjuna, see the (sign in with user name = guest). Say Teeuwen and Rambelli (p. 49-52): "The place where the heavenly halberd struck the earth is where the sakadono 酒殿 (sake hall) of Ise's Outer Shrine is located, or, alternatively, corresponds to the sites of the shrines' central pillars (shin no mihashira 心の御柱). The sakadono, moreover, is the residence of Benzaiten; Benzaiten is the same as the Bodhisattva Nāgārjuna. Nāgārjuna then becomes the foucs of a new set of associations. As a personificaiton of the heart/mind of the sentient beings, he is, on the one hand, the 'father and mother' of all beings, and gives them religious guidance, in particular by revealing the Shingon teachings he received in a secret initiation in the Iron Stūpa in southern India. On the other hand, since the essence of the heart/mind of sentient beings is constituted by the three poisons (the three afflictions, usually represented in medieval Japan by a snake), Nāgārjuna stands for the white snakes that supposedly live underneath the central pillars of the two Ise shrines. These, in turn, correspond to Nanda 難陀 and Batsunanda 跋難陀, the two cosmic serpents supporting Mount Sumeru 須彌山. In another thread of associations, the central pillars of Ise are identified with the heavenly halberd (sakahoko 逆鉾) that created Japan; its shape, that of a one-pronged vajra, is the very shape of the Japanese territory. Finally, Benzaiten is also 乙護法, one of the protecting deities of Mount Hiei." <end quote> On page 52 they continue: "In the correlations of Benzaiten mentioned above there are two main cores: the symbolism of the dragon/serpent and that of the pillar/tree/vajra. The symbols were combined with the Buddhist cosmology centred on Mount Sumeru, with medieval Japanese Buddhist epistemological and physiological doctrines concerning the heart/mind of sentient beings, and with esoteric Buddhist soteriology; with a semi-divine human being, (in Japanese Ryūju 龍樹) -- whose name, incidentally, contained the two central symbols of this chain of associations, the dragon (nāga = ryū) and the tree (arjuna = ju); an Indian deity, Benzaiten; and a Japanese combinatory deity, 乙護法. Importantly, this chain of association, a veritable rhizomatic system in which nearly every component is connected with all the others, was not purely abstract and textual. On the contrary, it was rooted directly in the cultic centres it referred to by concrete references to architectural elements (the central pillars), buildings (the sakadono), places, and ultimately, to the very territory of Japan, of which Ise claims to be the spiritual and cosmological centre." <end quote> On page 53 they continue: "Benzaiten does not just 'stand for' or the central pillars of Ise; these three items are 'alternative shapes of one another.'"<end quote>  

Benzaiten's Two Main Hindu-Derived Forms in Japan
Dark-Deadly Benzaiten versus Radiant-Gentle Benzaiten

Oldest extant wooden statue of the 8-armed Uga Benzaiten in Japan, 14th century.
and, last half 15th century.
Private Collection, Hanging Scroll, H = 97 cm, W = 40.5 cm. Photo from Christie's Images. (Scanned from Catherine Ludvik's article in, #33, 2012, p. 105.

QUESTION. Benzaiten's numerous associations with Hindu deities involve an "undercurrent" swirling around such themes as death, the underworld, graveyards, corpses, cannibalism, and blackness. For instance, Benzaiten as the elder sister of (Skt. = Yama; lord of the underworld); her close links to the Hindu goddess Kālī (aka Durgā, the black one, death, consort of ); her close links to (lord of the grave mound; also colored black); her links to the cannibals and ; her links to (whose pagoda holds the relics of the cremated Buddha; he is also associated with the color black); even Benzaiten's close links to Japan's supreme sun goddess (who was born from Izanagi's purifications after he returned from the underworld); also plunged the world into darkness when she hid in a cave. Why is Benzaiten associated with such dark imagery? ANSWER FROM IYANAGA NOBUMI. The work by References: Works by Catherine Ludvik, the preeminent scholar of Benzaiten lore and artwork in India, China, and Japan.

From Sarasvati to Benzaiten (India, China, Japan). Ph.D. dissertation. University of Toronto, January 2001. South and East Asian Religions. Winner of the Governor General's Gold Medal 2001.

Also see 374 pages. Drawing on Sanskrit and Chinese textual sources, as well as Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist art historical representations, this book traces the conceptual and iconographic development of the goddess of knowledge Sarasvati from some time after 1750 B.C.E. to the seventh century C.E. Through the study of Chinese translations of no longer extant Sanskrit versions of the Buddhist 'Sutra of Golden Light' the author sheds light on Sarasvati's interactions with other Indian goddess cults and their impact on one another.

Also see La Benzaiten a huit bras: Durga deesse guerriere sous l'apparence de Sarasvati, Cahiers d'Extreme-Asie, no. 11 (1999-2000), pp. 292-338.

Also see

Also see the 15th Asian Studies Conference Japan (ASCJ), International Christian University (ICU), 25 June 2011. Presentation entitled Benzaiten and Ugajin: The Skillful Combining of Deities. (Session 16: Room 253).

Also see Uga-Benzaiten: The Goddess and the Snake, pp. 95-110. Impressions, The Journal of the Japanese Art Society of America, Number 33, 2012.

is crucial. As you know, Catherine discovered that the version of Sarasvatī first imported by Japan was the version appearing in Yijing's translation of the. And that Sarasvatī was not a peaceful riverine goddess, but the, having many aspects of Śaiva Durgā (Hindu battle goddess). It was this Śaiva feature which made this goddess so "attractive," in the sense that she could be associated with so many ambivalent deities of the Buddhist and Japanese pantheon. Historically, in India, Sarasvatī was first a goddess of a river in Vedic ages, a beautiful woman with many features close to that of Śrī-Lakṣmī (Jp. = ); it was in this form () that she was first adopted in Buddhism (in the earlier versions of the ); then in Yijing's version, she was completely transformed and took on warrior aspects -- and paradoxically, it was in this form that she was first imported into Japan; then she was imported for the second time as a with the lute, in Tantric iconography (thus retrieving the original form in India). I think it is important to distinguish these two forms of Sarasvatī in Japan; it was always the eight-armed 'Śaiva Sarasvatī' which prevailed in Japan; but the 'Gentle Sarasvatī' received some features of the eight-armed Sarasvatī too (for example in the ',' who had an 'excess' of erotic power'). If you think of Sarasvatī in Japan according to these two lines, I think that everything will be clearer. One interesting thing is that, of course, the Japanese people could not know the 'Śaiva' feature of the eight-armed Sarasvatī, and nonetheless, they 'unconsciously' discovered that, so that they associated her with Mahākāla (Jp. =, who is also a prominent Śaiva deity, although this characteristic is almost completely hidden in Japanese Buddhism), and with Vaiśravaṇa (Jp. = ), who likewise has a close relationship with Śaiva mythical elements, or, etc. Editor's Note: Śaiva = Hindu deities in the camp; followers of

 

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KAMI ASSOCIATIONS LISTED ALPHEBETICALLY
Indigenous Japanese Deities Related or Conflated with Benzaiten

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Amaterasu bringing light to the world. Along with Izanagi, Izanami, and other creator gods of Japanese mythology. 19th century. Private Collection..
bringing light to the world. Along with Izanagi 伊邪那岐命, Izanami 伊邪那美命, and other creator gods of Japanese mythology. 19th century.
Private Collection. Photo

Rokuji Myo-o from the 12th-century Besson Zakki
holding sun disc,
with three wish-granting jewels in
her crown. August Body of the Inner
Shrine of Ise. Drawing from Reikiki
麗氣記, section entitled Shintai-zu
神體圖 (Illustrations of the Divine
Body), circa 13th century. Scanned
from, page 161.

Rokuji Myo-o from the 12th-century Besson Zakki
Amaterasu emerging from the cave, bringing light back to the world. 1887.
By Shunsai Toshimasa 春斎年昌.
Photo

 

 

Amaterasu Ōmikami 天照大神 (aka Tenshō Daijin). The Sun Goddess, Japan's most widely venerated kami and the tutelary deity of the imperial household (Japan's emperors claim direct descent from her lineage). The 18th-century text Ōmiyo Chishiryaku 近江輿地志略 presents the story of the origin of, in which Benzaiten appears before Emperor Kinmei 欽明天皇 (509-571) and tells him that she is a manifestation of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, the spirit of the sun, and the spirit of wealth and social standing on earth. On the first day of the serpent in the month of the serpent she descends to earth and brings happiness to the people, and on the first day of the boar in the month of the boar, she ascends to heaven and nurtures the heavenly beings. Benzaiten's association with Amaterasu emerged sometime in the medieval period. Amaterasu's main shrine is 伊勢神宮 (Mie Prefecture). There she is worshipped alongside many other kami, including Seoritsuhime 瀬織津姫 (aka 瀬織津比咩), the kami of river rapids, who resides in an auxiliary shrine and is associated with the "turbulent spirit" ( 荒御霊) of Amaterasu, and with 閻魔天 (Skt. = Yama; lord of the underworld), for Seori-tsu-hime's river rapids cleanse the world of impurity by washing it away to the netherworld., page 100>. Amaterasu is also identified with many Buddhist deities, including (Great Sun Buddha),, (Sovereign of the Wish-Granting Jewel-Wheel), and Benzaiten. The sun and wish-granting jewel are the key elements linking Amaterasu to Benzaiten, who in turn is identified with water and considered the elder sister of. For a wonderful exploration of the connections and overlapping mythology of Amaterasu,, and Benzaiten, see Sarah Alizah Fremerman's 2008 Ph.D dissertation Stanford University, 230 pages; AAT 3332823. Available at Proquest. Read

There are many other linkages. In Hindu myth, the sun god Sūrya (Skt., aka Āditya) is known in Japanese Buddhism as Nichigū Tenshi 日宮天子 or Nittenshi 日天子 or / Nichiten 日天. Sūrya is one of, as are Benzaiten and. Sūrya is a king who is said to be a manifestation of (Skt. = Avalokitêśvara), "the sun-ruler; one of the metamorphoses of Avalokitêśvara, dwelling in the sun as palace, driving a quadriga." <source: sign in with user name = guest). The quadriga is a two-wheeled chariot drawn by four horses abreast. Amano Sadakage 天野信景 (1663-1733), in his popular publication Shiojiri 塩尻, says a temporary manifestation of Sūrya is the goddess Sarasvatī (aka Benzaiten). In some traditions, says Amano, the original form of the sun god is Cintāmaṇi-cakra Avalokitêśvara (aka ), whose holy spirit is Sarasvatī. <Chaudhuri p. 145> Also, in the, which introduced Benzaiten to Japan around the mid-7th century, Sarasvatī appears inside the sun. Teeuwen & Rambelli (pp. 49-50) say: "Amaterasu is the three major Indian deities (), Benzaiten,, the cosmic serpents Nanda 難陀 and Batsunanda 跋難陀, Mount Sumeru 須彌山, the central pillars of Ise (shin no mihashira 心の御柱), the heavenly halberd (sakahoko 逆鉾), and Japan itself." <from Routledge, 2003> Her links to the underworld are explored by Teeuwen in the same book in an article entitled The Creation of a Honji Suijaku Deity: Amaterasu as the Judge of the Dead, pp. 115-144. Amaterasu also materializes in the form of demonic figures such as and, and is (like Benzaiten) closely associated with the fox, snakes, and. On her appearance as an astral fox while secluded inside her heavenly rock cave, pp. 156-162. During the medieval period, Amaterasu was also widely considered to be a snake deity, and often male rather than female <see Faure, The Power of Denial, 297-300>.

