Okimono Figure Rakan

Details of the object symbolize aspects of Buddha’s teachings

By The Art Museum RIGA BOURSE

Okimono Figure Rakan. Unknown Artist. Japan. Late 19th Century – Early 20th Century. Ivory. Collection of the Latvian National Museum of Art

Okimono figure Rakan (Late 19th – Early 20th century) by Unknown artistThe Art Museum RIGA BOURSE

Buddhist Altar and Lotus Flower

The rakan is holding a zushi (厨子) in his hands, a transportable Buddhist altar which is portrayed on a lotus flower. The lotus is one of the most important Buddhist symbols as it represents the truth of Buddha’s teachings, rising above the world’s ignorance, just like the lotus rises above the muddy water.

RakanThe Art Museum RIGA BOURSE

Prayer Beads

The rakan is holding prayer beads in his hand. In Japan, Buddhist prayer beads are called ojuzu (数珠) i.e. counting beads or onenju (念珠) – meditation beads. They are used to help one concentrate on the recited mantra or the meaning and sound of the deity’s name. Usually there are 108 beads on a string.

RakanThe Art Museum RIGA BOURSE

Shaved Head and Large Ear Loops

The majority of Buddha’s disciples, the rakan, are portrayed with shaved heads.

In the works of art, the shaved head symbolizes the fact that the person has reached enlightenment or Nirvana with the assistance of Buddhist teachings. It is associated with the wisdom that a person gains along with age. Buddhist monks shave their heads to show their complete devotion to Buddha’s teachings.

The large ear loops are also a part of Buddhist iconography and signify wisdom and compassion. Buddha is able to hear and soothe the entire world’s suffering. The rakan is also portrayed with expressive ears as he has Buddha’s wisdom, has reached a state of enlightenment, and feels compassion for the world’s suffering.

RakanThe Art Museum RIGA BOURSE


At his feet, the rakan has the traditional Japanese uchiwa (うちわ) fan, which is one of the features of the Binzuru.

Initially, the fans were made of the large leaves of plants, animal fur or bird feathers and were used in the temples of Buddhist monks and daily to undertake cleansing rituals and prayers. From the ornamentation on the fan, it can be seen that it is made of bird feathers.

RakanThe Art Museum RIGA BOURSE

Sutra box – kyōbako (経箱)

Holy Buddhist texts are kept in a kyōbako sutra box. The sutra box is decorated with a shippo (七宝), an ornament which is associated with the seven treasures of Buddhism – gold, silver, lazurite, agate, pearls, corrals, and crystal.

All seven materials are found in Asia and represent the seven qualities of Buddhist teaching, which must be observed – faith, persistence, humility, not harming others, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom.

The name shippo is also associated with a special enamel decoration technique, using metal strips and precious stones. The shippo ornament symbolizes infinite harmony and peace.

RakanThe Art Museum RIGA BOURSE

Garment – kesa (袈裟)

The rakan is portrayed in the traditional Buddhist disciple’s garment, the kesa, which covers the whole body from head to foot. The garment can also be worn by exposing the right shoulder.

Several important ornaments can be seen on the garment. One of them is the previously mentioned lotus flower and the second, the seigaiha (青海波), a symbol, which translated, literally means blue sea and waves. The seigaiha symbolizes the desire to spend a peaceful and fortunate life.

Credits: Story

Exhibition Curator: Kristīne Milere, LNMA / Art Museum RIGA BOURSE
Photos: Kristiāna Zelča

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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