This medieval religious painting shows celestial beings descending from the heavens into the Kasuga Shrine, a major religious site in Japan’s ancient capital, Nara. The moon and the Kasuga mountain range appear in the uppermost portion of the painting, as does a red shrine entrance gate, or torii. In the upper part of the painting, figural representations of the stars in the constellation known as the Big Dipper in the West descend from right to left on cloud banks. In the lower part, the Nine Luminaries (Sanskrit: Navagraha) that emerged from the Vedic tradition — the sun and moon; the planets Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Venus, and Mercury; and personifications of the fluctuating lunar nodes — descend in similar fashion. The painting uses the “deities in descent” scheme originating in China, as well as the original Buddhist form mandala (Japanese: honjibutsu mandarazu) format prevalent in medieval Japanese Shinto-Buddhist painting, to generate an image connected to the worship of celestial bodies in Esoteric Buddhism.
Credit Line: Text courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art.