In the Buddha-Kami (

Honjisuijaku or Honji-suijaku Setsu :
Theory of original reality and manifested traces. A theory of Buddhist-Shinto syncretism. Originally a Buddhist term used to explain the Buddha's nature as a metaphysical being (honji) and the Historical Buddha (i.e. Sakyamuni) as a trace manifestation (suijaku). This theory was used in Japan to explain the relationship between the various Buddha and Shinto kami; the many Buddha were regarded as the honji, and the Shinto kami as their incarnations or suijaku. Theoretically, honji and suijaku are an indivisible unity and there is no question of valuing one more highly than the other; but in the early Nara period, the honji were regarded as more important than the suijaku. Gradually they both came to be regarded as one; but in the Kamakura period, Shintoists also proposed the opposite theory, that the Shinto kami were the honji and the Buddha were the suijaku. This latter theory is called han-honji-suijaku setsu or shinpon-butsuju setsu.

) matrix of pre-modern Japan, the supreme sun goddess was sometimes depicted as Uhō Dōji 雨宝童子 (divine rain-making attendant, rain-jewel youth, rain-treasure guardian; see photos below). Says "Uhō Dōji 雨宝童子 is an abbreviation of Kongō Sekishō Zenshin Uhō Dōji 金剛赤精善神雨宝童子. A manifestation of the and a honjibutsu of the Sun Goddess, a female god believed to bring good fortune and to protect against natural disasters. Her name also suggests that she was worshipped as a deity who brought needed rain. Uhō Dōji is said to have been the form in which came down to earth from heaven. Representations in art resemble the female deity 吉祥天, usually with a (five-element stupa) on her head, a vajra staff (kongō hōbō 金剛宝棒) in her right hand, and a jewel (hōshu 宝珠) in her left hand. She may stand on a white. She may, along with one of the, accompany. There are few examples of Uhō Dōji dating from before the mid 14th century. The earliest sculptural example is from Kongōshōji 金剛証寺 [Ise City] in Mie prefecture, thought to have been made in the Kamakura period although there are many traces of later restorations. The statue of Uhō Dōji at Hasedera 長谷寺 in Nara is called Sekishō Dōji 赤精童子 and is paired with 難陀竜王 (king of the and honjibutsu of [warrior deity] 春日大明神) as attendants to the." Nanda is also one of the serving the. Although Benzaiten and Uhō Dōji are not directly linked, they share many of the same attributes -- female, wish-granting jewel, water, rain-making, dragons, and the sun.

Amaterasu in her manifestation as Uho Doji, holding wish-granting jewel and vajra staff. Muromachi Era, Hasedera in Nara. Uho Doji (aka Amaterasu), Chuguji Temple (Nara), Wood, 13th century uho-douji-heian-1-TN Amaterasu in her manifestation as Uho Doji, holding a wish-granting jewel and vajra staff, with pagoda atop her head. Uho Doji (Amaterasu) at Kongoshoji Temple, Mie Prefecture

  1. Amaterasu in her manifestation as Uhō Dōji, holding wish-granting jewel and vajra staff. Muromachi Era, Hasedera 長谷寺 in Nara. H = 116 cm. ICP. Uhō Dōji is also known as Sekishō Dōji 赤精童子 at Hasedera and is paired with 難陀竜王 (king of the, honjibutsu of Kasuga Daimyōjin 春日大明神). Photo
  2. Uhō Dōji 雨宝童子. Chūgūji Temple 中宮寺 in Nara, 13th Century, Wood, H = 65 cm. A Buddha-Kami portrayal of the goddess of wealth & good forturne, said to ward off baleful influences 災いを除く. The 5-element pagoda atop head added sometime later. Scanned from magazine 日本の仏像 (Japan's Buddha Statues), No. 16, Oct. 2007.
  3. Uhō Dōji 雨宝童子. A manifestion of Amaterasu. Early-Mid Edo Era. Here we see a cutout of Uhō Dōji, who appears as an attendant in a larger painting devoted to (syncretic Shinto-Buddhist deity of the kitchen & cooking stove). Uhō Dōji is accompanied by Kasuga Daimyōjin 春日大明神 and others. Photo
  4. Uhō Dōji 雨宝童子, Modern, Ōtsu-e 大津絵 painting by (Shiga). Sun & Moon above, 5-tier pagoda atop head, wish-granting jewel in left hand and vajra staff in right. A form of 大日 and the Buddhist counterpart to Sun Goddess. Said to bring good fortune, to protect against natural disasters, and to ensure ample rain. Photo and
  5. Uhō Dōji 雨宝童子. A manifestion of Amaterasu. Kongōshōji Temple金剛証寺 in Ise City, Mie Prefecture. Kamakura era but many traces of later restorations. Considered the oldest extant sculptural example of this deity. Photo  

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Rokuji Myo-o from the 12th-century Besson Zakki
Azaihime no Mikoto surrounded by
the creatures of Lake Biwa, with
Chikubushima in the background.
Modern painting inside the
  on the shore of Lake Biwa.

 

Azaihime no Mikoto 浅井姫命, also read Asaihime. This minor water goddess is enshrined at (Lake Biwa 琵琶湖, Shiga Pref.) as the local kami of traffic safety for those who ply the waters. is one of Benzaiten's main and oldest island sanctuaries in Japan, but Benzaiten did not become the island's central deity until sometime in the late Heian period, after which she replaced Azaihime as the primary ritual focus (as the 'original form' of the local kami). The island's mythical origins are recorded in various old Japanese texts, including the now-lost 8th-century Ōmi no Kuni Fudoki 近江国風土記 (Records of the Culture and Geography of the Ōmi Province). According to this text, the kami Tatamihiko no Mikoto 多多美比古命 of Mt. Ibuki 夷服岳 (伊吹)competed for height with his niece Azaihime no Mikoto of Mt. Azai 金糞岳, but he lost, and in a fit of anger he cut off her head, which fell into the lake and became. During the forced separation of Buddhism and Shintoism in the latter half of the 19th century, was forced to remove its Benzaiten structures and icons and replace them with Shintō ones -- with Azaihime regaining her status as the central focus of veneration. But Benzaiten has since staged a comeback. Today Benzaiten is the main devotional deity at the island's Shingon-sect Hōgonji Temple 宝厳寺, while the nearby Tsukubusuma Jinja Shrine 都久夫須麻神社 (also known as ) pays homage to Azaihime, and food kami For more about Azaihime, see. 

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Rokuji Myo-o from the 12th-century Besson Zakki
Ebumi Daimyōjin 江文大明神
Drawing from 1690.
The text next to his image says he hails from Gōshū 江州 (present-
day Shiga Pref.) and is a
manifestation of Benzaiten.

 

 

Ebumi Daimyōjin 江文大明神, one of the (8th day) and one of 12 tutelaries of Mt. Hiei. This kami hails from Gōshū 江州 (aka Ōminokuni 近江国; modern-day Shiga Prefecture) and is installed at Ebumi Jinja Shrine 江文神社 in Sakyo Ward 左京区, near Kyoto city, in an area formerly known as Mt. Ebumi (now known as Mt. Konpira in Kyoto). Established in the Heian period, the shrine initially venerated Ubusuna Kami 産土神, a protective land deity whose name literally means "productive land." Today it worships (Kojiki = 宇迦之御魂命, Nikon Shoki = 倉稲魂尊), the kami of grains and foodstuffs. Ebumi's honji is, appropriately, Benzaiten, who is closely associated with other Buddhist and Shinto deities of agriculture, rice, food, and water. The Konpira connection is also very interesting and suggestive. Konpira 金比羅 shrines (also known as 金刀比羅宮) are located throughout Japan. The main shrine is situated on Mt. Zōzusan 象頭山, a maritime location in Kagawa Prefecture (Shikoku Island) and devoted to Konpira 金比羅, a local kami worshipped as the guardian deity for seafarers, navigation, fishing, and water for agriculture. Konpira can appear as a snake or dragon (as can the river, water, and island goddess Benzaiten). Ebumi Daimyōjin is also closely associated with 都久夫須麻神社(aka ) on Chikubushima Island (Lake Biwa, Shiga Pref.) as well as with Shingon-affiliated Hōgonji Temple 宝厳寺, also on the same island, which is one of Japan's most celebrated. Also see

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Inari & Fox
Ōgetsuhime
Ōkuninushi (Rabbit)
Ōmononushi (Snake)
Ōnamuchi
Toyōkanome
Toyōkehime
Tsukuyomi
Uganomitama / Ukanomitama
Ukemochi
Ugajin (Snake)
Wakaukanome

. Tutelaries of Food, Foodstuffs, Grain, the Rice Crop, and Agriculture. explores the complex and convoluted linkages between Japan's native pantheon of kami food tutelaries and Benzaiten. Many of these food kami are affiliated, assimilated, associated, conflated, connected, corresponded, identified, reflected, or otherwise related to Benzaiten, who in turn derives from Hindu-Buddhist mythology and is associated with various deva from an ancient Vedic tradition. The Hindu deva were adopted into Buddhism as protectors and wealth bringers. Deities of Hindu-Buddhist origin can be identified (in the below list) by the appearance of the word "TEN" in their names. Despite all we know, there are still many dark places in our understanding. Below I try to shed light on some key kami linkages with Benzaiten.

Sampling of Various Linkages to Japanese Food Kami

1

Ukanomitama → Inari → Dakiniten → Uga Benzaiten

2

Ukanomitama → Ugajin → Uga Benzaiten

3

Toyōkehime → Ukanomitama → Ugajin → Uga Benzaiten

4

Ukemochi → Tsukuyomi → Ōgetsuhime → Amaterasu  → Benzaiten

5

Ōmononushi → White Snake → Ōkuninushi → Daikokuten → Dakini → Uga Benzaiten

6

Ōnamuchi → Ōkuninushi → White Snake → Ugajin → Uga Benzaiten

7

Ōkuninushi → Daikokuten → Shōten → Benzaiten    

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Ichikishima Hime, Heien-era wood sculpture. Ichikishima Hime, Heien-era painting by Kose no Kanaoka.
(L) Matsunō Taisha 松尾大社 (Kyoto).
Heian era. Photo (R) Painting, Kose no Kanaoka  巨勢金岡 (early Heian). Yaegaki Jinja 八重垣神社 (Shimane) Photo

Ichikishimahime or Ichikishima Hime no Mikoto 市寸嶋比売 or 狭依毘売命 (Kojiki), 市杵島姫命 (Nihogi), other spellings 市寸島比売命, 市杵島姫神, 瀛津嶋姫. She is the kami incarnation (suijaku 垂迹) of Benzaiten. The latter is the original Buddhist manifestation  (honji 本地). See

Honjisuijaku or Honji-suijaku Setsu :
Theory of original reality and manifest traces. A theory of Buddhist-Shinto syncretism. Originally a Buddhist term used to explain the Buddha's nature as a metaphysical being (honji) and the Historical Buddha (i.e. Sakyamuni) as a trace manifestation (suijaku). This theory was used in Japan to explain the relationship between the various Buddha and Shinto kami; the many Buddha were regarded as the honji, and the Shinto kami as their incarnations or suijaku. Theoretically, honji and suijaku are an indivisible unity and there is no question of valuing one more highly than the other; but in the early Nara period, the honji were regarded as more important than the suijaku. Gradually they both came to be regarded as one; but in the Kamakura period, Shintoists also proposed the opposite theory, that the Shinto kami were the honji and the Buddha were the suijaku. This latter theory is called han-honji-suijaku setsu or shinpon-butsuju setsu.

