Daiitoku Myōō

Period: Heian period (794–1185)

Date: 12th century

Culture: Japan

Medium: Hanging scroll; ink on paper

Dimensions: Image: 28 1/4 x 21 1/8 in. (71.8 x 53.7 cm)
Overall with mounting: 65 1/2 x 26 1/2 in. (166.4 x 67.3 cm)
Overall with knobs: 65 1/2 x 28 1/2 in. (166.4 x 72.4 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: 1975.268.13


Daiitoku 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. His Sanskrit name means “one who stops the power of the King of Hell.” He is shown with multiple heads, eyes, legs, and arms. Four hands hold a trident, a wheel, a sword, and a jeweled club while two hands join, with only the middle finger extended, in the mudra of restraint (konpon-in). 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 Koya, but later in life moved to Kōzanji. Genshō is thought to have drawn and collected many images of 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.