University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
Native NameKakemono
Object Number: 29-96-493
Current Location: Collections storage
Provenience: Japan
Date Made: 17th Century
Early Date: 1700
Late Date: 1799
Materials:Metallic Thread
Iconography:Shinto Spiritual Being
Uga Benzaiten
Length: 172.7cm
Width: 53.8cm
Credit Line:Bequest of Maxwell Sommerville, 1904


Embroidered silk portrait of Uga Benzaiten (Sanskrit: Sarasvati), 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.

Current & Past Exhibitions:

Buddhism: History and Diversity of a Great Tradition (12 Dec 1985 - 21 Oct 2012)View Objects in Exhibition

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