Ichikishima is an island kami and water goddess venerated at some 8,500 nationwide. Her main sanctuary is located at (Fukuoka Prefecture). She was conflated with Benzaiten by at least the late Heian period (10th or 11th centuries). Also known as 厳島明神 at 厳島神社 (Hiroshima), another. Ichikishima-hime is the most important of the three, who were formed when sun goddess broke 's sword, chewed it in her mouth, then blew out a mist that produced the trio >. In some shrines she is shown alone yet represents all three. All three are worshipped as water goddesses, island kami, and patrons of safety at sea, bountiful fishing, guardians of the nation, and protectors of the imperial household. Many are associated with the. For more details, see. 

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Inari → Dakini
Inari → Nyoirin Kannon
Inari → Seijo (Holy Woman)
Inari → Amaterasu
All are linked to Benzaiten.

Inari, wood figurine, Tokugawa Period Courtesy Musee Guimet, Paris, where figurine is located
, wood, Tokugawa Era (1603-1867); Courtesy Musée Guimet, Paris, where piece is located

inari-fox-TN-phillipp-franz-von-siebold
Inari carrying rice, fox at side.
Woodcut by Hokusai. From Philipp
Franz von Siebold, Leiden 1831.

 

Inari 稲荷. The deity's name translates as "rice cargo." Inari is the Japanese kami of rice and one of Japan's most popular divinities -- more than are littered across the country (more than any other ). But Inari is much more than a kami of rice. In commercial regions, merchants worship Inari to ensure commercial success, while in fishing communities Inari is venerated to ensure bountiful catches. In esoteric circles, Inari is combined with the Hindu-Buddhist goddess, and this is intimately connected to Benzaiten worship. In another configuration from the Ono branch of Shingon, Inari is a transformation of and. In the Tendai Sannō tradition, Inari appears in the form of the beautiful female deity called Seijo 聖女 (Holy Woman), an association "that appears to date to the tenth century, when she is said to have appeared in this form in a dream to the illustrious monk Sonni 尊意 (866-940) in 926, the same year he was appointed thirteenth abbot (J. zasu 座主) of Enryakuji, and thus head of the Tendai sect." In the Shingon tradition of Tōji Temple 東寺 (Kyōto), Inari has long served as the protecting deity of the whole temple and is associated with a three-headed deity named Yashajin 夜叉神 or 摩多羅神, who is constituted of 聖天 (Gaṇeśa) at the center, at the left, and Benzaiten at the right. In artwork, the mount of both Inari and is a white fox (a creature closely associated with the food crop and ). is also a form of and the servant of, the Hindu god of five cereals who was adopted into the Japanese Buddhist pantheon as one of the and venerated as the luck-bringing protector of the earth, farming, farmers, commerce, and good fortune. imagery in Japan is also identified with kami (or Okuninushi-no-Kami, 大国主命 (lit. Great Land Master), a kami of the land and abundance (and hence agriculture) whose name Ō-kuni 大国 can also be read Daikoku. Given his links to agriculture and wealth, is (not surprisingly) connected intimately to Benzaiten artwork as well, as discussed above in the section. Depictions of Japan's Inari thus vary. Pre-modern artwork depicts Inari as a bearded man standing on a sack of rice with two foxes flanking his sides, or as a long-haired woman carrying sheaves of rice or riding a white fox. Another deity,, fulfills many of the same roles as Inari. During Japan's Heian era, the powerful Tendai sect on Mt. Hiei merged Benzaiten with (a human-headed white snake kami of water and wealth) to create the syncretic deity known as, a deity of agriculture, wealth, and good fortune. Most sources believe is none other than the kami of grain, who is most commonly considered an aspect of Inari. Two of the pivotal links in this convoluted circle of associations among Inari,,, Benzaiten, and are agriculture (water, rice, food) and wealth (wish-granting jewel, good fortune). See our for more details or see the or QUOTE FROM PAGE 147-148:

Source: Fremerman, Sarah Alizah, page 147, Divine Impersonations: Nyoirin Kannon in Medieval Japan, Ph.D. Dissertation, Stanford University, 2008, 230 pages; AAT 3332823. Available at Proquest.

The image of Inari in the form of an old man, today the most common "Shinto" representation of Inari, is based on a Buddhist story in which, according to one version, Kukai and Inari meet in a past life in India, both listening to a sermon given by Sakyamuni. Kukai vows to be born in an "eastern land" and to spread Buddhism there, and he predicts that Inari will become the protective deity of the secret teachings; they meet again in Japan in 816, when Kukai encounters a very tall, muscular old man; later, in 823, this old man arrives at Toji carrying rice over his shoulder and a cedar branch in one hand, accompanied by two women and two children, and on this occasion Kukai welcomes him and Inari duly becomes the protective deity of esoteric Buddhism. See Karen A. Smyers, The Fox and the Jewel: Shared and Private Meanings in Contemporary Japanese Inari Worship (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1999), 17.

Inari's manifestation in the form of a young, often aristocratic woman could be linked to the term myoubu, which refers to a rank of court lady, as well as to Inari's fox attendants and the sub-shrines that house them. This may have to do with the rank of myoubu having been bestowed upon Inari, in one case by the sovereign Gosanjou. (1034-1073, r. 1068-1072) in 1071, another time by a noblewoman by the name of Shin no Myoubu during the reign of the sovereign Ichijou (980-1011, r. 986-1011). Her female form may also be connected with her having merged in Japan with the Indian demoness-turned-Buddhist-protector Dakiniten. Ibid., 81-85.

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Itsukushima (an avatar) of Benzaiten
Kami of Itsukushima 厳島.
1783 version of the
A manifestation of Benzaiten.
The image text says she is a kami
form of & Niu Gongen

Jump to three-headed, fox-riding deva
Itsukushima playing biwa.

 14th century. Hanging scroll.
Photo

Itsukushima Myōjin 厳島明神. Also known as Itsukushima Hime 厳島姫 or 厳島姫命, Miyajima 厳島権現, Miyajima Myōjin 厳島明神, or Itsukushima 厳島厳島妙音弁財天 (the "wondreous sound" island kami-goddess). Her main sanctuary is located at 厳島神社 on Miyajima Island 宮島 (Hiroshima), where the kami was early on (7th-8th century) venerated as a protector of fishermen and boats, and sometime thereafter as a warrior goddess. In the Heian era, she was conflated with (one of the three ) at the nearby (Fukuoka Prefecture). Both were considered manifestations of Benzaiten by the late Heian period. Japanese scholar Minobe Shigekatsu, in, says that Itsukushima Myōjin was considered the daughter of a sea dragon, and somewhere along the line belief in Itsukushima Myōjin became merged with belief in Benzaiten, with the two being worshipped as one. <Minobe, p. 221> Scholar Saroj Kumar Chaudhuri in mentions the same merging, saying that Benzaiten's serpentine form was likely linked to Itsukushima-hime because the latter was described in medieval texts (e.g. Heike Monogatari) as the third daughter of the dragon king Sāgara 娑竭羅 <p. 47>. The Kegon-kyō 華厳経, or Flower Garland Sutra, first translated in 420 AD, describes Sagara as the dragon who causes rain to fall. Today Benzaiten is enshrined at various locations throughout the country, including the Munakata stronghold on. <see for more details> In the Kamakura era, Itsukushima Myōjin was adopted as one of four tutelary deities at Mt. Kōya (the powerful Shingon temple-shrine multiplex in Wakayama). The four are known by various names, including 高野四所権現, Kōya Shisha Myōjin 高野四社明神, and Shigū Gongen 四宮権現. In the Kojiki (Japan's oldest extant chronicle), Itsukishima-hime opened roads on both the sea and land, and has since become a deity of traffic safety and good fortune. Says the about adjacent photo: "The four deities in court dress in this painting represent a hierarchy of local Shintō gods (kami) involved in the founding and perpetuation of the great Shingon Esoteric Buddhist headquarters on Mt. Kōya. The upper pair comprises Kariba Myōjin 狩場明神 (male) and Niu Myōjin 丹生明神 (female), the gods of the mountain who welcomed Shingon founder (774–835) as he searched for a site on which to build a temple. The other two deities in the painting -- Kehi Myōjin 気比明神, on the right, and Itsukushima Myōjin 厳島明神, playing a lute on the left -- were worshiped by the Taira clan. All four deities are identified as local manifestations of Buddhist gods: Kariba and Niu are aspects of ; Kehi is an aspect of the ; and Itsukushima is an aspect of Benzaiten." Also see Encyclopedia of Shinto's page and its page, which says that "among commoners, a cult of developed, and Itsukushima was also worshipped by fishermen and merchants." <end quote> is a native kami of Japanese fishing folk, the ocean, and good fortune. He is the sole Japanese kami among Japan's, while Hindu-derived Benzaiten is the sole female. See also,,, and. 

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Kōjin 荒神. Kami of the kitchen; found nationwide. Appears in Benzaiten artwork and is associated with (lord of five grains, agriculture, and the kitchen), who in turn is identified with 大国主命, the kami of abundance, rice, luck, and happy marriages. For details, see page on (syncretic Shinto-Buddhist deity of the kitchen & cooking stove).

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Konpira 金比羅, a local kami worshipped as the guardian of seafarers, navigation, fishing, and water for agriculture at many  金刀比羅宮 throughout Japan. Konpira is a local kami manifestation of the Hindu-Buddhist deity  宮毘羅 (one of the ). Konpira is not directly identified with Benzaiten, but shares many of  the same associations, e.g., prayed to for safe sea voyages and abundant rain, appears as a snake or as a dragon kami (Ryūjin 竜神), also  identified with  大物主神 (the Shintō kami of Mt. Miwa 三輪 and the counterpart to , Japan's Buddhist god of agriculture and the kitchen, who in turn appears often in Benzaiten artwork).  (in Shikoku) possesses one of Japan's oldest extant paintings of  (dated to the early 14th century). Related Entry = . Also see . 

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Koyane (Kayane) Hime 児屋命比売, the wife of kami Ame-no-Koyane 天児屋命; the pair are worshipped at Kasuga Shrine 春日大社 in Nara, where Benzaiten is conflated with Koyane Hime. <Flammarion p. 223>

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Mizu no Kamisama 水の神様. Water Deity. See for details.  

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spacerMunakata Taishi, Map In the 8th and 9th centuries, to Korea
and to China (kentōshi 遣唐使) visited Munakata Taisha
before their departure to pray for safety on the sea
voyage. In the Nihongi, the supreme sun goddess
commands the Munakata goddesses to protect
the sea route from northern Kyushu to the Korean Peninsula.

