Tobunken-Seminar "The Chinese Cult of the Horse King and its Indian Tantric Origins"

Date: April 10, 2015 (Fri) 4:00-5:30p.m

Venue: Main Conference Room, 3rd floor, Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia (Tobunken), the University of Tokyo

Speaker: Meir Shahar (Tel Aviv University)

Title: The Chinese Cult of the Horse King and its Indian Tantric Origins


rnThe Horse King (Mawang 馬王) was among the most popular deities in the pantheon of late-imperial China. The equine deity fig ured prominently in the economic and military spheres alike. So long as horses, donkeys, and mules played a major role in C hinese agriculture, commerce, and warfare, the cult of their tutelary deity flourished. This paper will survey the late-imperial cult of the Horse King, arguing that the origins of the equine deity might be trace d back to the Horse-Headed Avalokiteśvara (Matou Guanyin 馬頭觀音) of Esoteric Buddhism. I will argue that the literary and iconographic attributes of the Chinese popular deity, no less than his very name Horse King, betray his Tantric ancestry. The multi-eyed and multi limbed iconography of the equine god, his association with fire, and his name Horse King (a shorten ed form of the esoteric Buddhist Horse-Headed King of Spells (Matou Ming Wang 馬頭明王)), equally reveal that he is none oth er than the Horse-Headed Avalokiteśvara in a new garb. In this respect the late-imperial cult of the Horse King evinces th e long term impact of Esoteric Buddhism on Chinese religion and culture.

Contact: norihisa(at)