The Ten Great Disciples are the principal followers of the Historical Buddha Shakyamuni (Śākyamuni): Śāriputra, Maudgalyāyana, Mahākāśyapa, Subhūti, Pūrṇa Maitrāyanīputra, Mahākātyāyana, Aniruddha, Upāli, Rāhula, and Ānanda.
These statues of the Ten Great Disciples were originally installed in the temple Jōraku-in, a former subtemple of Ninna-ji in Kyoto, where they accompanied a Shakyamuni image modeled after the famous tenth-century Northern Song dynasty Shakyamuni sculpture at Kyoto’s Seiryō-ji Temple. The Jōraku-in Shakyamuni is now owned by the Agency for Cultural Affairs and designated an Important Cultural Property.
Eight of the ten sculptures in the set have been dated to the mid-thirteenth century of the Kamakura period, based on to their realistic carving style. Two of them, however, Maudgalyāyana and Rāhula, appear to be replacements produced during the Edo period (1615–1868). The original eight images have a more tranquil feel than similar works by the contemporaneous Kei school of sculptors, such as the Ten Great Disciples by Kaikei at Daihōon-ji in Kyoto. A clue to this difference might be explained by their provenance.
The Ninna-ji subtemple of Jōraku-in was built on land donated by Inken, a Buddhist sculptor of the In school (Inpa). The carving on these figures suggests they were indeed made by In school sculptors. Ninna-ji itself houses a statue of Prince Siddhārtha Gautama (before becoming the Buddha Shakyamuni), which was carved in the year 1252 by an In school sculptor named Inchi. Inchi lived a generation or so before Inken, so the Ten Great Disciples sculptures likely predate this image. One further point to consider is the fact that the production of the Shakyamuni Buddha sculpture that these statues originally surrounded is associated with the eminent medieval Japanese priest Myo’e (1173–1232).