Munakata Ema from the Munakata Taisha Shrine
Votive tablet (EMA 絵馬) of the Munakata trio at Munakata Taisha 宗像大社, the mother shrine for the trinity's worship.
The large black kanji spell MIARE MATSURI みあれ祭, a major
shrine festival & ritual held at sea (about 300 fishing boats)
in early October each year to welcome the goddesses
and gain their protection for the area's fishing industry.

Painting of the Three Munakata Goddesses
Painting in a waiting room of the
Shinzen Kekkon-shiki Wedding Hall
神前結婚式 at Munakata Taisha.

Munakata Sanjoshin 宗像三女神 (or 胸形三女神). Literally "Three Female Kami of Munakata." Water goddesses, island kami, and patrons of safety at sea, bountiful fishing, guarding the nation, and protecting the imperial household. These three appear in the Kojiki 古事記 (K) and Nihon Shoki 日本書紀 (NS), two of Japan's earliest official records of the 8th century, although the spelling of their names differ slightly. In these classical texts, all three kami were formed when sun goddess broke 's sword, chewed it in her mouth, then blew out a mist that produced the trio <>. Each goddess is enshrined at her own individual sanctuary, with the three individual shrines collectively known as the Munakata Taisha 宗像大社 (the mother shrine for the trinity's worship) in Munakata City Tashima 宗像市田島 (Fukuoka). Some 8,500 satellite Munakata shrines are found nationwide. Since their worship first began under the patronage of the Munakata 宗像 clan on Kyūshū (Kyushu) island, they are called the Three Goddesses of Munakata. <> In the 8th and 9th centuries, to Korea and China visited Munakata Taisha before their departure to pray for safety on the sea voyage. From around the mid-to-late 12th century, Japan's preeminent and most popular water divinity Benzaiten was identified with and/or merged with, the most important of the three Munakata water kami. Today Benzaiten is enshrined at various Munakata locations throughout the nation, including the strongholds on and. The three goddesses are shown below (NS = Nihongi; K = Kojiki).

1. 市杵嶋姫命 (NS) or Ichikishima-hime 市寸島比売命 (K), or Ichikishima Hime-no-Kami 市杵島姫, or Sayoribime no Mikoto 狭依毘売命 (K). Enshrined at Hetsumiya (Hetsu-gū ) 辺津宮 in Munakata City, Fukuoka. Commonly identified as a manifestation of Benzaiten. is the most important of the three Munakata goddesses. In some shrines she is shown alone yet represents all three. She is also identified with, the island kami and warrior goddess of in nearby Hiroshima. The kami of is likewise a manifestation of Benzaiten.

2. Tagitsu-hime 多岐都比売命 (K) or 湍津姫 (NS). Enshrined at Nakatsumiya (Nakatsu-gū) 中津宮 on Ōshima island 大島, roughly ten kilometers from land. In some esoteric traditions, she is considered the goddess of architecture and forestry. <>

3. Tagori-hime 田心姫 (NS) or Tagiri-hime [Takirihime] 多紀理毘売 (K), or 田心姫神. Also known as Okitsushima-hime 奥津島比売命. Her main shrine is Okitsumiya (Okitsu-gū) 沖津宮 on Okinoshima island 沖ノ島 at the southwestern tip of the Sea of Japan. Surprisingly, the island is off limits to women -- a tradition that started early on. In the Kojiki, she marries 大国主命 (great landlord kami; identified with, Buddhist deity of agriculture). Tagori-hime has a male manifestation known as Shōshinji Gongen 聖真子権現 (also read Shōshinshi), who is the 19th member of the ; he is venerated at Mt. Hiei (the third shrine at Mt. Hiei is Shōshinji 聖真子 or Usamiya 宇佐宮). In some esoteric traditions, Tagori is the kami of agriculture & weaving. <>.

Note 1: In the, Nogami Takahiro says the three goddesses are deifications of (1) female mediums = ; (2) rough water = Tagitsu-hime; and (3) fog = Tagori-hime. Site last accessed Dec. 2, 2011.

Note 2: provides this illuminating passage: "From ancient times, Benzaiten has been identified with the Shinto goddess of islands, or, a minor figure in the oldest Shinto scriptures. In 1870, Shinto and Buddhism were legally separated, and the Shinto clergy have thus stressed this identification so as to continue worshipping Benten at Shinto shrines. In the Rig Veda, Sarasvati is viewed as one of a trinity of goddesses, together with Ila and Bharati or Mahi. In the Shinto classics, is one of a trinity of water goddesses, together with Tagori-Hime and Tagitsu-Hime, all of whom were formed from the sword of the Sun Goddess." <end quote by >

SOURCES (all last accessed on Dec. 2, 2011). Encyclopedia of Shinto: | | |. Also Gabi Greve, ; also Jean Herbert,   

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Dragon Goddess of Hakusan, Shirayamahime no Kami
Shirayamahime no Kami
Image

Shirayamahime no Ōkami 白山比咩大神 at 白山 (lit. white mountain). Hakusan is the collective name for a number of sacred Japanese mountains that converge along the borders of four prefectures (Ishigawa, Fukui, Gifu, and Toyama) in northwest Honshū island. is undeniably one of Japan's most important and ancient sites of religious mountain worship (sangaku shūkyō 山岳宗) and a major center of ascetic practice for the 修験道 cult of mountain worship. From early on, Hakusan was known as a "mountain realm inhabited by kami" (shintaisan 神体山). From the 12th century onward, Hakusan was ruled by Enryakuji Temple 延暦寺 on Mt. Hiei 比叡 in Kyoto Prefecture. (aka Kukurihime no Kami 菊理媛神 aka Shirayama Myōri Daigongen 白山妙理大権現, aka Shirayama Myōri Daibosatsu 白山妙理大菩薩) is the central kami of the Hakusan mountains. She is mentioned in the Nihonshōki (Chronicles of Japan, compiled around + 720). This deity is considered a "water kami" ( 水神), one who controls the rivers and seas. Since Hakusan's peaks are the source of four great rivers (the Tedori, Kuzuryu, Nagara, and Sho), this association with water is easily understood. The deity is also considered a "dragon kami" (ryūjin 竜神). The dragon -- in both Shintō and Buddhist lore -- is a controller of rain, tempests, and tides. The local folk also venerate as the patroness of fishing and seafaring folk. She is enshrined on Mt. Gozenpō in the 白山比咩神社 (aka Hakusan Hongū Shrine 白山本宮), a sanctuary said to embody Kukurihime no Kami, Izanagi no Mikoto, and Izanami no Mikoto. Her Buddhist honji is the. Although is not directly identified with Benzaiten, she shares many of the same attributes -- prayed to for safe sea voyages and associated with water, abundant rain, dragons, and the underworld. See for a few more details. 

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suiten-1690-1783-butsuzozui-TN
Suiten 水天
Water deva, snakes atop head
(R) 1690
(L) 1783
Holds sword and rope in hands, but
the 1783 image reverses their position.

 

 

水神. Also known as Mizu no Kamisama 水の神様, literally Water Goddess / God, Water Kami. Venerated as a deity of the water, the sea, fishing folk, agriculture, and motherhood. Also called Sui-ō 水王 (water king). is worshipped widely throughout Japan, and shrines dedicated to this deity are called 水天宮. Votive stone markers for Suijin can be found everywhere in Japan -- in caves, near rice paddies, and near village boundaries. Farmers in mountainous regions in particular pray to this deity to keep their fields alive with water, or to spare the village from too much rain, which could kill the crops or cause mudslides. shares many of the attributes associated with water goddess Benzaiten. The Suitengū Shrine (Tokyo) actually worships Benzaiten together with.The term "suijin" also refers to a wide variety of mythological and magical creatures found in lakes, ponds, springs and wells, including serpents (snakes and dragons), eels, fish, turtles, and the flesh-eating kappa. Benzaiten is closely identified with snakes, dragons, turtles, and other creatures of the water. 's Buddhist counterpart is known as 水天 (lit. = water deva). is one of the, and corresponds to the Vedic deity Varuna, who is Hindu myths is the lord of oceans and rivers, and is typically positioned in the west (or southwest) in Japanese. The Buddhist version is rarely the central object of devotion in Japan, and when depicted in artwork, s/he often appears with snakes atop the head. See our page for more details on this deity and other manifestations of water kami in Japan. 

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Tengu. The white-colored Tonyūgyō 頓遊行神 holding a spear (or other weapon) and the red-colored Suyochisō 須臾馳走神 sporting wings. These goblins are associated with, who in turn is conflated with Benzaiten. Also Akibasan Sanshakubō 秋葉山三尺坊 in Nagano, who is commonly depicted as a Tengu riding a white fox and associated with. Also Iizuna Saburō Tengu 飯綱三郎天狗 in Sendai. See above. Also see our page.

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Masculine Ugajin, Feminine Ugajin
Male Ugajin and Female Ugajin
Photographed at Musee Guimet by | | No date given.

宇賀神 or 宇賀福神. A native Japanese snake kami (deity) of foodstuffs, good fortune, and wealth who was merged with Benzaiten during Japan's Heian era (794-1185), and who often appears atop Benzaiten's head as an old man with a white snake body and human head. Most sources believe is none other than 宇迦魂尊, the Shinto kami of grains and foodstuffs mentioned in the Kojiki and Nihongi, two of Japan's earliest records (early 8th century). Spurious texts from the 13th-century (the ) also depict the deity with both Hindu and Buddhist attributes. See above for more details. In modern Japan, is a popular deity prayed to for bumper crops and business success, as at in Kamakura.

 

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WHAT'S HERE







benzaiten-dragon-painting-nakamura-TN
Benzaiten atop Dragon
Edo era, 1814. Tablet inscribed with
name Nakamura Shichibei 中村七兵衛,
a kabuki actor. Tablet adorned a
Kabuki theater. from magazine
,
Volume 5, May 2010.

Dragon. A mythical creature resembling a snake and a member of a the (Sanskrit) class of serpentine creatures. The dragon was incorporated early on into Buddhist mythology in both Asia and Japan. It is a member of the (eight classes of deities protecting Buddhism), one of (shishin 四神) guarding the four directions, a controller of wind and rain and tempests, a guardian of treasure,, and bringer of wealth and good fortune. (Jp. = Hachidai-ryū-ō 八大竜王) are described in the Lotus Sutra, but other texts describe only five or seven, while others describe 81 or 185. Fish and other sea life serve the dragon kings as vassals, with the turtle acting as the main messenger.

Dragons are shape shifters, and may assume human form and even mate with humans. Japan's dragon lore comes predominantly from China. In most Japanese legends, they live in lakes, rivers, beneath the sea, or in island caves or mountain caves. Although fearsome and powerful, they are considered just and benevolent when serving the cause of Buddhism. They possess.

