Sanjuusanten 三十三天
KEY WORD :  art history / iconography
Heaven of the Thirty-three Gods (Sk: Trayastrimsa deva). Also referred to as Touriten とう利天, with tori thought to be a transliteration of a corrupt form of trayastrimsa. This term refers to a class of gods *ten 天 residing in the second of the six heavens into which the realm of desire is divided in Buddhist cosmology. It may denote both the gods themselves and their abode on the summit of Mt. Sumeru *Shumisen 須弥山 which is located at the centre of the universe. The summit of Mt. Sumeru is said to be square, having a peak at each corner each of which is inhabited by eight gods, and these thirty-two gods together with *Taishakuten 帝釈天, one of the guardians of Buddhist law, who lives at the centre in a citadel called Sudarsana, constitute the thirty-three. Their names are given in the SHOBOU NENJOKYOU 正法念処経 (Taishou No.721). This concept of thirty-three gods appears to derive from the Vedic notion that the gods of the heavens, sky and earth number thirty-three in all, and hence the Heaven of the Thirty-three Gods may be said to symbolize the incorporation of the entire Brahmanic pantheon into Buddhism. Although not usually a subject of artistic representation, this heaven does figure in some scenes in depictions of the life of *Shaka 釈迦, the founding Buddha (which are called *butsuden-zu 仏伝図) This is because Shaka's mother is said to have been reborn in this heaven, whence she may be seen hastening down to Shaka's deathbed in the *nehan-zu 涅槃図, the scene of Buddha's elevation to the perfect state of Nirvana. In India, Tibet and elsewhere Shaka's descent from this heaven, whither he is said to have ascended at the age of forty-one in order to pay his respects to his deceased mother and instruct the gods, is also depicted in reliefs and paintings.


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