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Mandala of King Enma

Unknown13th Century

Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum
Kyoto, Japan

This painting—also known as Jūkyūi mandara (Mandala of Nineteen Deities) in the thirteenth-century Tendai esoteric iconography book, Asabashō (Compendium of A [Buddha], Sa [Lotus], and Ba [Vajra])—consists of nineteen deities including Enma-ten (Skt. Yama-deva). Asabashō additionally recounts the story of the priest-painter Toba Sōjō (1053–1140), (also known as Kakuyū) of Onjō-ji Temple presenting this painting to the cloistered Emperor Toba (1103–1156). The close proximity of years, in which the iconography seen in this painting was established and the painter of this work was active, makes it highly probable that the iconography circulated within the Jimon branch of the Tendai sect. Seated below are the Lord of Mount Tai (Taizan fukun) and the Great God of the Five Paths (Godō daijin). The Lord of Mount Tai is especially significant as the god of a mountain associated with the underworld in Chinese mythology. The influence of Chinese beliefs in the afterworld can also be seen in the wrathful countenance rather than the tranquil bodhisattva-like depiction usually seen in esoteric images of Enma-ten (Skt. Yama-deva); this signifies the conceptual transition from a peaceful Enma-ten to a fierce Enma-ō (Skt. Yama-rāja) or king of the underworld. Although Chinese beliefs in the afterworld were introduced to Japan as early as the Nara period, the Japanese understood them only abstractly and continued to accept traditional Japanese views. However, during the late Heian period, Pure Land teachings and these Chinese beliefs came to be assimilated by the Japanese and evolved into the modern Japanese view of the afterworld.
This hanging scroll, which formerly belonged to one of the founders of Mainichi Shimbun Newspaper Company, Murayama Ryōhei (1850–1933), demonstrates characteristics of King Enma from the transition period.

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