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Suiten kyo (Sutra of Varuna, Deity of the Waters)

Japanese

Artwork Details

Suiten kyo (Sutra of Varuna, Deity of the Waters)
circa 1300-1335
Japanese
handscroll, ink and color on paper
11 1/4 in x 81 1/8 in (28.6 cm x 206.1 cm)
Gift of Harold Phillip Stern, presented in memory of Archibald Gibson Wenley
1964/2.104

On Display

Not currently on display

Description

Suiten kyo ̄: Sutra of Varuna,
Deity of the Waters
Japan
Kamakura period (1185–1333)
to early Muromachi period
(1333–1573)
1300–35
Handscroll, ink and color on paper
Gift of Harold Phillip Stern, presented
in memory of Archibald Gibson Wenley,
1964/2.104
For centuries, chanting sutras (Buddhist scriptures)
have been an important part of Buddhist spiritual
practice. Sutras are studied and recited in order to
attain an understanding of the Buddhist way. They
are also copied or commissioned as an act of merit.
The central deity depicted in this sutra is Suiten, the
god of waters, who was associated with fishermen
and a variety of mythical water creatures. Here, Suiten
is astride a giant water dragon. The fierce deity on the
far left clasps a wheel of dharma (associated with the
Buddhist law, but also with the concept of fate) and
a sword for vanquishing evil. He also holds a brush
and scroll, characteristic of Ko ̄mokuten, one of the
Mantra Kings in esoteric Buddhism, known for their
wisdom and responsibility. Ko ̄mokuten represents
limitless vision and is commonly depicted with
serpents, like the ones writhing outwards from his
hair.

Subject Matter:

In esoteric Buddhism and other Buddhist sects, chanting sutras is an important part of spiritual practice. The central deity depicted in this sutra is Suiten, the god of waters known in Hindu as Varuna. In Japan, Suiten was associated not only with the sea, but also with fishermen and a variety of mythical water creatures, including dragons and snakes. Here, Suiten is astride a giant water dragon. The fierce deity on the far left clasps a wheel of dharma (associated with the law but also with the concept of fate) and a sword for vanquishing evil. He also holds a brush and scroll, characteristic of Komokuten, one of the Mantra Kings in esoteric Buddhism, known for their wisdom and responsibility. Komokuten represents limitless vision and is commonly depicted with nagas, or serpents like the ones writhing outwards from his hair.

Physical Description:

This is a long horizontal scroll with several calligraphic inscriptions on the right portion of the paper. On the left are 3 figural scenes. The one closest to the writing shows a male figure wearing a large headdress seated in the lotus position within a circle. Next there is a figure with four arms who stands on the back of a dragon. Two people stand on either side- one a short blue-skinned man who holds a bowl and the other a smaller figure who holds a brush and paper. The third scene shows a male figure, seated in the lotus position, who holds a sword, a wheel, a brush and paper in his four hands.

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