Taishakuten 帝釈天
KEY WORD : art history / iconography
A major, Hindu god called Indra or Sakra who has two major roles in Buddhist literature, one as king of the gods and lord of the Touriten とう利天, where he resides on the summit of Mt. Sumeru *Shumisen 須弥山. The other is as protector of the Buddha *Shaka 釈迦, helping him in his practice in earlier lives and aiding him in his final life.
Along with *Bonten 梵天 he appears in art in scenes from the Buddha's life, particularly administering his first bath, and in triads where he is shown as a prince or as a martial figure holding a thunderbolt (Sk: vajra). The pair eventually became general protective deities, and in the Nara period in Japan were frequently placed on the dais to either side of the main figure. In Japan, Bonten and Taishakuten may be only minimally distinguished from each other by dress and their mudras which mirror each other.
It is only as esoteric figures that their iconography is distinctive. Taishakuten had no independent cult in Japan but is always shown with Bonten or within the *juuniten 十二天, a group with which he is associated, particularly with the east.
Well-known images include the Nara period set in the *Hokkedou 法華堂 (also known as Sangatsudou 三月堂) of Toudaiji 東大寺 in Nara, where, according to temple tradition, the sculpture to the right of the main image, *Fukuukenjaku Kannon 不空羂索観音 is Taishakuten. Both he and Bonten are shown wearing Tang dynasty robes and are like bodhisattvas *bosatsu 菩薩 in their appearance. Other famous images include the Nara period pair in the Toushoudaiji *Kondou 唐招提寺金堂, Nara. The most striking of all is the early Heian set in Touji 東寺, Kyoto. There, Taishakuten appears as a martial figure seated on an elephant with one leg hanging over the side of his mount. He holds a single pronged thunderbolt in his right hand and has his left hand on his hip.


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