God of wealth, fortune, the household, agriculture, fertility, sexuality and war
|Member of the Seven Lucky Gods|
|Other names||Makakara / Makakyara (摩訶迦羅)|
Makakaraten / Makakyaraten (摩訶迦羅天)
Daikoku-sama (大黒様 / 大黒さま)
Ōkuninushi (Shinto deity conflated with him)
|Mantra||Oṃ Mahākālāya svāhā|
(On Makakyaraya sowaka)
|Animals||mouse or rat|
Daikokuten (大黒天) is a syncretic Japanese deity of fortune and wealth. Daikokuten originated from Mahākāla, the Buddhist version of the Hindu deity Shiva, conflated with the native Shinto god Ōkuninushi.
Mahākāla in East Asian Buddhism
The Sanskrit term 'Mahākāla' ("Great Black [One]", "Great Time" or "Great Death") was originally one of the epithets of the Hindu god Shiva in his aspect as time (kāla), the ultimate destroyer of all things. This title and aspect of Shiva was eventually adopted by Buddhism, where Mahākāla became reinterpreted as a dharmapāla or a protector of the Buddhist dharma but also as a terrifying deity who roams the forests at night with hordes of ghouls and demons in his train.
Mahākāla is mentioned in many Chinese Buddhist texts, although iconographic depictions of him in China were rare during the Tang and Song periods. He eventually became the center of a flourishing cult after the 9th century in the kingdoms of Nanzhao and Dali in what is now the province of Yunnan, a region bordering Tibet, where his cult was also widespread. Due to Tibetan influence, his importance further increased during the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty, with his likeness being displayed in the imperial palace and in Buddhist temples inside and outside the capital (though most of these images are now no longer extant). The deity's name was both transcribed into Chinese characters as 摩訶迦羅 (pinyin: Móhējiāluó; Middle Chinese (Baxter): mwa xa kæ la) and translated as 大黑天 (pinyin: Dàhēitiān; lit. 'Great Black Deva', with kāla being understood to mean 'black'; Middle Chinese (Baxter): dɑH xok then). These were eventually adopted into Japanese as Makakara (or Makakyara) and Daikokuten, respectively.
In some texts, Mahākāla is described as a fearsome god, a "demon who steals the vital essence (of people)" and who feeds on flesh and blood, though he is also said to only devour those who committed sins against the Three Jewels of Buddhism. One story meanwhile portrays Mahākāla as a manifestation of the buddha Vairocana who subjugated the ḍākinīs, a race of flesh-eating female demons. Converting them to Buddhism, Mahākāla forbade the ḍākinīs to kill humans, decreeing that they could only eat the heart of those who were near death.
As time went by, Mahākāla became seen as a guardian of Buddhist monasteries, especially its kitchens (the Tang-era monk Yijing claimed that images of Mahākāla were to be found in the kitchens and porches of monasteries in India, and that "those who offer prayers to him have their desires fulfilled"). This idea of Mahākāla as one who brought prosperity to monasteries and granted wishes may have contributed to the identification of the deity as a god of wealth and fortune in Japan.
In China, the god was also associated with fertility and sexuality: during the Qixi Festival (a.k.a. the Double Seventh Festival) held on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Chinese calendar, married women traditionally bought dolls or figurines called 'Móhéluó' (魔合羅) or 'Móhóuluó' (摩睺羅) - the term probably deriving from 'Mahākāla' - in the hopes of giving birth to a child. Ritual texts also prescribe the worship of Mahākāla to women looking for a male partner or to pregnant women.
Transformation in Japan
Upon being introduced to Japan via the esoteric Tendai and Shingon sects, Mahākāla (Daikokuten) gradually transformed into a jovial, beneficent figure as his positive qualities (such as being the purveyor of wealth and fertility) increasingly came to the fore - mostly at the expense of his darker traits. Whereas earlier images of Daikokuten showed him as wrathful (or at least stern-faced), later artworks consistently came to portray him as smiling.
Saichō, the founder of the Tendai school, is credited with bringing the cult of Mahākāla-Daikokuten to Japan. Legend claims that when he first climbed Mount Hiei (located northeast of Kyoto), Mahākāla appeared to him in the form of an old man and offered to become the guardian of the monastic community envisioned by Saichō, what would become known as Enryaku-ji.
By the medieval period, when Buddhism and native Japanese beliefs (Shinto) were becoming syncretized, Daikokuten became conflated with the native kami Ōkuninushi (大国主), as the first two characters of the latter's name (大国) can also be read as 'Daikoku'. Daikokuten's status as patron of Enryaku-ji also influenced this connection: he was identified with Sannō Gongen, the deity enshrined in Hiyoshi Taisha at the eastern foot of Mount Hiei, who in turn was identified with Ōkuninushi or Ōmononushi (Miwa Myōjin, the god of Mount Miwa in Nara Prefecture who is also interpreted as Ōkuninushi under another name or an aspect of his).
During this time, a new iconographic convention developed which showed Daikokuten carrying a sack, which may have either been derived from depictions of the Chinese Buddhist deity Budai (Hotei in Japanese, also known as the "Laughing Buddha" or "Fat Buddha" in the West) or a faint echo of the elephant skin Mahākāla was shown to be holding in older representations. The bag served to further associate the god with Ōkuninushi: in the story of the Hare of Inaba (found in the Kojiki), the young Ōkuninushi is said to have originally been treated by his wicked elder brothers as their luggage carrier.
