Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Three Faces and Six Arms--An Ashura

An Ashura
Since its construction in 710, the Main Hall, or Chukondo, of Nara's Kohfukuji Temple has burned down and been rebuilt seven times. Miraculously, a number of priceless Buddhist sculptures were rescued each time and survive today. To celebrate its 1300th anniversary next year.

The centerpiece of the exhibition -- and its relentlessly hyped image -- is the three-headed, six-armed statue of an Ashura, one of the "Eight Classes" (Hachi Bushu) of Buddhist guardian deities. 

Touted as one of Japan's best known and most beloved Buddhist sculptures (there is even an Ashura Fan Club counting various celebrities among its members), the Ashura dates back to 734. 

An Ashura's two side-faces typically display anger while the front face reveals a more complex expression of hubris and suffering. In a nutshell, Ashura may be the most human of Buddhist deities, which could explain the adulation this statue inspires.

The other seven classes of deities are also represented as well as other sculptures and figures. Each one is a National Treasure and the collection is amazing.

Photographs were not allowed; I bought a post-card and photographed it.

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