Originally depicted as a nihizo goddess (Buddhist deity with two arms), today Marishiten (The Buddhist god of war) is constructed in many forms including in the image of a male god or as a sanmen roppizo (Buddhist deity with three faces and six arms). As the symbol of heat-haze or shimmering light personified, Marici has been worshipped by samurai families since ancient times, Sengoku (warring-period) samurai Mori Motonari or Tachibana Dosetsu used the crest of Marici, while Yamamoto Kansuke and Maeda Toshiie—famous generals from the same period—were both said to be firm believers.
Marishiten, often referred to as Marici in Sanskrit, holds a significant place in the realm of Japanese Buddhism. This radiant deity is associated with light, the sun, and various aspects of protection and blessings. To truly understand the depth of Marishiten's importance in Japanese Buddhism, it is essential to delve into her origins, symbolism, worship, and cultural significance.
The origins of Marishiten can be traced back to ancient Indian Buddhism. In Sanskrit, she is known as "Marici," which translates to "Ray of Light" or "Ray of the Sun." Marici is primarily recognized as a bodhisattva, an enlightened being who has chosen to remain in the cycle of birth and death to assist all sentient beings in their spiritual journey towards enlightenment.
Marici's characteristics are multifaceted and rich in symbolism. She is often depicted as a radiant goddess riding a boar or a wild boar herself, wielding various weapons such as a sword, bow, or arrow. Her association with a boar and these weapons symbolizes her power to dispel darkness, ignorance, and obstacles on the path to enlightenment. In her various forms, Marici embodies strength, courage, and unwavering determination.
Marishiten's symbolism extends beyond her iconic appearance. Several key attributes and symbols associated with her shed light on her multifaceted nature:
Marishiten's worship has a long history in Japanese Buddhism, and her cult has evolved over time. Her appeal lies in her dual nature as a benevolent deity and a fierce protector. Devotees turn to Marishiten for various reasons, including protection, guidance, and the removal of obstacles on their spiritual journeys.
In Esoteric Buddhism, Marishiten holds a prominent place. She is often invoked through specific rituals and mantras to harness her protective and illuminating energies. These practices are passed down through generations in esoteric Buddhist traditions.
Shugendo, a Japanese spiritual practice combining elements of Shintoism, Taoism, and Buddhism, also incorporates Marishiten into its pantheon of deities. Here, she is revered as a powerful guardian and protector of those who seek enlightenment through ascetic practices in the mountains.
In Japan's syncretic religious landscape, Marishiten has seamlessly blended into both Shinto and Buddhist contexts. This integration has made her accessible to a broader range of worshipers, further cementing her importance in Japanese culture.
Beyond her role in religious practice, Marishiten has left a lasting imprint on Japanese culture and art. Her presence can be felt in various artistic forms, including sculptures, paintings, and rituals. Her imagery often adorns temples, shrines, and Buddhist artifacts, serving as a reminder of her protective and illuminating presence.
The legacy of Marishiten extends to various aspects of Japanese society: