“Afro Buddha” Statue on Rare Extended Display at Todaiji Museum in Nara, Japan
Carved representations of the Buddha come in a wide variety of forms, representing various manifestations and aspects of the Buddha and the many schools of Buddhism. One of the more unusual of these forms is the Gokoushiyui-Amida-Nyoraizazo (五刧思惟阿弥陀如来坐像) statue, a form of the Buddha Amida (Skt. Amitabha) of which there are just 16 representations in the whole of Japan. Affectionately known in Japan as “Afuro Butsuzou” (literally, the “Afro Buddha” statue) for its unusually long, thick mane of hair, examples of this image can be found in temples in Kyoto, Wakayama, Nara, and other prefectures in Japan.
One prime example, dated to Japan’s Muromachi period (c. 1337–1573), is stored at the historic Todai-ji temple complex in Nara and is usually only available for public viewing on 5 October each year. However, due to ongoing refurbishment work at the Kanjinsho Amida Hall in the temple grounds, the statue will instead be exhibited at Todaiji Museum in Nara from now until 18 October.
The long, thick hair on Gokoushiyui-Amida-Nyoraizazo is symbolic of the Buddha’s extended meditation for the sake of all sentient beings. “Gokoushikiyui” can be translated as “meditating for five kalpa.” One kalpa, a Sanskrit word mean “eon,” is a unit of time defined as the period between the creation, annihilation, and recreation of a world or universe, measured in billions of years.
The Todai-ji (Eastern Great Temple) Buddhist temple complex, a listed UNESCO world Heritage site, was once one of the Seven Great Temples in Nara. The site is also the Japanese headquarters of the Kegon school of Buddhism. Its Great Buddha Hall houses the world's largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairochana, which has been recast several times due to damage over the years. The current hands of the statue were made in the Momoyama period (1568–1615), while the head was made in the Edo period (1615–1867). The earliest construction of a temple on the site has been dated to 728.
Afro Buddha, usually only displayed one day a year, gets rare extended viewing until mid-October (Japan Today)
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Todaiji Museum (Japanese only)