Benzaiten, a water goddess are on islands, or near lakes and rivers, was linked early on with dragons and snakes. In the 10th century, Benzaiten was prayed to at to end droughts and bring rain, hence the notion that she controls dragons. In

Era Names & Dates:
Standard dating scheme found in both Japan and the West.
  • Ancient refers to the Asuka and Nara periods (538-794)
  • Classical refers to the Heian period (794-1185)
  • Medieval refers to the Kamakura era (1185-1333), Muromachi era (1336-1573), and Edo era (1600-1867)
  • Modern refers to everything since 1868 (Meiji, Taisho, Showa, & Heisei periods)

    NOTE: Ancient & Classical are sometimes used collectively to refer to everything through the Nara era. The Edo Period is also known as "Early Modern," while Meiji and after are the "Modern" period. The term "Premodern" refers to pre-Meiji.

legends of, Benzaiten descends from the sky to subdue a nasty child-eating dragon. At, belief in Benzaiten was merged with belief in the local kami 厳島明神, said to be the daughter of dragon king Sāgara 娑竭羅. The Kegon-kyō 華厳経 (Flower Garland Sutra; first translated in 420 AD), describes Sāgara as the dragon who causes rain to fall. In the Kojiki and Nihongi, two of Japan's earliest texts, the bloodline of Japan's legendary first emperor, Jinmu Tennō 神武天皇, is traced back to Toyotama-hime 豊玉姫命, the daughter of dragon kami Watatsumi 海神. For more on dragon mythology, see the.

Benten with 15 Disciples and Dragon at Enoshima, Modern, Stone
Benten & Dragon
click to enlarge

Benten & Dragon, Painting by Makishima Nyokyu
Benten & Dragon
click to enlarge

Benten atop dragon, modern painting by Fujimoto
Benten & Dragon
click to enlarge

Benten & Dragon, Votive tablets at Hakone Jinja
Benten & Dragon
click to enlarge

  1. Benten, dragon, and attendants at (near Kamakura). Modern, stone. This piece is quite gaudy and without artistic merit (in my mind). It mirrors the crass commercialism that one regrettably finds these days at. Photo by Mark Schumacher.
  2. Benten, dragon, disciples. Oil on canvas, entitled Ryūgasawa Daibenzaiten 龍ヶ澤大辯財天像. Painted in 1965 by idiosyncratic religious artist Makishima Nyokyū 牧島如鳩 (1892-1975). His work often blends Christian & Buddhist imagery. He studied at a Christian seminary in Tokyo, but later came to consider Buddha and God as one. In this painting, Makishima drew 12 disciples, not the customary. This no doubt refers to the 12 disciples of Jesus Christ. Ryūgasawa is a well-known source of spring water at the foot of Mt. Bandai in Fukushima Prefecture. Legend contents that famous monk Kūkai 空海 (774-835; aka Kōbō Daishi) prayed for rain at this location.
  3. Modern painting of the atop dragon; entitled 騎龍弁財天 (Benten on dragon). By artist Fujimoto Aoi 不二本蒼生 (born 1947). H = 35 cm, W = 35.
  4. Votive tablet (Ema 絵馬) at Hakone Shrine 箱根神社 in Kanagawa Pref. (aka 9-Headed Dragon Shrine 九頭龍神社.    

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Kappa & Benzaiten. The adjacent photo shows Benzaiten playing her customary biwa (Japanese lute). Next to her is the, a Japanese water imp. Since Benzaiten is a water goddess, her temples and shrines are almost invariably in the neighborhood of water -- the sea, a river, or a pond. Why is the in this painting? The is not typically associated with Benzaiten. But there is one potential answer -- the Kappa is a (water kami, water deity) in Shinto mythology. are found in lakes, ponds, springs, wells, and irrigation waterways. They are often depicted as a snake, a dragon, an eel, a fish, a turtle, or a. This association with water is probably what the artist is trying to achieve -- both Benzaiten and the are spirits who are closely associated with water. Perhaps the artist wants to show the beautiful and ugly side of the spirit world, that a deity can come in both light and dark forms, both good and bad forms. The two appear to be sitting at the entrance to a cave (another common motif associated with Benzaiten), but readers at the web site where this photo was found think it may be female genitalia. This may or may not be correct. But the close association of Benzaiten with the snake, especially the imagery of the snake shedding its skin, may indicate the idea of rebirth and renewal. And what better motif than the female sexual organ. See the or for more details. 

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Ofuda (talisman) of Fushimi Inari Taisha (head shrine of Inari worship, located in Kyoto)
Ofuda of Fushimi Inari Taisha (Kyoto)
Photo |
See caption below.

 

Snakes and Foxes and Wish-Granting Jewels.
Says the "The Japanese kami of foodstuffs -- 宇迦之御魂神 (Kojiki) or Uka no Mitama no Mikoto 倉稲魂命 (Nihongi) -- is thought to refer specifically to the spirit of rice. The Kojiki describes the kami as the offspring of 須佐之男命, while the Nihongi states that the kami was the offspring of the two kami and The comments on the Ōtono no Hogai Norito further identify the kami with (aka Toyōke Ōmikami 豊受大御神) -- linked to Amaterasu's stronghold at Ise. is most commonly known as the rice kami. From the Era Names & Dates:
Standard dating scheme found in both Japan and the West.
  • Ancient refers to the Asuka and Nara periods (538-794)
  • Classical refers to the Heian period (794-1185)
  • Medieval refers to the Kamakura era (1185-1333), Muromachi era (1336-1573), and Edo era (1600-1867)
  • Modern refers to everything since 1868 (Meiji, Taisho, Showa, & Heisei periods)

    NOTE: Ancient & Classical are sometimes used collectively to refer to everything through the Nara era. The Edo Period is also known as "Early Modern," while Meiji and after are the "Modern" period. The term "Premodern" refers to pre-Meiji.

, the kami was linked to popular combinatory deities such as the snake-bodied and. is enshrined at Kyoto's Fushimi Inari Taisha 伏見稲荷大社 and other shrines throughout Japan." is one of Japan's most popular divinities -- more than 30,000 shrines devoted to are littered across the country (more than any other ). The talisman shown at right from Fushimi Inari Taisha (probably dating from the Edo era) shows a bamboo curtain at top (non-anthropromorphic representation of ), five red-colored wish-granting jewels, three jewels in a bowl at top center, cedar boughs and sickles (験= しるしの杉, omens of luck), two snakes in rice bales (one with a ceder twig in its mouth and another with the key to the storehouse 倉の鍵 in its mouth, both symbols of wealth), and white and black foxes at the bottom with the name written in the middle. For more details, see Karen A. Smyers, Honolulu, Univ. of Hawaii Press, 1999. ABOVE PHOTO: Four Inari representations. From top left, clockwise: (1) Non-anthropromorphic representation of Inari showing bamboo curtain, the name surrounded by the shrine stamp, cedar boughs and sickles, three jewels in a bowl, two snakes in rice bales with ceder and a key in mouths (sometimes seen as silkworms and cocoons), white and black foxes. Probably dating from the Edo period, distributed by the Fushimi Inari Shrine.

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Turtle with three wish-granting jewels.
Turtle carrying world on his back;
three wish-granting jewels at top.
Edo era. Unknown artist (Hokusai??)

Turtle entwined with snake; photo courtesy of www.rarebooksinjapan.com
Turtle Entwined with Snake
Wood, Date Unknown
Photo from

Turtles and Snakes 亀と蛇. Benzaiten is also accompanied and served by a turtle, as, for example, at her sanctuary on. The turtle is one of (shishin 四神) guarding the four directions. Its imagery corresponds to north, winter, black, and the element water. It is a servant and messenger of, who in turn is one of Benzaiten's main avatars. In Buddhist cosmology, the central mountain of the world rests upon a cosmic turtle lying at the bottom of the ocean. The tortoise is the hero of many old legends. It helped the first Chinese emperor to tame the Yellow River, and in return was rewarded with a life span of ten thousand years. Thus the tortoise became associated with long life. In both Chinese and Japanese artwork, a common symbol for longevity is a snake embracing a tortoise (see photo at right), for Chinese mythological says their union engendered the universe (there were no male tortoises -- as the ancients believed --- so the female had to mate with a snake). <see > In China, the tortoise-snake pairing dates back to the third century AD. In Chinese Qigong exercises, the snake (yang) is a symbol of dynamic potency, while the turtle (yin) is a symbol of stillness and endurance. Grave steles, memorial stones, and reliquaries placed atop tortoise effigies can still be found in China and Japan, and were reserved for only the highest ranking members of the imperial family or ruling classes. The use of turtle memorial tablets began in China. In, the water deva (Skt. = Varuna) is sometimes shown in the midst of the primeval waters sitting atop a turtle; s/he holds a serpent-noose and wears a serpent crown. In Japan, is closely identified with water goddess Benzaiten -- the two are even worshipped together at. The snake and turtle, both closely associated with the water element, are thus appropriate companions. Additionally, in Japan, the symbolism of the has been largely supplanted by the. The latter Buddhist group performs the same task. The most powerful of the four is, who corresponds to the turtle, winter, cold, water, black, and faith. When worshipped independently, is known as, who (as discussed earlier in this report) appears often in artwork alongside Benzaiten. In paintings of Japan's, the group is often shown riding a treasure boat accompanied by auspicious symbols like the turtle (a symbol of longevity) and other long-lived creatures like the deer, stag, or crane. In related matters, the turtle appears frequently in Japanese artwork as the mount of. The latter is the deification of the North Pole Star (Hokushin 北辰), the Big Dipper (Ursa Major), and the Little Bear constellation (Ursa Minor). For more photos of turtle art associated with Benzaiten, see, which offers an  

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benzaiten-by-artist-munakata-shinkou-cmoa.org
Benzaiten. By Munakata Shikō
 棟方志功 (1903 - 1975). Woodcut on paper. H = 41 cm, W = 29 cm.
Source:

White Color. The symbolism and roles of are very similar to those associated with 稲荷 (kami of rice and agriculture). In one Japanese tradition, was merged with the Hindu/Buddhist guardian goddess -- both are generally depicted riding a white fox. The similarities between and her white snake and the iconography of / and their white fox are very striking -- e.g., the fox and snake and dragon are commonly depicted carrying, as are Benzaiten,, and. Curiously,,,, (Hindu/Buddhist warrior god, lord of five cereals and the food crop), and 大国主命 (Shinto counterpart to Daikokuten) each have messengers that are WHITE in color. (white fox), (white fox), Benzaiten (white snake), (white rat), and (white hare). Additionally, in ancient Hindu lore, Sarasvati's animal vehicle is a. Are all these similarities coincidental, or do they suggest a deeper relatedness? I believe they suggest a deeper pattern of shared iconography, origin, and conflation. White appears to be a common color for the nature spirits and kami of early Shintō mythology, and the supreme Shintō sun goddess is often shown riding a white horse. For example, says : "When (Kojiki = 倭建命, Nihongi = 日本武尊) stopped to eat at the pass of Ashigara during his eastern campaign, the kami of the pass appeared to him as a white deer. Or again, the mountain kami of Ibuki was said to appear as a white boar." <end quote> 

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White fox riding horse, with wish-granting jewel on tail
White fox with wish-granting jewel
riding horse. Ōtsu-e 大津絵 of the Edo Period. Ōtsu-e are small paintings produced for travelers & pilgrims.
Photo Source:
馬乗り狐、大津絵、江戸時代

