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Tenkawa Mandara 天河曼陀羅; Benzaiten 弁財天 and other gods
SKAZmr 167 MNW
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Why this is a

The picture features the goddess Benzaiten 弁財天 as a white snake Hakuja. The main central figure, the goddess Benzaiten, has a human body with three snake heads and ten arms. On either side of her featured on the fly there are hiten 飛天, heavenly creatures and tennyo 天女 two angels, which support the goddess feet. Near the goddess head and feet there are deities with snake heads and human bodies holding holy jewels. Below the goddess in the middle part we can see hugging couples accompanied by foxes. The couples have human upper bodies with the lower part similar to a bird or an animal with a tail. The figures of foxes and hugging creatures symbolise a combination of the Shinto rice god Inari (Oinari) whose messengers are foxes with the esoteric (Buddhist) deity Dakiniten. Along the right and left vertical edge we can see shapes of 15 jūgo dōji (fifteen sons or followers of the goddess) holding various symbolic objects. The creatures which support the goddess feet are the God of Water (Suiten 水天) and the God of Fire (Katen 火天); hiten present on either side of the goddess Benzaiten are Śrimahadevi (the goddess of joy) and Hariti (the goddess of childbirth); she is accompanied by three deity princes with snake heads. In the top part of the composition we can see three peaks crowned with holy jewels hojū 宝珠 surrounded by flames kaenkō 火焔光; it features Mt. Misen with the Tenkawa temple located at its foot and flanked by Mt. Omine (on the left) and Kimpu. Such objects as rice balls, pots, cooking stoves, mortar, pestle and holy jewels are attributes of plenty and financial prosperity that the goddess is supposed to bring. Benzaiten in a form of a white snake is worshipped in the temple built at the foot of Mt. Misen in the village of Tenkawa in Tenkawa jinja temple (Nara prefecture). The temple belongs to the sect of Shugendō which is a syncretic combination of magical practices of Taoism with Shinto beliefs and Buddhist esoteric doctrines. The goddess cult started developing there as early as in the Middle Ages. The painting from the Warsaw collection is one of the few known compositions featuring the goddess in a form of the white snake surrounded by other heavenly creatures which pay homage to her. The cult of the goddess Benzaiten is a Japanese version of the cult of the Hindu goddess Saraswati, first adopted in Buddhism and then in Shinto beliefs. In Japanese beliefs the Hindu goddess united with local female Shinto sea deities, sannyoshin. Temples of this goddess are found all over Japan on the banks of rivers, lakes and on the seashores. The goddess also belongs to the group of The Seven Gods of Fortune and she is a patron of female beauty, wealth, longevity as well as music, poetry and fine arts and is also capable of protecting against misfortunes caused by forces of nature. In the Heian epoch the Tendai sect of Buddhism combined the Buddhist version of Benzaiten with the Shinto deity Ugajin, a result being the syncretic eight-arm female deity Uga Benzaiten, the goddess of wealth and fortune.

History of the Object
The painting from the Warsaw collection is an almost exact repetition of the painting created by Shiba Rinken in 1546; now the painting is kept in the Nōman-in temple in the city of Sakurai (Nara prefecture). The Warsaw painting differs from the original because its composition includes also the figure of Mahakala, who in popular Japanese beliefs transformed into Daikoku, the god of wealth, which belongs to the group of The Seven Gods of Fortune (Shichifukujin 七福 人) and Vaiśravana, that is Bishamonten, another god of wealth from the above mentioned group of gods. The painting was subjected to restoration works carried out between 28th May 2005 and 23rd March 2006 in Nara under the supervision of Keigo Hotta. The surface of the painting was strengthened and cleaned and the frame was replaced.

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Kakemono, ink, gold and paints on silk 
180.5 cm. x 59.2 cm 
Creator name
Creator date
Where it was made
Time period
AD 17th century ~ AD 18th century 
Creation date
17th Century - 18th Century (early) 
Purchased 1977 
Copyright Ⓒ National Museum in Warsaw 
National Museum in Warsaw, state property 
National Museum in Warsaw 
Credit line
Cortesy of the National Museum in Warsaw 



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