Brahma and Indra in Japan

Indra and Brahma, 8th century Japan, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco
Indra and Brahma, 8th century Japan, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

Buddhism reached Japan in the 5th century when the monarch of the Korean kingdom of Baekje sent a mission with gifts, image of Buddha and sacred objects. The arrival of Buddhism disrupted the existing system of kami worship and eventually prevailed. Today, there are thirteen schools of Buddhism, 80,000 temples and 150,000 monks. Indra and Brahma reached Japan with the spread of Buddhism. They are part of the Buddhist world and Buddha is often represented with Indra and Brahma flanking him. There is also another representation of Buddha descending from Indra’s heaven.

These two statues are made using hollow dry lacquer and come from the Nara period (710 – 794 CE). Brahma is wearing a Chinese style robe, while Indra wears a monk’s robe over Chinese style breastplates as the protector of Buddha.

These two statues were created for the Kofukuji Buddhist temple in Nara Japan in the 8th century. Empress Komyo sponsored the construction. A fire in 1180 CE destroyed the Golden Hall where they were placed, but these statues survived. In 1906, the temple was in dire financial situation and such treasures were sold to raise funds. Eventually, it ended up in an American museum.

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