The curse of the Buddha?
Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, October 29, 2008
The story is told that when Japanese hegemon Oda Nobunaga ordered the burning of local shrines and temples, worshippers dug a hole in the ground to hide the statue. Their ploy worked; the statue survived. Perhaps as an aftereffect of its burial, there arose a legend that people could cure their physical ailments by smearing mud over the corresponding body part on the statue.
More than 400 years later, a layer of mud roughly 40 centimeters (15 inches) thick and weighing 60 kilograms (132 lbs.) covered the figure, and no one knew what really was underneath the dirt. In fact, there were rumors that the statue was headless. Some people wanted to remove the mud and see for themselves, but their hands were stayed by another legend: The people who removed the mud would suffer divine punishment.
It almost sounds as if it were an East Asian version of the Egyptian curse of the mummy. Breaking the seal on the tombs of the ancient Egyptian kings was supposed to result in death. The popular press counted 21 supposed victims by 1935 after Howard Carter opened the tomb of King Tutankhamen more than a decade earlier.
A local society for the preservation of the Tanaka Mud Yakushi was undeterred by the curse, however, and they decided to remove the mud and uncover what had been hidden all these years. A Buddhist sutra was read before the members of the society started cleaning early last Saturday morning, and by lunchtime the statue was revealed. Thanks to their efforts, you can see in the second photograph what they found under the mud.
The Buddha of medicine and healing turns out to have been made of granite, 95 centimeters (37 inches) tall and 43 centimeters (17 inches) wide, and still possessed of its head. The statue is depicted with a medicine jar in its left hand, which is often the case for this particular image.
What happens next? There was nothing on the statue to indicate when it was carved, so the municipal board of education (responsible for local historical and archaeological matters) asked researchers to try to date it later. The mud that was removed will be stored at the community center next door.
Will the preservation committee suffer from the Curse of the Buddha? That probably won’t happen—researchers have determined that no one really died from the Curse of the Mummy. It was just a figment of the imagination of the popular press. (The more things change…) Besides, it’s unlikely that the Buddha of medicine and healing would be responsible for spreading unhealthiness, don’t you think?
Then again, it never pays to be too cocksure, and centuries-old superstitions take on a life of their own. By three o’clock Saturday afternoon, a worshipper seeking relief had already daubed some fresh mud on the statue.