Shinto Spiritual Being
Embroidered silk portrait of Benzaiten (Sanskrit: Saravati), consort of the Hindu god Brahma, revered in India as the Goddess of music, poetry, and eloquence by both the Brahmins and the Buddhists. As one of the deities in the vast Tantric pantheon, she is usually depicted with a musical instrument in her hands and mounted on a peacock. When Tantric Buddhism penetrated Tibet, China, and Japan, Sarasvati worship entered as well. Influenced by local traditions, Sarasvati, like many Tantric deities, assumed different functions in each region. In Japan, the majority of Benzaiten images are revered as ones which confer happiness, wealth, longevity, and fame. She is frequently depicted holding eight attributes, including a sword, spear, ax, bow, arrow, lasso, thunderbolt and wheel of the law. According to the inscription on the back of the portrait, it was once housed in the Shinto shrine in Itsukushima, Hiroshima prefecture. The red lacquer Torii gate, sacred symbol of this famed shrine which is depicted on her crown, supports this provenience. The small head placed in Benzaiten's crown, a Tantric iconographic trait, seems to represent a Shinto monk. Thus, this rare embroidered portrait illustrates the Shinto-Buddhist syncretism known as Dual Shinto. The embroidery is gold and colored thread on thin silk mounted on a corded tan silk.
Bequest of Maxwell Sommerville, 1904
Current & Past Exhibitions:
Buddhism: History and Diversity of a Great Tradition (12 Dec 1985 - 21 Oct 2012)
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