The esoteric Buddhist ceremony called the Latter Seven-Day Rite (Goshichinichi no mishiho) began on the eighth day of the first month of 834 ( Jōwa 1) with the petition of the founder of the Shingon sect, Kūkai (774–835), to the emperor to observe this New Year rite in the Shingon-in chapel on the grounds of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto. Hanging scrolls of the Twelve Devas were hung to protect the chapel and were usually stored together with other ritual utensils in the treasure house at Tō-ji, the head temple of the Shingon sect in Kyoto.
The original Twelve Devas, which were used, were lost in a fire that destroyed the Tō-ji treasure house in the third month of 1127 (Daiji 2). The present set were newly painted in the same year. At first, decreed by the Tō-ji Elder Shōkaku, the Tō-ji priest Kakunin commissioned a new set to be modeled after Kūkai’s Twelve Devas that were transmitted in the Ono Sutra Repository (at Kajū-ji Temple) and that then belonged to the Uji Sutra Repository (at Byōdō-in Temple). However, the cloistered Emperor Toba criticized the new rendition as “careless and rough” and had another set modeled after the posterior wall of the En-dō Hall at Ninna-ji Temple made.
The works here are generally thought to come from this latter set, which has been passed down the generations at Tō-ji along with painted images of the Five Radiant Wisdom Kings (Skt. Vidyaraja, J. Godaison). The colorful patterns and delicate cut-gold leaf (kirikane) motifs capture the viewer’s eye in these masterful paintings that represent the height of court culture.