Mandala of the Kasuga shrine, a hanging scroll painting

Kamakura-Muromachi period, 14th century AD

The Kasuga shrine was established in AD 709 adjacent to Kōfuku-ji Temple in Nara, as the ancestral shrine of the powerful Fujiwara clan. The linking of shrines and temples was a common occurrence after the introduction of Buddhism in the sixth century and was part of the process of reconciliation between Buddhism and the native Japanese religion, Shintō. During the Heian period (794-1185), in order to lessen tensions between the two religions, the doctrine of honji suijaku ('manifestation from the original state') was developed. This presented the Shintō gods, kami, as incarnations of Buddhist deities who were seen as their benevolent guardians. Mandala were created as visual reinforcements of this doctrine.

Along the top are five Buddhist deities, the honji ('original state') of the five Shintō kami of the Kasuga and Wakamiya shrines that are their suijaku ('manifestation'). The moon symbolizes the chief Kasuga deity. The Buddhist deities are (from right to left): the bodhisattva Monju (Sanskrit: Manjushri) the Buddhas Shaka (Shakyamuni) and Yakushi (Bhaisajyaguru) and the bodhisattvas Jizō (Ksitigarbha) and eleven-headed Kannon (Avalokiteshvara). Below these are the Shintō deities with lesser deities issuing from the temple, represented by the five-storey pagoda. The Kasuga shrine buildings are prominent in the upper part of the painting, with the main red-painted gateway or torii and two pagodas, and another torii and pilgrim paths towards Mount Kasuga and Mount Mikasa.

The scene is depicted from a very high viewpoint in the style of a Yamato-e landscape and the rich coloration is given added lustre by the gold applied to the back of the loosely woven silk ground.

Find in the collection online

More information


I. Hirayama and T. Kobayashi (eds.), Hizō Nihon bijutsu taikan, vol. 1 (Tokyo, Kodansha, 1992)

W. Zwalf (ed.), Buddhism: art and faith (London, The British Museum Press, 1985)

L. Smith, V. Harris and T. Clark, Japanese art: masterpieces in (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)


Height: 998.000 mm
Length: 350.000 mm

Museum number

Asia JA JP ADD371 (1961.4-8.02)



Find in the collection online

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore