Stone depiction of a standing Bato (Horse-Head) Kannon Bosatsu. Clearly dated to the 16th year of the Showa Era (1942). Line of repair visible across the center of the piece, minor loss to top of perimeter, and overall softening of the lines and contours.
Height: 54 cm
Width: 23 cm
Depth: 13 cm.
Of Kannon Bosatsu's 33 manifestations, only one, Bato-Kannon, glowers menacingly upon the world. In Japan, Bato-Kannon's irate glare is generally held to express the notion that anger, if properly focused, can be a positive force in clearing away the obstacles on one's path to enlightenment. Although Bato-Kannon is generally believed to derive from the Hindu deity Hayagriva, whose head is that of a horse, the personality and symbolic thrust of the two gods are in fact quite different, Hayagriva being depicted invariably with a serene expression. An alternative view on the question of the origin of Bato-Kannon's horse-head iconography cites a Hindu myth in which Vishnu transforms himself into a large horse-head with the intention of frightening off a would-be detractor of Brahma. Inasmuch as it offers consistency in terms both of the actual iconography and its accompanying symbolic purport, the Vishnu/Brahma tale theory is persuasive.
Early Japanese depictions of Bato-Kannon, the oldest dating to the 8th century, are of wood or bronze and invariably display a wrathful mien. In the case of Bato-Kannon images in stone, the earliest extant examples date to the mid-Edo Period. The vast majority of stone examples depict Bato-Kannon not as aggressively fearsome but as serenely compassionate. Emoting angrily, this example is therefore a rarity.