Niu Myōjin. early
14th century, Japan. Hanging scroll;
ink, color, and gold on silk. The female
Shinto deity of Mount Kōya, Niu Myōjin, is believed to have given Kūkai (Kōbō
Daishi, 774–835) permission to build his monastery for Esoteric Buddhist
training at Mount Kōya in 816.
Here she is shown seated on a tatami mat wearing elaborately layered robes and with the long, flowing hair of a court lady. In the disk at the top of the painting, the deity is represented again by the seed syllable (a sacred Sanskrit character) referring to her original Buddhist form (honji) as Dainichi Nyorai (Sanskrit: Mahāvairocana), the central Buddha of the Esoteric Buddhist cosmos. A painting of Niu Myōjin such as this is usually paired with one of Kariba Myōjin, the male deity of Mount Kōya. Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015. MET