Heian Buddha, Dainichi-Nyorai: Kakebotoke
This small moulded icon depicts Dainichi Nyorai, the Great Sun Buddha (Skt: Vairochana) seated cross-legged on a lotus throne. Also known as the Cosmic Buddha, Dainichi Nyorai was worshipped as the central deity within esoteric Buddhist traditions from the Heian period (794–1192 CE) onwards.
Dainichi Nyorai is conventionally shown wearing a tall crown and making the ‘Mudra of Six Elements’ or ‘Knowledge Fist Mudra’ (J. chiken-in). This hand gesture, in which the index finger of the left hand is clasped by the five fingers of the right, symbolises the unity of spiritual consciousness with the five elements – earth, water, fire, air/wind, and space/void.  Another interpretation, equates the left hand with the male sex organ and right hand with the female sex organ. This sexual symbolism emphasises Dainichi Nyorai’s significance as the main deity, from which all other deities emanate. 
Dainichi Nyorai’s face is finely modelled and engraved to convey a serious, naturalistic expression. The deity’s generous and symmetrical features are set within a rounded face that has a softness of appearance. The three fleshy rings at the neck are one of the many auspicious marks (Skt. lakshanas) traditionally used to symbolise the Buddha’s high moral attitude and conduct. The deity’s body, clothed in the folded, contours of a monastic robe, is modestly unadorned with jewels.
Hollow-cast in bronze, this figure is believed to be one component of a disc-shaped votive, known as a kakebotoke 懸仏 (‘hanging Buddhist deity’) or mishōtai 御神体 (‘the true form of the deity’).  Kakebotoke depict Buddhist and Shinto deities within a round or oval frame fitted with suspension hooks for display within or outside a temple or shrine. 
During the late Heian and early Kamakura (1185–1333) periods, support grew for a new syncretism that melded Shinto and Buddhist beliefs (this later came to be known as shinbutsu shūgō 神仏習合). Fundamental to this belief was the concept of honji suijaku 本地垂迹, which regarded Japan’s native gods (J. kami) as emanations of buddhas and bodhisattvas.
In Shinto, mirrors are perceived as embodiments of native gods or kami and are displayed in shrines or offered in acts of devotion. Kakebotoke may have evolved from these early engraved and painted mirrors (J. kyōzō 鏡像).  Functioning in a similar way to kyōzō, kakebotoke depicting Buddhist deities were suspended from columns or placed on stands in front of a devotional image within shrines and temples.  The buddha or bodhisattva depicted on the plaque was to be worshipped as the original substance (honji) of corresponding Shinto gods.  By the Kamakura period, the kakebotoke’s low-relief, repoussée designs had become more three-dimensional, incorporating cast components that allowed the work to be viewed in the round.
There are very few examples of kakebotoke in museums in the United Kingdom; however, this small cast of Dainichi Nyorai resembles two items in the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum . It is also possible that this high relief cast may once have been attached to the smooth side of a bronze mirror, as with the example at Kyoto Museum. 
Vanessa Tothill, June 2022
Examples of kyōzō can be viewed at Nara Museum:
https://webarchives.tnm.jp/imgsearch/show/E0069386 [Accessed 1 June 2022]  See Kyoto Museum, object number: E甲17-35
https://colbase.nich.go.jp/collection_items/kyohaku/E%E7%94%B217-35?locale=ja [Accessed 6 February, 2023]
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