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Home » 2. Kami (Deities) » Combinatory Kami
Other names: Uka no kami

An obscure kami worshiped as a deity of fortune from the early medieval period on. Fused with the Buddhist deity Benzaiten, the kami became known as Uga Benten, and was also called by the titles Uga Shinnō ("divine-king Uga") and Uga Shinshō ("divine-commander Uga"). The kami's name has been conjectured to derive from the Sanskrit ugaya but most sources suggest that it originated in the tutelary of foodstuffs Uka no mitama as found in Kojiki and Nihongi, and that it was thus originally worshiped as a grain spirit or deity of good fortune.

The features of this deity took on a unique evolution as the result of undergoing amalgamation with the deity Benzaiten as part of the doctrinal development of the Tendai sect on Mt. Hiei. Vol. 36-37 of the Keiran shūyōshū which collects oral legends of Mt. Hiei (compiled in 1317) includes numerous stories regarding Uga Benten. During the mid-Kamakura period, Kenchū, a monk of the esoteric Tendai group Anōryū, compiled the collection of esoteric practices called Saishō gogoku ugaya tontokunyoi hōjuō shūgi, indicating that the sect's doctrines regarding Uga Benzaiten had already achieved substantial systematization by this time. Numerous Buddhist scriptures and other writings discuss Benzaiten; among them, the Bussetsu saishō gokoku Uugaya tontoku nyōi hoju darani-kyō, Bussetsu sokushin bontenfukutoku enman Ugajinshō Bosatsu hakujaku jigen mikka jōju-kyō, and Bussetsu Ugajin'ō fukutoku enman darani-kyō later came to be called the "three sutras of Benzaiten." With the addition of Bussetsu Dai Uga Kudoku Benzaiten-kyō and Dai-Benzaiten nyo darani-kyō, the group are sometimes called the "five sutras of Benzaiten," though they are all today considered apocrypha. Their contents depict the deity in the form of a heavenly woman with eight arms, holding a spear, wheel treasure, treasure bow, treasure-gem, sword, club, lock, and arrow. A white snake with the face of an elderly human rests on her head, and she leads fifteen child-deities as escorts. Devotion to Uga Benten is said to be repaid by the receipt of infinite blessings.

These depictions differ greatly from the conventional portrait of Benzaiten found in the sutras Dainichikyō and Saishōō-kyō, and reflect a unique development of the Benten cult in Japan. From Ōmi Chikubujima near Mt. Hiei, the cult of Uga Benzaiten spread throughout Japan, including Itsukushima in Aki, Enoshima in Sagami, and Tenkawa in Kii, and it was a popular object of worship as a god of fortune among the masses of the Edo period. Ugajin was also adopted within Japanese Onmyōdō and Yoshida Shinto, leading to the observation of the festival called Ugajinsai.

-Itō Satoshi
A scene from inside a cave at Zeniarai-benzaiten Uga-fuku Jinja where there is a spring(zeniaraisui) which is said to multiply one's money by washing it.

Kanagawa Prefecture , 2006

©Ichida Masataka

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