Kasuga Mandala

Images of Nara as a Sacred Landscape

Kasuga Deer Mandala
Kamakura Period: 14th century
Nara National Museum
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Kashima Deities Departing to Kasuga
Muromachi Period: 14th century
Nara National Museum
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The medieval era of Japan is characterized as the age of revitalization of religion, and many religious groups, both old and new, actively propagated their faiths among not only the aristocratic class but also the common people. Formed around Kasuga Shrine and Kofuku-ji Monastery, the Kasuga Faith was one such group. To propagate their beliefs, this group produced many paintings, which are generally called Kasuga Mandala. In these paintings, images of the deities, divine deer, celestial bodies, buildings of the shrine and monastery, and the landscape features of Nara were symbolically laid out. Because the Kasuga Faith was characterized as a syncretistic fusion of Shinto and Buddhism, the Kasuga deities were often visualized as Buddhas, as shown in the left image.

On the 17th day, 5th month, 3rd year of the Juei era (June 26, 1184 by the Julian calendar), Kujo Kanezane, a nobleman in Kyoto, received a painted scroll depicting Kasuga Shrine from a Buddhist priest in Nara. He wrote in his diary, Gyokuyo, that after purifying himself and dressing up, he gave his prayers and recited the Heart Sutra before the painting. His description tells us that images of the shrine were treated as objects of worship or the shrine itself.

By Noboru Ogata, Kyoto University


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