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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

(p.235) 6 The Three Devas
Protectors and Predators

Bernard Faure

University of Hawai'i Press

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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