Benten and Attendant Riding a Dragon by Seas Reflecting Starlight
This piece was inspired by an ivory carving from Japan’s Meiji period entitled “Benten and Attendant Riding a Dragon,” which is currently owned by the Museum of Fine Arts in Saint Petersburg, Florida. In Japan she is considered to be one of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune (七福神). Benten (also called Benzaiten 辯才天/弁財天) represents knowledge, beauty, art, poetry, and music. She is often depicted playing a biwa (琵琶), a type of Japanese stringed instrument, and she is included in both Buddhism and Shintoism. Her origin is in the Hindu goddess Saraswati, who came to Japan with the spread of Buddhism.
This is actually an old sketch of mine that I created 7 years ago, and only recently rediscovered. The original sketch was done in pencil while viewing the statue on display. After rediscovering the old sketch, I decided to add color to it. Since the original was ivory, all of the colors are of my own design.
Jizo (地蔵) is a Buddhist bodhisattva known as the guardian of travelers and children, particularly children who die before their parents die. He is one of the most popular figures in Japan, with statues commonly found along roadsides and in graveyards. Parents praying for the health of a sick child, or grieving and seeking protection for their child’s spirit, often clothe the statues. This art piece was inspired by a stone statue of Jizo at Daihonzan Miyoshinji (大本山妙心寺) in Kyoto, Japan.
Jizo is also popular in other parts of Asia, where his names include:
– Sanskrit: Kṣitigarbha क्षितिगर्भ
– Chinese: Dìzàng 地藏
– Korean: ji jang 지장
– Tibetan: sa yi snying po ས་ཡི་སྙིང་པོ
– Vietnamese: Địa Tạng Vương bồ tát
– Thai: Phra Kasiti Khappha Phothisat พระกษิติครรภโพธิสัตว์
This design is based on my photo of the Nara Daibutsu (Large Buddha), one of the largest indoor Buddha statues in the world at 15 meters tall. It is located in Nara, one of the historical capitals of Japan, in Todaiji – a temple that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I love Nara. It’s only a short train ride from Kyoto, and is a small easily walkable town. The cute little friendly deer are everywhere, and will eat crackers right out of your hand. It’s a very picturesque and peaceful setting, that’s also great for a history buff like me who likes to wander around ancient temples, museums, and historical sites. Nara is a place where you can feed a few deer, visit a great awe-inspiring Buddha so large you cannot even reach his hand, stop to relax under the falling momiji leaves while sipping a nice hot cup of matcha, and still have ample time to stroll through the various winding trails around the town. It’s a window into the traditional Japan of olden days, without the same modern bustling of nearby Kyoto.