National TreasureHungry Ghosts Scroll

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  • 紙本著色餓鬼草紙
  • 1 scroll
  • Color on paper
  • 26.9x380.2
  • Heian period/12th century
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • A-10476

This scroll, together with the Hell Scroll (J. Jigoku zôshi) and the Extermination of Evil (J. Hekijae), is thought to be part of the Paintings of the Six Paths of Transmigration (J. Rokudôe) originally kept in the treasure house of Rengeô-in Temple (commonly known as Sanjûsangendô), built by cloistered emperor Goshirakawa (1127-1192, r. 1155-1158). The Buddhist concept of the Six Paths of Transmigration, popular at the end of the Heian period (794-1185), held that crimes committed in this life caused people to be reborn into one of the realms of suffering such as the hells or the realm of hungry ghosts. Hungry ghosts have emaciated forms with swollen bellies and are tormented by dreadful hunger and thirst. They feast upon carcasses, excrement, and urine.

This work was passed down in the Kômoto family of Okayama Prefecture. The textual portions having been lost, this scroll presently consists of ten sheets of continuous painted scenes. The colors are now faded but were probably extremely vivid when first painted.