Besides the sack, Daikokuten began to acquire other attributes such as the golden mallet called uchide no kozuchi (lit. "tap-appear little mallet", i.e. a mallet that strikes out anything the user desires) and two big bales of rice. He was also considered a god of fertility, and was thus also portrayed making the obscene fig sign, carrying a suggestively bifurcated daikon (sometimes called the "bride of Daikoku"), sporting a huge erect penis, or being entirely represented himself by a wooden phallus. Mice and rats also became a part of Daikokuten's iconography, due to Mahākāla's association with Vaiśravaṇa (Bishamonten in Japanese), the Buddhist analogue to the Hindu Kubera, and Pañcika, Vaiśravaṇa's general and consort of the yakshini goddess Hārītī (known in Japan as Kishimojin), who were both associated with the northern direction - which corresponds to the sign of the Rat in the Chinese zodiac. (One of the twelve dikpālas or guardians of the directions in Buddhism is Īśāna, the guardian of the northeast who, like Mahākāla, is a Buddhicized form of Shiva.) This also contributed to the conflation of Daikokuten with Ōkuninushi, as mice also figured in the latter's mythology.
Medieval exegetes interpreted Mahākāla-Daikokuten in both a positive and a negative way: he was seen as a symbol of fundamental ignorance (expressed by the name 'Daikoku', which can be interpreted as "great darkness"), but also represented the nonduality of ignorance (represented by the character 黒, 'black(ness) / dark(ness)') and enlightenment (designated by the character 大, 'great'). He was identified with both the buddha Ichiji Kinrin (Ekākṣaroṣṇīṣacakra, a manifestation of both the cosmic buddha Vairocana - specifically, a personification of Vairocana's head knob or uṣṇīṣa - and the sacred syllable bhrūṃ) and thus a symbol of ultimate reality, but also with the directional deity Īśāna (who as noted earlier was another deity derived from Shiva), who is also considered to be a god of obstacles. Indeed, because of the stigma related to his origins, he was identified in some texts as a jissha (実者, lit. "true one", also known as 実類, jitsurui), a type of lesser, 'material' deity considered inferior to deities who are actually manifestations of enlightened beings (gongen). However, medieval esoteric Buddhism also posited the existence of a 'higher' Daikokuten, the conventional Daikokuten being but one of the various guises this being takes. While the latter represented ignorance, the former was seen as transmuting ignorance into awakening.
On the other hand, Daikokuten was also linked or identified with other deities such as Ugajin, Benzaiten (the Buddhist version of Sarasvatī), Vaiśravana-Bishamonten, the earth god Kenrō Jijin (derived from the Indian earth goddess Pṛthivī, though the deity is also portrayed in Japan as male), or the wisdom king Acala (Fudō Myōō in Japanese). Indeed, Acala, like Mahākāla-Daikokuten, is credited in some sources with taming the ḍākinīs and is also considered to be a wrathful manifestation of the buddha Vairocana. (Likewise, Acala is also thought by some scholars to be derived in one way or another from Shiva.)
In popular belief, Daikokuten was also paired with the Japanese folk deity Ebisu; just as Daikokuten was conflated with Ōkuninushi, Ebisu was sometimes identified with Ōkuninushi's son Kotoshironushi. In homes, the two deities were enshrined in the kitchen or oven, while merchants worshiped them as patron deities of commercial success. Farmers meanwhile revered them as gods of the rice paddy (ta-no-kami). 
Daikoku is variously considered to be the god of wealth, or of the household, particularly the kitchen. He is recognised by his wide face, smile, and a flat black hat. He is often portrayed holding a golden mallet called Uchide no kozuchi, otherwise known as the "mallet of fortune", and is seen seated on bales of rice, with mice or rats nearby signifying plentiful food.
Daikoku's image was featured on the first Japanese bank note, designed by Edoardo Chiossone.
Bījā and mantra
The bīja or seed syllable used to represent Mahākāla-Daikokuten in Japanese esoteric Buddhism is ma (म), written in Siddhaṃ script. Pilgrims climbing the holy Mount Ontake traditionally wear tenugui (a kind of white scarf) bearing this monogram.
Mahākāla's mantra meanwhile is as follows:
|Sanskrit||Japanese (romanized)||Chinese characters||Hiragana|
|Oṃ Mahākālāya svāhā||On Makakyaraya sowaka||唵 摩訶迦羅耶 娑婆訶||おん まかきゃらや そわか|
The god enjoys an exalted position as a household deity in Japan. Daikoku's association with wealth and prosperity precipitated a custom known as fukunusubi, or "theft of fortune". This custom started with the belief that whoever stole divine figures was assured of good fortune if not caught in the act. The toshi-no-ichi (year-end market) held at Sensō-ji became the main venue of the sale and disposal of such images by the fortune-seekers. Many small stalls were opened where articles including images of Daikoku were sold on the eve of New Year celebrations.
The Butsuzōzui compendium of 1690 (reprinted and expanded in 1796) lists and illustrates six different manifestations of Daikoku, including the feminine form known as Daikokunyo (大黒女) ("She of the Great Blackness") or Daikokutennyo (大黒天女) ("She of the Great Blackness of the Heavens"). As Daikoku is the nipponized form of the masculine Mahākāla, Daikokutennyo is the nipponized form of the feminine Mahākāli (a.k.a. Parvati).
- Marici (Buddhism)
- Seven Lucky Gods
- Tenbu (天部)
- Hinduism in Japan
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