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  • Thumbnail for Muroji, 010,  kondo, central altar sculpture, Standing Shaka
    Muroji, 010, kondo, central altar sculpture, Standing Shaka

    The interior of the kondo, the Golden Hall, at Muroji includes a central area surrounded all around by a corridor. The central area, called the moya, contains an altar with five standing statues. In front of the altar figures are smaller carvings of the twelve generals, attendants of the Yakushi Buddha. The statue shown in this image is the central figure on the altar and represents the Shaka or the Yakushi Buddha. The figure, a large wooden sculpture (perhaps 7 1/2 feet tal), l is an outstanding example of early Heian sculpture, from the mid-ninth century, with traits such as the fullness of the cheeks, the separate coils of the curls in the hair, the sharp division of chest and abdomen, the use of many repeated parallel folds in the carving of the robe, and the overall solemnity of expression. Also noteworthy here is the painted aureole behind the Shaka, which is well preserved and presents images of the seven Buddhas of the past and present world cycles.

  • Thumbnail for Muroji, 007,  kondo, Golden Hall, front view
    Muroji, 007, kondo, Golden Hall, front view

    The kondo at Muroji is one of the original structures remaining from the early Heian period, although it has, of course, undergone numerous repairs and reconstructions since then. Nonetheless, it retains some distinctive characteristics. It is one story in height and has a sense of horizontal balance, rather than the vertical movement of, e.g., the kondo at Horyuji. The roof is cedar bark, rather than the tile of other temples. Rather than being situated in a level compound, surrounded by the defining and containing cloister wall of that compound, the kondo at Muroji stands alone and is fitted with sensitivity into the natural surrounding of the mountainside forest. Hence, in scale, proportion, use of materials, and setting, the kondo at Muroji might be viewed as being perhaps a re-assertion of some indigenous Japanese aesthetic preferences. Interestingly, that suggestion is based entirely upon visual elements, but if we study some of the religious history of Muroji and Mt. Muro, we find some intertwining of Buddhist and Shinto rituals, which might make the suggested aesthetic blending of elements even more plausible. -- BRIEF INTRODUCTORY NOTE RE: MUROJI'S HISTORY: The compound at Muroji is the result of a long history of shift and change, architecturally, artistically, and in terms of religious history. It is a fascinating history and one explored in great richness in the recent landmark work of scholarship, Sherry D. Fowler's Muroji: Rearranging Art and History at a Japanese Buddhist Temple (Honolulu: University of Hawai'I Press, 2005). -- E.g., although we think of Muroji as being a Shingon temple, over its history, at various times, it was aligned closely with other schools of Buddhism, as well. At one point it became a court case whether Muroji should be classified as a Shingon temple or as a sub-temple of Kofukuji, associated with Hossoo school. Shingon advocates constructed a history of Muroji that inserted Kukai to assert the Shingon tradition of the temple and he was, no doubt, very important in the history of Muroji, while the temple was, in fact, founded by Kengyoo, a Hossoo monk from Kofukuji. Dr. Fowler comments, "ninth-century Murooji might be considered a site for monks specializing in ascetic training who followed teachings associated with Hossoo, Tendai, and Shingon." (p.53) -- Adding to this richness of religious history are several other elements that deserve mention here. Mt. Muro was regarded as a sacred space in Shinto tradition, one associated with the dragon believed to reside there, to whom annual rituals were dedicated. That sense of the sacred may be part of why this was chosen as the site for the temple, Muroji, and there continue to be festivals intertwining elements of Shinto and Buddhism. The sacredness of this spot has been enhanced by the legends that Kukai returned from his time in China with relics that he buried at a secret location on Mt. Muro. Still, today, the mountain beyond the Founder's Hall is regarded as a space too sacred to be entered by laity.

  • Thumbnail for Muroji, 009,  kondo, exterior, architectural detail
    Muroji, 009, kondo, exterior, architectural detail

    Muroji, kondo, exterior, architectural detail The kondo at Muroji, built in the early Heian period, still reflects much of its original character and feeling, although it also has been repaired and changed many times over the past millennium since its construction. In this image of the end of the kondo, we can see clearly what was the original middle point of the end wall, with a pillar at the center of the wall. Originally the ridge of the roof would have been directly above this point but, as we can see here, the ridge of the roof is now to the right of the middle pillar of the end wall. This shift occurred during the Kamakura period, when an extra bay was added across the front of the kondo to create a worship space, and a veranda was extended off the outside of that bay. These additions disrupted the symmetry of the original structure and necessitated the addition of a curious element to the front side of the roof, shown clearly in the previous image, Muroji, 008 (ecasia000011).