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Standing Bishamonten (Vaishravana)


Not on view

Bishamonten is the Guardian King of the North, one of the four fierce protectors of the cardinal directions (Shitennō). Originally Hindu gods known as the Lokapalas, the four were adopted into the Indian Buddhist pantheon at an early point in its history. The four guardians—Jikokuten (Sanskrit: Dhrtarashtra) of the east, Kōmokuten (Virupaksha) of the west, Zōchōten (Virudhaka) of the south, and Bishamonten or Tamonten of the north—were in turn absorbed into the Mikkyō pantheon. In group representations, Bishamonten is usually identified by the miniature stupa—both a symbol of the Buddhist Law and a special treasure granted him by the Buddha—that he holds in his right hand. This small, youthful, but stern Bishamonten stands firmly on two scowling demons, Niranba and Biranba. His miniature stupa is supported on his left palm, while in his right hand he grasps a long lance. The shift of the stupa from the right to the left hand when Bishamonten is represented alone seems to have been introduced in Mikkyō mandalas at the beginning of the ninth century, thus establishing a new canon. The present statue was originally brightly colored, with floral and geometric patterns in paint and kirikane covering the layers of robes and armor. The small, shining eyes are inlaid. The sculpture is made of several pieces of wood, and its interior is hollowed out. Stylistically, the piece especially resembles a triad of sculptures made by Tankei (1173–1256) for the temple Sekkenji in Shikoku, and may therefore be attributed to an artist who closely followed Tankei's style or model in the first half of the thirteenth century.

Based on original work by Miyeko Murase (Bridge of Dreams: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection of Japanese Art [New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000], cat. no. 23).

Standing Bishamonten (Vaishravana), Polychromed Japanese cypress and cut gold inlaid with crystal, Japan

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