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From the Son of Śiva to the God of Shaman:

The Transformations of Skanda in East Asian Buddhism
 

Sujung Kim

DePauw University
 

This paper examines the transformations of Skanda 韋駄天 (Skt. Kārtikeya)’s

image in East Asian Buddhism with a particular focus on the paintings from the late

Chosŏn period (1392-1910) in Korea. Originally a Hindu warrior deity or better known as

the son of Śiva, Skanda had been incorporated into the Chinese Buddhist pantheon at

least from the sixth century on as a deity who protects relics, sutras, monasteries, and

monks. Whereas in India Skanda was depicted as a six-headed god holding various

weapons and riding a peacock, in China his iconography became a young man in full

armor, with the headgear of a Chinese general. During the Song period in China (960-

1279), the image of Skanda as a Chinese general traveled to Korea and Japan, where it

continued to flourish, in particular, in the Chan/Zen tradition. The deity continued his

transformation in Korea as a shamanic god, where he gained new legends and identities.

By making connections with other visual examples of Skanda from India, China,

and Japan, I will seek to explain how the Korean Buddhist tradition developed a different

pairing and arrangement of the Skanda image, and how the subtle visual changes this

involved led to the creation of new cultural meanings and local traditions. In this way, I

suggest that Skanda’s image functioned as both a convergent force linking a diversity of

religious ideas and a point of divergence into heterogeneous cultural meanings.


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