Photo/IllutrationUnchu Kuyo Bosatsu Zo (Praying Bodhisattava on Clouds)

  • Photo/Illustraion

UJI, Kyoto Prefecture--Sculptors in the 11th century went to extremes to create a perfect pose for a small statue of a Buddhist saint on a flying nimbus in Phoenix Hall at Byodoin temple here, researchers said.

Examinations of one of the 52 wooden statues collectively called Unchu Kuyo Bosatsu Zo (Praying Bodhisattava on Clouds) show that the creators would not hesitate to make bold corrections--even at the last minute--to build an ideal figure for the temple, now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

A CT scan conducted at the Nara National Museum in Nara discovered that the statue, named “south No. 14” and about 60 centimeters in height, was dissected at its abdomen, and a thin strip of wood was wedged in to alter the angle of the figure.

The strip--about 30 millimeters long, 5 mm wide and 3 mm thick--was placed in the rear part of the right waist, forcing the upper body of the statue to face slightly forward toward the left, the researchers said.

They said it is highly unlikely that the upper body and the lower body were sculpted separately. It is believed that the Bodhisattava statue had been completed, but it was cut in half to correct its posture.

It was previously known that the south No. 14 statue had a joint at its abdomen, but the scan showed the wood grains at the top and bottom parts matched. That indicates that the two parts were originally made from one single piece of wood.

Unchu Kuyo Bosatsu Zo, a national treasure, are believed to have been created by Jocho, an elusive sculptor in the Heian Period (794-1185) who produced Amida Buddha, the principal subject of worship at the temple, and his disciples.

Ryusuke Yamaguchi, chief researcher at the Nara National Museum, said Jocho was committed to creating an ideal setting for Phoenix Hall and paid close attention even to a slight tilt of the small statue.

Some other statues of Unchu Kuyo Bosatsu Zo, which consists of 47 Bodhisattava and five monk statues, are also known to have joints between the upper body and the lower body.

“Jocho’s concept for Phonenix Hall will become clearer through research on other Bodhisattava statues,” Yamaguchi said.

Unchu Kuyo Bosatsu Zo hang on the upper walls surrounding the Amida Buddha statue. Some of the Bodhisattava statues are playing musical instruments or dancing. No two statues are posed in the same way.