Painting of a Buddhist Figure Accompanied by a Tiger on the Silk Road: Itinerant Monk, Arhat (Nahan) and Sansin

  • Published : 2019.12.15


Following the introduction of Buddhism to China by Xuanzang (玄奘 602-664), the visual tradition of an itinerant monk became a popular subject. This theme developed into a Buddhist figure with an accompanying tiger, especially in Korea where tigers were an object of worship and ritual. This paper examines Korean examples of post-itinerant monk Buddhist figures accompanied by tigers, in particular the portrayal of itinerant monks as arhats and sansins. The supernatural powers of arhats were diverse, and they often tamed the tigers who then accompanied them on their journeys. The arhat, who was introduced during the Unified Silla period and gained popularity during the Goryeo period, was loved by the general public during the Joseon Dynasty as a familiar presence that brought good fortune. Special portraits of monks accompanied by a tiger, known as sansindo (山神圖), form a unique Korean genre. Sansin religious beliefs formed through a fusion of the newly introduced Buddhism and the age-old indigenous worship of sacred mountains and tigers. Most Buddhist temples include a sansin shrine containing on altar with sansin statues and portraits. Tigers in the portraits of itinerant monks and the stories of Buddhist monks who tamed tigers became famous and widely accepted in Korea, a nation already rich in tiger lore. Folklore and indigenous shamanism contributed to the establishment of Buddhism in Korea, and tigers played a central role in this.


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