White Fox. By the 11th century, 稲荷 (the Japanese kami of rice and food) becomes intricately associated with the fox, especially white foxes. In traditional artwork, a pair of foxes typically flank. But in modern times, himself has all but disappeared, replaced instead by images of his messenger, the magical (kitsune 狐). Here the symbolism is twofold. First, rice is sacred in Japan, closely associated with fertility (the pregnant earth) and with sustaining life. and his foxes must therefore be placated -- otherwise it would be disastrous to the livelihood of the nation's farmers and people. Second, the fox is associated with the concept of Kimon 鬼門, literally "demon gate," a Japanese term stemming from (Chn. = feng shui). In Chinese thought, the northeast quarter is considered particularly inauspicious. It is the place where "demons gather and enter." This belief was imported by the Japanese. Kimon generally means ominous direction, or taboo direction. In Japan, the fox (as well as ) is considered a powerful ally in warding off evil Kimon influences, and fox statues are often placed in northeast locations to stand guard over demonic influence. Also, two foxes typically guard the entrance to Japan's many, one to the left and one to the right of the gate. Miniature Inari Shrines marking sacred sites are common, distinguished by their smallness, bright, and fox figures. There are approximately 30,000 nationwide. The head shrine of Inari veneration in Japan is Fushimi Inari Taisha 伏見稲荷大社 in Kyoto, on the outskirts of the city. Folklore says deep-fried bean curd (abura-age 油揚げ) is the favorite food of the fox. is commonly associated with the Hindu-Buddhist goddess, who in turn is associated with the Hindu-Buddhist deity. All three appear as attendants to Benzaiten in the. In Japan, the fox is a legendary creature with supernatural powers for doing both good and evil. Able to transform into human shape (typically that of a bewitching woman), the fox can reportedly hear and see all secrets of humankind. The traditional reverence of the common people for the fox is probably behind 's close association with the animal. According to Kasama Inari Shrine 笠間稲荷神社 in Ibaraki, the "mountain kami 山の神" was believed to descend from its winter residence in the mountain to become the "paddy field kami 田の神" in the spring, residing there during the subsequent agricultural season. Following the fall harvest, the deity would return once again to its winter home in the mountains in its role as the "mountain kami." All this probably took place at the same time that foxes appeared each season. As such, the fox became known as 's messenger. In Japanese folklore, descends atop a horse led by a fox. Additionally, Japan's clearly sprang from the same page as China's earlier fox mythology. For many more details and photos of the fox and, see the. 

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White Peacock, White Swan, White Fowl
The mortal enemy of the snake is the peacock. In lore from India and mainland Asia, the peacock is described as a lover of music and fond of dancing to music. To my knowledge, the Japanese do not link Benzaiten to the peacock or other fowl, but in India, Sarasvati (aka Benzaiten) is sometimes shown sitting atop a white fowl or white peacock. Says Katherine M. Ball, author of : "Sarasvati is the goddess of wisdom, science, music, and poetry, and the reputed mother of the VEDAS. She is sometimes represented seated on a lotus throne borne on the back of a sacred white peacock, though her actual vahan (vehicle) is the hansa, a white swan or fowl resembling a goose." <end quote> Also, in Hindu mythology, Benzaiten's white swan can separate the substance of milk from water (symbolizing the discriminating wisdom needed to distinguish between good and bad). It can glide on water but not get its feathers wet (symbolizing the ability to live in the dirty material world without getting corrupted by it). It can fly high into the sky (symbolizing the cutting of earthly ties). The swan's white color symbolizes excellence. In Hindu mythology, this bird is said to live at Lake Manasarovar near Mt. Kailash. Said to be mute, its diet consists of pearls. 

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White Snake, Indigenous to Japan.
White Snake.
Supposedly indigenous to Japan.
The Shirohebi Shrine 白蛇神社
devoted to the white serpent is
located in Iwakuni City in Yamaguchi
Pref. Nearby is a park named Iwakuni Shirohebi Hozonkai 岩国保存会 or
Iwakuni White Snake Preservation Association.

 

 

White Snake. As discussed in detail above,, her companions, her avatars in Japan are snakes, dragons, and other water creatures. Since Benzaiten is a water goddess, nearly all Japanese shrines and temples devoted to her are located near a river, lake, pond, or ocean. They almost all have a water well, in which it is said lives a serpent, the servant of Benzaiten. On days of importance to the snake in Japan, one can find many festivals at the numerous Japanese shrines and temples dedicated to Benzaiten, in which votive pictures with serpents drawn on them are offered. Locals say that putting a cast-off snake skin in your purse/wallet will bring you wealth and property. Some Japanese believe that seeing a white snake or dreaming of a white snake is an omen of great fortune to come -- an old Japanese adage is 白蛇の夢を見ると金運が上がる -- but most can't remember why. This old belief can be traced back to around the 13th century and the appearance of the apocryphal, wherein Benzaiten is linked to a white snake kami named, and thereafter the combinatory deity is known as. Most sources believe is none other than the kami of grain, who is most commonly considered an aspect of. In numerous tales from the 13th century onward, Benzaiten is able to assume the form of a snake or dragon to assist her devotees. In artwork, Benzaiten is often shown mounted on a serpent or atop a dragon, or surrounded by white serpents, or crowned with a white serpent with the head of an old man. This latter entity is, also called Hakujaku 白蛇 (literally "white serpent"), considered her companion. Another Japanese water kami,, of the Shintō pantheon, cute drawings of couples holding hands appears in some artwork in the form of a white snake. Like Benzaiten, is closely associated with water. The Suitengū Shrine (Tokyo) actually worships Benzaiten together with. For a detailed review of Benzaiten and the white snake,. For examples of white snake lore from medieval Japanese literary sources, see Chaudhuri (pp. 44-55). The Chinese too have numerous legends about the white snake. See the 白蛇傳.

 

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CONCLUSION

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Benzaiten, Eight Armed, Cut Out from Yoshino Mandala
.
Her image as it appears in a
Meiji-era mandala known as the
Yoshino Mandala..

Uga Benzaiten, Hanging Scroll, Last Half 15th Century
8-Armed Uga Benzaiten and 15 Attendants, last half 15th century.
Private Collection, Hanging Scroll,
H = 97 cm, W = 40.5 cm. Photo from Christie's Images. (Scanned from
Catherine Ludvik's article in
#33, 2012, p. 105.

 

If you have read this report from top to bottom, you will now understand the permeability of Japan's water goddess Benzaiten. She absorbed attributes from many other deities in the Hindu, Buddhist, and Japanese pantheons and represents many complicated interconnections. Her linkage with the local Japanese snake-kami (a Japanese deity of water, food, and wealth) in Japan's medieval period fueled her rise in popularity, after which she became the sole female among Japan's extremely popular sometime in the 17th century. Her linkage to and the (especially ) was another wellspring of her popularity. Today she remains one of Japan's most beloved divinities regardless of religious denomination -- yet few Japanese or foreigners understand her bewildering complexity and myriad representations in Japanese artwork. Her continuing popularity in both olden and modern times is (from my perspective) due largely to her linkage with Japan's Shintō-kami tradition and to Hindu-deva mythology.

From a broader theoretical viewpoint aided by historical perspective, Benzaiten's development reflects a shift from clan-family based rule to feudalism. The Kamakura period (1185–1333) rearranged the political, religious, and artistic landscape of Japan. In the political realm, government control shifted to the military (samurai) class and remained there for the next seven centuries -- and it is during this period that we see the warrior Hindu-Buddhist deities Benzaiten, Bishamonten, and Daikokuten rising to ever-higher levels of mass appeal. During this period, the longstanding sanctity of the throne, the genteel tastes of the aristocracy, and the intellectual elitism of the entrenched monasteries gave way to a new spirit of simplicity, frugality, and manliness. In the religious realm, new and reformed Buddhist movements -- Pure Land, Zen, and Nichiren -- devoted to the salvation of the illiterate commoner gained widespread popularity. These movements stressed pure and simple faith over the complicated rites and doctrines of the traditional monasteries and esoteric schools. Religious art fell naturally under the same leveling impulse, paving the way for greater realism in religious imagery and transforming temple architecture. See.

The country was in a "crisis of consciousness." Let us quote once again from the exciting ideas of Iyanaga Nobumi: "A period of intensive philosophical development had just finished; enormous changes in the society were taking place, and the members of the elites were no longer sure of themselves, Based on the high-level metaphysical system that had been built up in the previous age, they elaborated a sophisticated system of interpretation of their own 'classical' mythology, often known as 'allegorical interpretation.' This happened because they could no longer believe naively in their mythology but needed it to authenticate their own legitimacy, in an existential (and, of course, also ideological, religious, and political sense). Thus, they began to forge a new mythical corpus, using the elements of this philosophical exegesis of the 'classical' mythology, along with elements they picked up from everywhere they could, especially from folklore or 'low culture.' Once this process of creation of a new 'artificial mythology' begins, people from every social stratum can join the elite class in producing new myths, new tales, and new symbols." <end Iyanaga quote,, page 146>

The Deva-Buddha-Kami paradigm of Japan's combinatory religious traditions is an enormous system of associations, a mind-boggling kaleidoscope of reflections. "It seems possible to begin with any starting point: no matter where one decides to start, one always arrives at the same results." <quoted from Iyanaga, p. 159> This, I believe, is essentially correct. This does not mean, however, that Japan's religious paradigm is a hopelessly incoherent jumble (although it might seem so to newcomers). As Teeuwen & Rambelli say on page 51 of "It is important to emphasize here that this 'jumble' was not only the religion of the Heian aristocracy, but a pervasive formation that characterized Japanese culture until the Meiji period. It is even more important, though, to stress another point made by Allan Grapard:

What is found in Japanese cultic centers is not a hopeless incoherence but an extremely concrete combinatory phenomenon in which the various elements of the combination retained some of their pristine identity, their fundamental characteristics, but also gained by accretion and interplay (...), a mass of meaning that they did not have as independent entities." <end quote>

Despite all we know, there are still many dark places in our understanding. (1) Why was medieval Japan so receptive to esoteric doctrines? Why was Japan so receptive to deities from the Hindu pantheon, so much so that we might speak of Japanese Hinduism in contrast to Japanese Buddhism? (2) Why was Benzaiten linked / associated / identified / conflated with so many Deva-Buddha-Kami configurations? Did her femininity play a role? (3) Was syncretism driven primarily by competition between the orthodox and esoteric Buddhist camps of old Japan? Or was it propelled by the success of the Kamakura reformation ()? Or was it prompted by nascent Shintō camps who lamented the shift to feudalistic military rule and the loss of the imperial household's longstanding divine sanctity? (4) How did medieval kami faith shape the development of Japan's esoteric camp, and to what degree did esoteric practices co-opt kami faith? How did this interaction impact religious statuary and art? (5) What were the in Japan's grouping of, wherein she is the sole female? (6) Why are Tibet and Japan the last bastions of Esoteric (Tantric) Buddhism in modern times? Why did Tantric traditions die out elsewhere? and (7) How religious were the Japanese court, nobility, and common folk of the medieval period? How does that compare with modern times? Are the citizens of contemporary Japan a religious people? How does one measure "religiosity?"

Such questions fascinate me even as their answers evade me. Theory can steer us toward plausible explanations, even though we may never fully ascertain the rightness or wrongness of our suppositions. In my mind, the fundamental key for unraveling the fabric of Japan's kaleidoscopic religious matrix is to explore the "mytho-logic" -- the logic of mythical thought -- that underpins the bewildering variations of Japanese religious mythology. As an independent researcher living over two decades in Japan, I would like to end this article by employing the words of Shintō scholar Allan G. Grapard: "Here I stand to gather my thoughts on the subject, and quite afraid to do so in front of so many scholars who know more than I do." <source: Rethinking Medieval Shintō,, page 2>

 

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PRIMARY RESOURCES
The art pieces presented above are "primary" resources as well. See citations under each image.

