Lot 2139: Property of various owners
Fine Japanese Works of Art
September 13, 2011
New York, NY, USA
Hanging scroll, ink, color and gold on silk; the suijaku mandala featuring the goddess Sarasvati seated padmasana with eight arms bearing protective martial attributes and the coiled snake Ugajin on her head, flanked by Mahakala (J. Daikoku) and Vaishravana (J. Bishamonten) with the jugo doji or fifteen disciples on a rocky island lapped with churning waves and clouds surrounding a jewel-topped mountain, the sun and moon emblems above
38 3/8 x 18 5/8in (97.4 X 47.1cm)
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When Buddhist art forms were introduced to Japan beginning in the 6th century, Shinto gods came to be shown in hybrid form with Buddhist counterparts. In this painting, Benzaiten, the Buddhist deity of music and fortune, is depicted syncretically with the Shinto god of harvest as Uga Benzaiten. Benzaiten, also known popularly as one of the Seven Gods and Goddesses of Fortune, is syncretized with Ugajin, the Shinto god of good harvests.
Benzaiten worship goes back to the 13th century and her iconography is described in The Three Sutras of Benten. She is described as eight-armed and holding different weapons – a spear, wheel, bow, sword, club, lock, arrow, and the sacred jewel or hoju. She and Ugajin share the snake and dragon as part of their iconography. On Benzaiten's head is a coiled snake with an elderly person's face and at the bottom, a dragon with the dragon king can be seen. According to legend, the dragon king made an offering to Benzaiten and the pairing of a cart and boat seen at the bottom, are also symbols associated with the deity. The bundles on the cart and boat symbolize a plentiful harvest.
The sun and moon, symbols of the forces of nature, are seen at the top of the painting. Benzaiten is accompanied by the Buddhist deities Daikokuten on the right and Bishamonten on the left. She is also shown with her fifteen attendants who also hold special attributes. A painting with very similar iconography can be found in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (11.4078).