Kasuga Shrine Mandala


Kasuga Shrine Mandala

Paintings / Kamakura

Kamakura period, 13th century

Color on silk



Mandalas are symbolic representations of the universe according to the tenets of Buddhism. Shinto shrine, or miya, mandalas take this concept and apply it to the ancient Shinto gods of Japan, depicting shrines and the land around them to represent the world of the gods worshipped there. This painting is a Shinto shrine mandala which shows the area around Kasuga Grand Shrine in Nara, a site which continues to be a popular tourist destination.

Shinto shrine mandalas are known for depicting landscapes using a bird’s-eye view, and this painting follows that convention by showing the entirety of the surrounding area when viewed from above. A road stretches from the red bridge at the bottom of the panel, through the torii gate, and up to the main building of the shrine. There are cherry blossoms in bloom and grazing deer on the shrine’s grounds. The structure enclosed by corridors near the center of the piece is the Kasuga Grand Shrine. The depiction is meticulously detailed, showing the appearance of the shrine at that time. Behind the shrine is Mount Mikasa, where the gods worshipped at Kasuga Grand Shrine are said to live.

Shinto shrine mandalas were created as an alternative to visiting the actual shrine, and were worshipped as such. This painting shows that the surrounding Kasuga area itself was the object of worship.

This is one of the oldest existing Shinto shrine mandalas depicting Kasuga Grand Shrine.

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