NARA--An eighth-century wooden statue of Ashura, a Buddhist guardian deity, is dazzling visitors with its mesmerizing looks at Kofukuji temple here.
Some 2 million people have visited the temple's treasure house, where Ashura, a national treasure, and other celebrated sculptures have been on display since the building reopened in March 2010 after a face-lift.
Nara, the nation’s capital during the Nara Period (710-784), has a number of historically prominent temples. But few other exhibits in the city have drawn such visitor numbers.
The statue, which stands 153.4 centimeters high, has three faces and six hands.
Crowd numbers exploded after it was shown on a tour for the first time.
“The National Treasure Ashura and masterpieces from Kofukuji” in Tokyo and Fukuoka in 2009 drew 1.65 million visitors. The exhibition was held as part of events to commemorate the 1,300th anniversary of the construction of Kofukuji.
Ashura, or Asura in Sanskrit, is a power-seeking deity in Indian mythology involved in an endless battle with a fellow deity. But the fighting ended after Ashura was exposed to Buddhist teachings.
Although Ashura is typically presented in the form of a ferocious figure, the one at Kofukuji radiates an expression that could be taken as being from either a boy or a girl.
It is this detail that always attracts people to the statue in the first place.
However, the statue reveals another side when light is shed upward from the lower part of the torso: a grim countenance with knitted eyebrows, which was captured by photographer Kozo Ogawa.
Ashura’s gaze is one of perpetual mystery, displaying gentleness as well as fragility and ferocity.
Visitors are invariably enthralled by his complex and profound allure.
Empress Komyo (701-760), wife of Emperor Shomu (701-756), ordered the production of a series of statues, including Ashura. They are known as Hachibushu Judaideshi-zo (eight guardians and 10 disciples).
Empress Komyo was also behind the treasures of the Shosoin, the wooden storehouse at the temple of Todaiji, also in Nara. She donated the imperial collection of precious articles after her husband’s death.
In short, Ashura and the treasures of the Shosoin--which constitute the two main tourist destinations in Nara--resulted from the foresight of a single woman who lived more than 1,000 years ago.
Ashura and other sculptures are now displayed under friendlier lighting--light-emitting diodes instead of halogen bulbs.
LEDs radiate almost no heat, infrared or ultraviolet rays. Nor do they cause discoloring or damage to centuries-old exhibits. They consume much less energy than bulbs.
Visitors praise the new lighting system.
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