Important Cultural PropertyPure Land Mandala

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  • Hanging scroll
  • Color on silk
  • 128.6×123.8 cm
  • Kamakura period, 13th–14th century
  • Kyushu National Museum
  • A29

Also known as the Taima Mandala and the Manifestations in the Amitayurdhyana Sutra, this work centers on the Western Pure Land in which the buddha Amitabha resides. It is a pictorial depiction of the prologue to the Amitayurdhyana Sutra, one of the three principal sutras of Pure Land Buddhism, and the sixteen contemplations it describes.

The mandala comprises a central image partially framed on the left, right, and bottom. At the focus of the central image is Amitabha, who is flanked by the bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta. They sit among thirty-four Buddhist followers, surrounded by a lotus pond, pagodas, and other buildings that represent what the Pure Land paradise looks like. The left frame illustrates the legend of Prince Ajatashatru as told in the prologue of the Amitayurdhyana Sutra; the right frame depicts the first thirteen contemplations, while the bottom frame covers the fourteenth to sixteenth contemplations, altogether narrating how Amitabha appears before the deceased to welcome them into one of nine classes of rebirth.

The iconography on this work derives from an eighth-century tapestry, the Taima Mandala (National Treasure; owned by Taima Temple, Nara). Legend has it that Princess Chūjō had woven the latter work in a single night using lotus fibers. In the Kamakura period (12th–14th century), prominent priests such as Hōnen (1133–1212) of the Jōdo sect, which worships Amitabha, as well as his disciple and founder of the Seizan branch of the Jōdo sect, Shōkū (1177–1247), promoted this iconography, leading to many copies of the work being made and circulated.

While this work is but an eighth as big as the original, which measures four meters long, it is nevertheless a masterpiece of the Kamakura period that features detailed depictions of the central buddha and bodhisattvas’ facial features and their bodies. Also note the generous use of gold paint for the surrounding figures, the lotus pond, and the sky, as well as the vivid use of cool colors like ultramarine and verdigris. The mandala was once owned by Enman’in Temple in Ōtsu, Shiga, and bears an ink inscription on the back of its original mounting stating that it had been repaired in 1435.