Recently I learned that there is another important element in celebrating the new Lunar year of 2019. In accordance to how the boar is the Zodiac sign in Japan, there is another tradition seen very prominent this year, which is the revering of the deity Marishiten¹. There is a connection being applied here, and it’s primarily linked to the boar. I will touch upon that point, while also giving an overview of Marishiten as viewed in Japan.
Marishiten is a deity within Buddhism that represents light and the sun, and is worshiped by many Buddhist sects. Believed to have originated from India’s Hindu beliefs, then passed on into Buddhism. Later the image and reverence of this deity spread throughout Asia alongside with Buddhism. After esoteric Buddhism was established in Japan, the worship of Marishiten continued in numerous Buddhist temples around the country.
IMAGE & TRAITS
There are countless depictions of Marishiten based on how she² is viewed, as well as the region where she is worshiped at. In Japan, she can be seen having multiple faces, and numerous arms where each are holding different weapons such as a bow & arrow. In some cases, the sun and the moon are also in her possession amongst the weapons. Out of these images, at times she is shown to be beautiful and elegant, while other times she appears fierce and war-like as if rushing into battle. One thing that almost all these images have in common is Marishiten is shown accompanied by boars, where she is standing (or saddling) on the back of a boar, or sitting on top of several boars. The meaning behind the boars is her ability to charge forward fearlessly and with absolute resolve into battle. Due to this image, there is an association with boars, to the point that at temples that feature a room or hall dedicated to Marishiten, there are statues of boars that are symbolic as guardians³.
Marishiten is a deva turned into a guardian deity according to Buddhist beliefs. She is often depicted as a goddess of light of the sun and moon, as her name stands for “rays of light⁴”. Believed to originally possess a form of fire, Marishiten’s traits include being a source of light, and impervious to harm. As one of light, her abilities include creating illusions, and becoming invisible by positioning herself in front of the sun. As a whole, Marishiten represents a medium for avoiding harm, illnesses, and disasters. Many believers pray for her protection by chanting specific mantras specially designated to her. It is also believed that she can cure certain illnesses, resolve disputes, and ensure safe child birth.
PROTECTION FOR WARRIORS
After the introduction of Buddhism in Japan, warriors saw value in worshiping Marishiten for her protection as early as the 12th century. This came about when many believed that she could ensure victory through granting invisibility to others. This idea of being invisible is not to be taken literally; what it meant was a warrior could avoid attacks from their enemies by not being noticed within their line of sight. This was especially desired during times of war, for warriors were known to carry an image of Marishiten on their person while stepping onto the battlefield, such as archers wearing necklaces bearing a carving in the resemblance of Marishiten. Reknown figures such as Kusunoki Masashige⁵, Shimazu Yoshihiro⁶, and Tokugawa Ieyasu⁷ are known to have been great believers in this.
During the Asuka period (538-710), Prince Shōtoku was a great supporter of Buddhism early in Japan (left picture, middle, from Wikipedia). As one who studied the Buddhist sutras, it is said he received Marishiten’s aid in expelling the rivaling Mononobe clan. In reference to this event, the document “Ninjutsu Ōgi Den” gives a brief acknowledgment (outlined in red) where Prince Shōtoku is praised as “being cultivated & true to the warrior’s way…, he possessed the secret methods (of Buddhism) through the will of Marishiten and Kongō Rikishi.” (right picture, from author’s collection)
Outside of the battlefield, for those engaged in non-combatant scenarios such as spying and stealing in, they would pray for the ability to move undetected in order to complete their tasks. Groups utilizing shinobi no jutsu (known by the modern term ninjutsu) are an example of this. During peaceful times, Marishiten was still an essential asset within some martial systems. For some, through the incorporation of esoteric Buddhism, prayers to Marishiten helped to inspired self perfection. For others, her image helped to protect the teachings of their martial system.
Until the abolishment of the warrior caste, Marishiten was one of the deities most essential to those who wished to achieve victory against their foes.
From Edo period, Marishiten was made a patron of wealth and prosperity primarily to merchants and entertainers. This made her one of the “Santen⁸”, or 3 Deities, within Japan. The Santen is a label for 3 major deities specifically designated as patrons of luck and fortune for those in specific occupations. At some point, these 3 Deities were viewed as beneficial to everyone, thus the general mass began to pray to them as well.
Tokudai Temple is one of the few temples that is dedicated in the worship of Marishiten (left). The pic on the right shows that temple’s schedule for Marishiten Goenbi (I no Hi) celebration, which shows the months and each day on the schedule in chronological order. (from Tokudai Temple’s website here)
This year, people can access certain temples to pray to Marishiten. Just about a month ago, the Yakuri Temple⁹ (located in Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture) made headlines across media outlets in Japan, for that temple’s Marishiten statue was unveiled to the public for the 1st time. There are also special days for prayer and worship called “Marishiten Goenbi¹⁰”, that take place at Tokudai Temple¹¹ (located in Ueno, Taitōku District of Tokyo). This is in connection to “I no Hi¹²”, or “Day of the Boar”, which is directly related to this year’s Zodiac being that of the boar (or otherwise known as the pig outside of Japan), and Marishiten’s utilization of boars in the images rectified of her.
As a whole, Marishiten is a guardian figure with a long history. Over the generations, many groups have found reasons to associate themselves to her for the sake of receiving different types of blessings through worship. This year is especially important due to the Lunar calendar falling on the year of the boar. If you look at it, Marishiten is for everyone when it comes down to asking for blessings, and this point is certainly being acted upon in Japan this year.
1) Original writing of the name is Marici.
2) While the prevailing image is that of a female in Japan, Marishiten is also described as being a male in other countries.
3) A guardian boar is written as “koma-inoshishi” (狛猪)
4) In Japanese the word “kagerō” (陽炎) is used to describe this.
8) 三天. This is made up of the following deities: Marishiten, Benzaiten, and Daikokuten.