  • Benzaiten Gobukyō 弁天五部経 (Five Sutra of Benzaiten). Appeared in Japan's Era Names & Dates:
    Standard dating scheme found in both Japan and the West.
    • Ancient refers to the Asuka and Nara periods (538-794)
    • Classical refers to the Heian period (794-1185)
    • Medieval refers to the Kamakura era (1185-1333), Muromachi era (1336-1573), and Edo era (1600-1867)
    • Modern refers to everything since 1868 (Meiji, Taisho, Showa, & Heisei periods)

      NOTE: Ancient & Classical are sometimes used collectively to refer to everything through the Nara era. The Edo Period is also known as "Early Modern," while Meiji and after are the "Modern" period. The term "Premodern" refers to pre-Meiji.

    . They contain omissions and additions, and introduce an 8-armed heavenly maiden (i.e., Benzaiten) depicted with a white snake (with the face of an elderly human) atop her head, and describe her as leading, holding a, wheel, bow, spear, sword, club, lock, and arrow. This snake-related kami (deity) is called, and worship of this kami is said to bring infinite blessings. Says Catherine Ludvik: "The earliest extant manuscript of the Bussetsu saishō gokoku Ugaya tontoku nyoihōju ō daranikyō 仏説最勝護国宇賀耶頓得如意宝珠王陀羅尼経 is dated 1261 and is in the possession of the Kanazawa Bunko. The 1261 text is entitled Bussetsu Uga shinshō jūgodōji gyakutoku nyoihōju kyō 仏説宇加神将十五童子獲得如意宝珠経 and can be found in KANAGAWA KENRITSU KANAWA BUNKO, 2007 Benzaiten: Sono sugata to rieki 弁財天〜その姿と利益〜. Yokohama: Kanagawa kenritsu Kanazawa Bunko, fig. 33, pp. 39, 55, and text on 57–59." The five texts are:
     
    • Bussetsu Saishō Gokoku Ūgaya Tontoku Nyōi Hōju Darani-Kyō
      仏説最勝護国宇賀耶得如意宝珠王陀羅尼経
    • Bussetsu Sokushin Bontenfukutoku Enman Ugajinshō Bosatsu Hakujaku Jigen Mikka Jōju-Kyō 仏説即身貧転福得円満宇賀神将菩薩白蛇示現三日成就経
    • Bussetsu Ugajin'ō Fukutoku Enman Darani-Kyō 仏説宇賀神王福得円満陀羅尼経
    • Bussetsu Dai Uga Kudoku Benzaiten-Kyō 仏説大宇賀神功徳弁才天経
    • Dai-Benzaiten Nyo Himitsu Darani-Kyō 大弁才天女秘密陀羅尼経
      ,, Benzaiten scholar References: Catherine Ludvik is the preeminent Western scholar today covering Benzaiten lore and art in India, China, and Japan.

      15th Asian Studies Conference Japan (ASCJ), International Christian University (ICU), 25 June 2011. Presentation entitled Benzaiten and Ugajin: The Skillful Combining of Deities. (Session 16: Room 253).

      Also see Ludvik's article Uga-Benzaiten: The Goddess and the Snake, pp. 95-110, which appeared in Impressions, The Journal of the Japanese Art Society of America, Number 33, 2012.

      ,, and >   
       
  • Besson Zakki 別尊雑記, a Japanese Buddhist text compiled by Shingon monk Shinkaku 心覚  (1117-1180) and translated as "Miscellaneous Record of Classified Sacred Images."  T. Zuzō 3. For scroll one,
  • Butsuzō-zui (Butsu-zō-zu-i) 仏像図彙, or Illustrated Compendium of Buddhist Images, was first published in 1690 (Genroku 元禄 3), and has since become a landmark Japanese dictionary of Buddhist iconography. Hundreds of black-and-white drawings, with deities classified into categories based on function and attributes. For an extant copy from 1690, visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Library. An expanded version, known as the Zōho Shoshū Butsuzō-zui 増補諸宗仏像図彙 (Enlarged Edition Encompassing Various Sects of the Illustrated Compendium of Buddhist Images), was published in 1783. (1796 reprint of the 1783 edition) at the Ehime University Library. Modern-day reprints of the expanded 1886 Meiji-era version, with commentary by Ito Takemi 伊藤武美 (b. 1927), are also available In addition, see (1783 enlarged version), translated into English by Anita Khanna, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, 2010. Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866) was the first modern scholar to introduce the Butsuzō zui to Europe and western audiences. He included images from the 1783 enlarged Butsuzō zui in his landmark Nippon Archiv zur Beschreibung von Japan (published 1831), and since then it (the Butsuzō zui) has remained a primary source on Japanese religious iconography for generations of scholars in the West. It served as a guide for Émile Guimet (1836-1918), the founder of the Paris-based museum Musée Guimet. In recent times, Louis Frédéric (1923-1996) used it extensively in his Many of the images from the Butsuzō zui also appear throughout the online A-to-Z Photo Dictionary of Japanese Buddhist Statuary.
  • Heike Monogatari 平家物語 (circa 14th century). Translated into English around 1920. Also see the for English version. The story we know today was originally passed down orally by numerous biwa-playing storytellers known as Biwa Hōshi 琵琶法師 (lit. "lute monks").
  • Hitachi no Kuni Fudoki 常陸国風土記 (early 8th century document). This text describes the Yato no Kami 夜刀の神 as fearsome and meddlesome snake kami who live in the fields near government offices. <Also see 鹿屋野比売, the kami of fields and grasses>.
  • Hokinaiden 簠簋内伝, a Yin-Yang fortune-telling (Onmyōdō 陰陽道) book written sometime around the end of the Kamakura period by Abe no Harutoki.
  • Hokekyō 法華経 (Lotus Sutra), one of the most popular Mahayana scriptures throughout Asia. It's 24th chapter is entitled Myō-on-hon 妙音品, in which 妙音菩薩 (Wonderous Sound Bodhisattva) is described. Benzaiten, as the Japanese goddess of music, is commonly equated with.  
  • Keiran Shūyōshū 渓嵐拾葉集, a multi-volume document compiled between 1318-1348 AD that contains many of the oral legends of the Tendai esoteric stronghold at Mt. Hiei and discusses in detail. Also tells the tale of Ninkai 仁海 (d. 1046), the founder of the Ono branch 小野流 of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism; also tells the story of monk Ryōkanbō Ninshō 良観房忍性. This Japanese text is discussed at length by Sarah Alizah Fremerman (see ). The title of this monumental text is translated by scholar Allan G. Grapard as A Collection of Leaves Gathered from Stormy Streams. Says Fremerman: "It is in fact a vast compendium of 'leaves,' discrete fragments of esoteric knowledge transmitted orally and recorded on strips of paper, passed down from master to disciple in hundreds of distinct spiritual lineages that characterized religious tradition of medieval Tendai." <end quote, p. 150, Fremerman> Also see Allan G. Grapard, "Keiranshūyōshū: A Different Perspective on Mt. Hiei in the Medieval Period," in Richard K. Payne, ed., Revisioning "Kamakura" Buddhism (University of Hawai'i Press, 1998).
  • Konjaku Monogatari Shū 今昔物語集 (translated by Marian Ury), pp. 93-98. Univ. of California Press, 1979.
  • Konkōmyō Saishō ō Kyō 金光明最勝王経 (Sutra of Golden Light), which has a section devoted to Benzaiten. This text was translated into Chinese in the early 5th century (with other translations in later centuries as well). It describes Benzaiten as the sister of Enma-ten, the king of the 10 Buddhist hells (albeit in other mythology she was considered the consort of Bonten 梵天 (Skt. = Brahma) and Monju Bosatsu 文殊菩薩 (Skt. = Mañjuśrī). This sutra is regarded primarily as a scripture for state protection, wherein Benzaiten is described with eight arms/hands that hold protective martial instruments. <Source: Yijing, > To learn more about Benzaiten's portrayal in various translations of this sutra, see

 

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SECONDARY RESOURCES

  • Amano Sadakage 天野信景 (1663-1733) and his popular work Shiojiri 塩尻. Amano says Ukaya 宇賀耶 (aka ) is translated as "white snake" and is also called Zaiseshin, one who gives wealth as alms and was formerly a dragon king.
  • Ball, Katherine M. Courier Dover Publications, 2004. First published 1927. Peacock lore and artwork discussed on pages 219 - 224, snake lore pp. 165-180, fox lore pp. 133-140.
  • Boston, Museum of Fine Arts.
  • Breen John, and Teeuwen Mark. 2000, Univ. of Hawaii Press; also see their especially chapters four and five, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
  • Chaudhuri, Saroj Kumar.. Vedams, 2003, xviii, 184 p, ISBN : 81-7936-009-1. See partial preview of book at    
  • Chiba, Reiko. Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1966. Also see, Educational Resources from teacher Samantha Wohl, Palms Middle School, Summer 2000. (based on Chiba Reiko's book).
  • with Theodore Bestor & Helen Hardacre.
  • edited by Richard K. Payne and Taigen Dan Leighton, Routledge (London & New York), which mentions two Kōshiki (Buddhist ceremonial liturgies) written for Benzaiten by monk Jōkei (1155–1213; aka Gedatsu Shōnin).
  • Ema (Votive Tablets) related to Benzaiten / Snakes / Dragons.   ||  Site 2
  • Faure, Bernard. Delivered at a three-day symposium entitled "Images and Objects in Japanese Buddhist Practice" at the Columbia Center for Japanese Religion, New York. Held on Oct. 7, 8, and 9, 2011. Also see:
     
    • The Power of Denial: Buddhism, Purity, and Gender. Princeton University Press, 2003.
    • Raging Gods: The Implicit Pantheon of Medieval Japan. Forthcoming.
    • Relics, Regalia, and the Dynamics of Secrecy in Japanese Buddhism, appearing in, edited by Elliott Wolfson, 271-87. New York. Seven Bridge Press, 1999.
       
