These paintings depict the God of Heavenly Punishment (J. Tenkeisei), Sendan Kendatsuba (Skt. Cadana Gandharva), the Divine Insect (J. Shinchû), Shôki (Ch. Zhonggui), and Bishamon Ten (Skt. Vaisravana), all believed in China to be benevolent deities who expel demons of plague. This set was originally mounted as a handscroll that was known as the "second edition of the Masuda family Hell Scroll." After the war, the handscroll was cut into sections and the paintings mounted as hanging scrolls. The acts of each of the gods in exterminating evil are briefly explained in the texts accompanying the illustrations.
The God of Heavenly Punishment-literally "the star [that metes out] heavenly punishment"-is a demon from the Yin-yang tradition. In Japan, he was incorporated into Esoteric Buddhist prayers. In this painting, he is shown consuming the Ox-headed Deity (J. Gozu Tennô), the pestilence god worshipped at Gion Shrine in Kyoto.
Sendan Kendatsuba was originally an Indian god of music. Later, he came to be classified as being one among the Eight Classes of Protectors of the Buddhist Law (J. hachibushû) and is described in the Lotus Sutra as one of the thirty-three manifestations of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (J. Kannon). He is also believed to protect youths from the dangers of the fifteen malevolent deities. Here, his form closely resembles that found in the Esoteric Buddhist Mandala of Youths (J. Dôji mandara).
"The Divine Insect" is a euphemism for the silkworm. Its miracles as a benevolent deity were known from very early on. In this painting, it takes the form of a moth.
A Buddhist tale (J. setsuwa) relates that Shôki, a demon-quelling deity from China, protected the Tang emperor Xuanzong (685-762) from malevolent demons. He is portrayed with large eyes and a thick beard and is wearing a black robe, hat, and tall boots. Here, he is shown strangling a small demon.
Bishamon Ten is portrayed as a benevolent deity who protects devotees of the Lotus Sutra. Examples of Bishamon Ten holding a bow, as he is painted here, are found in Chinese works of the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties.
This scroll set, which brings together a number of unusual images, has had strong connections to the Southern Capital of Nara and to the Hell Transformation Screens (J. Jigokuhen gobyôbu), which were used in year-end repentance ceremonies, held at the Imperial Palace up until the Heian period, in which the names of the buddhas were recited (J. butsumyôe). Like other paintings of the Six Paths (J. Rokudo-e) such as the Hell Scroll, it is conjectured to have been made during the time of Emperor Goshirakawa (1127-92, r. 1155-58) in the latter part of the Heian period (794-1185) and kept in the treasure house of Rengeô-in Temple (Sanjûsangendô). One view holds that the calligraphy for the Extermination of Evil was brushed by the same hand as that of the Hell Scroll (J. Jigoku zôshi) in the Tokyo National Museum and the Demon of Punishment (J. Kandô no oni) in the Fukuoka City Museum of Art.