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Protectors and PredatorsGods of Medieval Japan, Volume 2$
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Bernard Faure

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780824839314

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: November 2016

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824839314.001.0001

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The Three Devas

The Three Devas

Chapter:
(p.235) 6 The Three Devas
Source:
Protectors and Predators
Author(s):

Bernard Faure

Publisher:
University of Hawai'i Press
DOI:10.21313/hawaii/9780824839314.003.0007

The three Indian deities known as Vinayaka, Dakini, and Sarasvatī became known in Japan as Shōten, Dakiniten, and Benzaiten. In the medieval period, they formed a triad and eventually merged into a single, fox-riding, three-headed deity known as “Three Devas.” A mention of that first appears in the eleventh century, in a record about a protecting deity of Tōji, a major Shingon temple in Kyōto. It resurfaces, after an apparent eclipse of three centuries, in a Tendai context and rapidly expands, outside Mikkyō, in Onmȳodō, Shugendō, and Shintō circles. From an iconographic viewpoint, it is also related to Tenkawa Benzaiten, a snake-headed representation of the Buddhist goddess of music. The process by which three independent deities merge into one single, triadic deity offers a good vantage point to understand the metamorphic nature of Japanese gods and the “syncretistic” tendency of medieval Japanese religion.

Keywords:   Shōten, Dakiniten, Benzaiten, Inari, mandalas, Daikokuten, triads

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