Antique Stones Japan

Stone Bato (Horse-Head) Kannon Bosatsu Showa 20 c.

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Directory: Archives: Regional Art: Asian: Japanese: Pre 1950: Item # 612668

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Antique Stones Japan
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Stone depiction of a standing Bato (Horse-Head) Kannon Bosatsu. Clearly dated to the 16th year of the Showa Era (1942). Minor old loss to the upper mandorla and softening of the lines and contours overall.

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 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.