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Equine Deities across Boundaries: The Horse-Headed Avalokiteśvara, the Daoist Horse Marshal, and the Chinese Horse King.  

Meir Shahar

Tel Aviv University

 

Deriving from the ancient Indian lore of the underwater fire-emanating mare, the Horse-Headed Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara has had a deep and lasting impact upon Chinese religion.  Arriving in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the Buddhist divinity was incorporated into the pantheons of the popular religion and the organized Daoist faith.  Serving as the tutelary deity of horses, donkeys, and mules, the equine divinity played a major role in the agricultural, economic, and military spheres.  In Chinese villages it was referred to as the Horse King, whereas Daoist clerics dubbed it the Horse Marshal.   This essay charts the diverse facets of the equine god across the boundaries of Buddhism, Daoism, and folk religion.


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