The Twelve Devas are divine beings presiding over the eight directions plus heaven, earth, and the sun and moon. They have their origins in Hindu deities. Representations of the Twelve Devas in extant Japanese artworks are mostly found in paintings, and masks such as these are extremely rare. The Kyoto National Museum houses seven of the masks originally preserved at Toji Temple. Two more masks presumably from the same set are in the collection of the Honolulu Museum in Hawaii.
It is thought that at Toji Temple, the masks were initially used on the occasion of the Kanjo-e (consecration ceremony), but after undergoing repair work, they were appropriated for use in the Kuyo-e (dedication ceremony) for the temple’s pagoda. In the late 10th century, Kojo, father of renowned Buddhist sculptor, Jocho, organized Buddhist sculptors into workshops, and it was at these workshops that many of the period’s sophisticated Buddhist images were created.