sentaibutsu 千体仏
KEY WORD :  art history / sculptures
Lit. thousand Buddhas. Sometimes abbreviated to senbutsu 千仏. A large number of Buddhist images, usually the same size and shape, represented both in painting and sculpture, frequently in relief. Sentaibutsu originated in India, and are the manifestation of One Thousand Buddhas of Bhadrakalpa (the present world), or kengou senbutsu 賢劫千仏 (mentioned in various Buddhist sutras). Examples are found in the cave temples of Ajanta, Central Asia, and China. These are called senbutsudou 千仏洞 (one thousand Buddha cave). The earliest examples in Japan include the small repousse Buddhas *oshidashibutsu 押出仏 on the interior walls in the *Tamamushi no zushi 玉虫厨子 in Houryuuji 法隆寺 (mid-7c), and the bronze plaque representing a chapter from the HOKEKYOU 法華経 (Lotus Sutra), Hokke sessou-zu 法華説相図 in Hasedara 長谷寺 (late 7c), both in Nara. Although none have survived, repousse Buddhas and the reliefs of thousand Buddhas on clay tiles *senbutsu せん仏 were frequently used for the decoration of interior walls of the temples erected in 7-8c. After the 9c, however, thousand Buddhas are more often painted or carved in wood. Three Thousand Buddhas in the Three Kalpas sangou sanzenbutsu 三劫三千仏 or sanzenbutsu 三千仏 are depicted on the large hanging scrolls displayed in December for the annual ceremony of reciting the Buddhas' names, butsumyoue 仏名会. In the 12c successive ex-emperors commissioned temples dedicated to one thousand images of *Kannon 観音 and *Amida 阿弥陀. The one thousand images of Kannon with one thousand arms *Senju Kannon 千手観音 that appear in Rengeouin 蓮華王院 (commonly known as Sanjuusangendou 三十三間堂) were commissioned by Ex-emperor Goshirakawa 後白河 (1127-92) and erected in 1164 and are the most well-known sentaibutsu.


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