Kasuga Deer Mandala

Kasuga Deer Mandala
Kamakura Period: 14th century
Nara National Museum

In this painting scroll, a sakaki (sacred tree) is placed on the back of the divine white deer. The four deities of Kasuga Shrine and the deity of Kasuga Wakamiya (New) Shrine are visualized as Buddhas standing on the boughs of the sacred tree. Twining around the boughs is fuji (wisteria), which is the symbolic flower of the shrine and the Fujiwara clan. In the lower part of the image, scenes around Kasuga Shrine unfold, in which deer frolic in the meadow. In the upper area, Mt. Mikasa is depicted with a conical shape among the Kasuga hills. In some varieties of Shinto worship in Japan, conical hills are considered sacred as deities’ seats. The most typical example is Mt. Miwa, located in the southeastern part of the Nara Basin, which is considered an object of worship of Ōmiwa (Miwa) Shrine. In the above painting, landscape features in Nara were combined to represent the cosmology of the faith.

By Noboru Ogata, Kyoto University

Reproduced by courtesy of the Nara National Museum. Unauthorized reproduction of the image is prohibited.