  • Frank, Bernard. See (Sophia University) in the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 28/1–2 covering two works by Frank Bernard: Dieux et Bouddhas au Japan. Travaux du Collège de France. Bernard FRANK, Amour, colère, couleur: Essais sur le bouddhisme au Japan. Bibliothèque de l'Institut des Hautes Études Japonaises. "Bernard's accounts of Kishimojin, Benzaiten, and Kichijoten show how their different fates were shaped not only by their roles in various sutras, but by accidents of monastic and popular patronage."   
  • Frederic, Louis. Printed in France, ISBN 2-08013-558-9, First published 1995. A highly illustrated volume, with special significance to those studying Japanese Buddhist iconography. Includes many of the myths and legends of mainland Asia as well, but its special strength is in its coverage of the Japanese tradition. Hundreds of accompanying images/photos, both B&W and color. 
  • Fremerman, Sarah Alizah, Ph.D. Dissertation, Stanford University, 2008, 230 pages; AAT 3332823. Available at Proquest. See (p. 172)
  • Getty, Alice. Artibus Asiae, Vol. 8, No. 1 (1940), pp. 36-48. Also see (1914). In the latter, Getty says () that the Japanese confounded the lute-holding, snake-related White Tārā with Benzaiten. Also see Getty's 1914 Gods of Northern Buddhism is
  • Graham, Patricia. University of Hawai'i Press, 2007.
  • Greve, Gabi. Numerous photos.
  • Goepper, Roger, pp 73-77, from Enlightenment Embodied, The Art of the Japanese Buddhist Sculptor (7th - 14th Centuries). Japan Society, 1997. ISBN 0-913304-43-3.
  • Hughes, David W. and Tokita Alison.. 2008.
  • Ishii, Ayako. 仏像の見方ハンドブック. Published 1998. Japanese Language Only. 192 pages; 80 or so color photos. ISBN 4-262-15695-8.
  • Iyanaga Nobumi, (PDF file), 1997. 62 pages. Also see:
     
    • (scroll to bottom for English review).
    • Medieval Shintō as a Form of Japanese Hinduism, pp. 263-304, in Rethinking Medieval Shintō,.
    • Honji Suijaku and the "Logic" of Combinatory Deities: Two Case Studies, pp. 145-176, in (Routledge, 2003).
    • Daikokuten Hensō: Bukkyō Shinwagaku I 大黒天変相 -- 仏教神話学 I
      Kannon Henyōtan: Bukkyō Shinwagaku II 観音変容譚 -- 仏教神話学 II
      by Brian Ruppert, Spring 2003 (30/1-2, pp. 177-186), Japanese Journal of Religious Studies.
       
  • (Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System). See entry on Benzaiten.
  • Kamikawa Michio 川上通夫, Accession Rituals and Buddhism in Medieval Japan, 1990, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 17/2-3, pp. 243-280. Explores Dakini's role in the accession ceremony on the occasion of a change in emperors.
  • Kodo, Matsunami.. Paperback; 1st English edition March 2005; published by Omega-Com. Matsunami (born 1933) is a Jōdo-sect 浄土 monk, a professor at Ueno Gakuen University, and chairperson of the Japan Buddhist Federation. He received the government's Medal of Honor (褒章 hōshō), Blue Ribbon, for his achievements in public service. Says Matsunami: " protects from disaster and bodily harm. satisfies the deisre for food. represents sexual desire. brings laughter, and grants wealth."
  • In the myths of the Kojiki 古事記 and Nihon Shoki 日本書紀, two of Japan's earliest official records of the early 8th century, Japan's rice kami is identified as 宇迦之御魂神, who was later merged with, the white snake kami of foodstuffs considered Benzaiten's companion and/or manifestation. See the Kokugakuin entry on also see their entries on
  • Lin, Irene H. pp. 156, 157, 175 (fn. 14 & 15). Pacific World Journal, Third Series No. 6 (2004). Story available online from the
  • Ludvik, Catherine. BRILL, 2007. 374 pages. Drawing on Sanskrit and Chinese textual sources, as well as Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist art historical representations, this book traces the conceptual and iconographic development of Sarasvati from some time after 1750 BCE. to the 7th century CE. Through the study of Chinese translations of no-longer extant Sanskrit versions of the Buddhist "Sutra of Golden Light" the author sheds light on Sarasvati's interactions with other Indian goddess cults and their impact on one another. < from The Journal of the American Oriental Society Vol. 129, Issue 2, 2009. > Or purchase book online or Ludvik is the preeminent scholar of Benzaiten lore and artwork in India, China, and Japan.
     
    • from the Volume 47, No. 1 (1998), pp.507-510.
    • Kyoto Journal KJ #62, 2006
    • From Sarasvati to Benzaiten (India, China, Japan). Ph.D. dissertation. University of Toronto, January 2001. South and East Asian Religions. Winner of the Governor General's Gold Medal 2001.
    • The Journal of the American Oriental Society 124.4 (2004), Questia, Web, 28 Dec. 2011.
    • 15th Asian Studies Conference Japan (ASCJ), International Christian University (ICU), 25 June 2011. Presentation entitled Benzaiten and Ugajin: The Skillful Combining of Deities. (Session 16: Room 253).
    • Uga-Benzaiten: The Goddess and the Snake, pp. 95-110.
      Number 33, 2012.
    • Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 33/1: 115–142, © 2006 Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture.
        
  • Minobe Shigekatsu,, pp. 213-233. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 9/2-3 June-September 1982. Minobe says Benzaiten came to be thought identical to Dakiniten."
  • Mori, Hisashi. Heibonsha, Sculpture of the Kamakura Period. <Page 167> From the Heibonsha Survey of Japanese Art. 1st Edition 1974. Published jointly by Heibonsha (Tokyo) & John Weatherhill Inc. A book close to my heart, this publication devotes much time to the artists who created the sculptural treasures of the Kamakura era, including Unkei, Tankei, Kōkei, Kaikei, and many more. Highly recommended.  .  
  • Muller, C. : Sarasvatī. The name of a river, the modern Sursooty, but more important, its goddess, who "was persuaded to descend from heaven and confer her invention of language and letters on the human race by the sage Bhārata, whence one of her names is Bharatī;" sometimes assumes the form of a swan; eloquence, or literary elegance is associated with her. The wife or female energy of Brahmā. Goddess of eloquence, learning, and music, bestower of the Sanskrit language and letters, and the bestower of 財 riches. Honored among the seven gods of luck, and often represented as mounted on a dragon or a serpent. Chinese texts sometimes describe this deity as male, but generally as female, and under several forms. As "goddess of music and poetry" she is represented in two forms, one with two arms and a lute, another with eight arms. A sister of Yama; a consort of both Brahmā and Mañjuśrī. (Getty). In Japan, when with a lute, Benten is a form of Saravastī, color white, and riding a peacock. Tib. sbyaṅs-can-ma, or ṅag-gi-lha-mo; M. kele-yin iikin tegri. The rendering of her name into Chinese follows three general patterns: (1) transliteration from Sanskrit: 薩羅婆縛底; 薩羅酸底; (2) translation as "Goddess of Music": 妙音樂天, 美音天; 美音天女, 妙音佛母.,
    and (3) translation as "Goddess of Eloquence." 辯才天, 辯才天女, 大辯天, 大辯才天, 大辯才女, 大辯功德天,
    大辯才功德天, 辯才天, 辯天. 〔華嚴經 T 278.9.397a11〕 <end DDB quote>
  • and former curator Barbara B. Ford.
  • Oyler, Elizabeth.
    Oral Tradition, 21/1 (2006): 90-118. Benten and dragon and performing arts.
  • Parent, Dr. Mary Neighbour.. Japanese Architecture & Art Net Users System. Wonderful online dictionary compiled by the late Dr. Parent. Covers both Buddhist and Shinto deities in great detail. Over 8,000 entries. In English, with all key terms also in Japanese.
  • Rambelli, Fabio & Teeuwen, Mark. 2003.
  • Rethinking Medieval Shintō,, guest editors Bernard Faure, Michael Como, Iyanaga Nobumi. Articles from 1985 to 2005 (up to  #15)
  • Rosenfield, John M. Portraits of Chōgen: The Transformation of Buddhist Art in Early Medieval Japan. Brill, Leiden, 2011. Hardback, 296 pages, 197 illustrations, ISBN13: 9789004168640. Japanese Visual Culture series, volume 1.   
  • Ruppert, Brian D. Jewel in the Ashes: Buddha Relics and Power in Early Medieval Japan. Harvard University Asia Center (July 1, 2000). ISBN-10: 0674002458. Copious reference notes, this work is aimed at scholars. It includes a very useful glossary of terms. Highly recommended. Unfortunately, Ruppert says Benzaiten was the object of esoteric rites by at least the 12th century, but he fails to give any examples. Also see Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 2002, 29/1-2.
  • Smyers, Karen A. Honolulu, Univ. of Hawaii Press, 1999, iii, Questia, Web, 28 Dec. 2011.
  • Soothill, William Edward and Hodous, Lewis.. With Sanskrit & English Equivalents. Plus Sanskrit-Pali Index. Hardcover, 530 pages. Published by Munshirm Manoharlal. Reprinted March 31, 2005. ISBN 8121511453.
  • Tachikawa Musashi, Hino Shōun.
  • Tanaka Takako 田中貴子. Keiran Shūyōshū no Sekai 渓嵐拾葉集の世界. Nagoya Daigaku Shuppankai, 2003.
  • Teeuwen, Mark. The Creation of a Honji Suijaku Deity: Amaterasu as the Judge of the Dead, appearing in edited by Mark Teeuwen and Fabio Rambelli, pp. 115-44. London: Routledge Curzon, 2003. Also see Teeuwen & Breen's 2000, Univ. of Hawaii Press, as well as their especially chapters four and five, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
  • Ryūkozan Shōbō-in Temple 龍光山正寶院 (Tokyo). Tendai Sect. This site has given me permission to use its Sanskrit Seed images and esoteric mantras.
  • Thornhill, Richard. Publication: Hinduism Today. Oct/Nov/Dec 2002.
  • Vegder, Jerry. Prints of Japan. Story accompanied by numerous prints. Last accessed Jan. 21, 2012.    
  • Watsky, Andrew Mark. Azaihime no Mikoto, page 42, 43; p. 233, p. 302 (great footnotes)
  • Yamamoto Hiroko 山本ひろ子. Ijin -- Chūsei Nihon no Hikyōteki Sekai 異人 -- 中世日本の密教的世界, Vol. 2, Tokyo: Heibonsha. 1998. Includes the apocryphal Benten Sutras. Says that Ugajin effigies are often found in Inari Shrines in southeastern Kyoto prefecture (formerly Yamashiro-no-kuni 山城の国), pp. 12-13.
  • TO DO.  
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New Version First Published = April 30, 2012.
Old Version =
Copyright from Feb. 7, 2003 =

A Primer on Benzaiten Imagery in Japan (Condenced Guide to Benzaiten Artwork & Lore in Japan. For Art Historians, Scholars, Practitioners, and Laity Alike)

English

Japanese

Chinese

Sanskrit

Korean

Tibetan

River Goddess, Water Goddess, Excellent Orator

Benten 弁天
Benzaiten 弁才天
Benzaiten 弁財天
Bionten, Mionten 美音天
Myō-on Ten 妙音天
Daibenzaiten 大弁才天
Daiben Kudokuten 大辯功徳天

Biàncáitiān 辯才天
Biàncáitiān 瓣財天
Miàoyīn Tiān 妙音天

Transliteration =
薩羅薩伐底
(Jp. = Sarasabatei)

Sarasvatī
Sarasvati
Saraswati
सरस्वती

Byeonjaecheon 변재천
Pyŏnjaech'ŏn, 변재천
Myoeum Cheon 묘음천
Myoŭm Ch'ŏn, 묘음천

Sbyaṅs-can-ma
Ńag-gi-lha-mo

IN JAPAN. = Dragons, Snakes, Turtles, Foxes. Companion = (human-headed snake-bodied kami)

exclamation signLINKS. Maroon = jumps inside page; = jumps to other site page;snap-icon-yellow = jumps to external site; PN = Example of Popup Note (PN)

Various information and reference notes would appear here.

 

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