Hell, Five Hundred Arhats: Scrolls 21 and 22

In the left scroll, humans are being carried off by giant birds while others run from a fire-breathing snake dragon. With a nonchalant sweep of his fan, a green-robed rakan subdues the flames with a great gust of dharmic wind and turns them back upon the hapless monster. In the right scroll, salvation arrives in the form of a rakan’s staff extended down to sinners being boiled in a cauldron. As they grab on and are lifted up, the demon supervising the torture looks up in comical fluster.

The lotus-filled cauldron was a recurrent theme in stories of answered prayers to Kannon, goddess of mercy, and Jizo, deity of children. The popularization of Buddhism during the Edo period saw increasing need and desire for practical forms of benefice and salvation. By adapting the cauldron motif, Kazunobu identifies the rakan, hitherto considered to be aloof and detached, as powerful and effective intercessors.

Kano Kazunobu (1816–63)
Japan, Edo Period, ca. 1854–63
Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk
Collection, Zōjōji, Tokyo