Kongōyasha Myōō

Period: Heian period (794–1185)

Date: 12th century

Culture: Japan

Medium: Hanging scroll; ink on paper

Dimensions: Image: 28 3/8 x 21 1/4 in. (72.1 x 54 cm)
Overall with mounting: 65 5/8 x 26 1/2 in. (166.7 x 67.3 cm)
Overall with knobs: 65 5/8 x 28 5/8 in. (166.7 x 72.7 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: The Harry G. C. Packard Collection of Asian Art, Gift of Harry G. C. Packard, and Purchase, Fletcher, Rogers, Harris Brisbane Dick, and Louis V. Bell Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, 1975

Accession Number: 1975.268.12


Kongōyasha Myōō is one of the Five Great Kings of Brightness in Esoteric Buddhism, whose ferocious aspect is a manifestation of the Five Wisdom Buddhas’ wrath against evil. He is presented with three faces, five eyes, and six arms, with each hand holding one of his attributes: a wheel, an arrow, a bow, a sword, a tripronged vajra, and a vajra bell. Introduced from China by Kūkai (774–836), founder of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism, the Five Great Kings of Brightness became important ritual icons, called upon as protectors of the nation during the ritual known as the Benevolent Kings Sutra Assembly (Ninnōkyō-e).

This iconographic drawing, once in the possession of the temple Kōzanji, as is evidenced by the red seal pressed upon it, is a copy of a work associated with the monk Genshō (1146–1222?), who lived at the Shingon Buddhist center of Mount Kōya, but later in life moved to Kōzanji. Genshō is thought to have drawn and collected images of many Esoteric Buddhist deities. In form, the drawing is very close to deities in a copy of Kūkai’s original iconographic drawings of the Benevolent Kings Sutra, housed at the important Esoteric Buddhist temple of Daigoji in Kyoto.