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25 Items in this Learning Collection
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Stupa: Hyakuman tô (one of one million pagodas)

Accession Number

Stupa: Hyakuman tô (one of one million pagodas)


Artist Nationality
Japanese (culture or style)

Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
carved wood with traces of gesso

8 3/8 in. x 4 1/8 in. x 4 1/8 in. ( 21.2 cm x 10.4 cm x 10.4 cm )

Credit Line
Museum purchase made possible by the Margaret Watson Parker Art Collection Fund

Label copy

Copies and Invention in East Asia (August 17, 2019 - January 5, 2020)
Pagodas, both full-scale architectural structures and miniature versions, were used as reliquaries to house the sacred remains of the historical Buddha and high ranking monks. Miniature versions often contained the Buddha’s words, which were also regarded as relics. The Hyakumantō (one million pagodas), commissioned by Empress Kōken of Japan in 764, was a collection of reliquary pagodas, each containing a copy of the Dharani of Pure and Immaculate Light. It was an important example of mass production. By creating copies of this sacred text, enshrining them in pagodas, and disseminating them to powerful temples, this project was intended to physically spread the Buddha’s relics throughout Japan.

Stupa: Hyakuman tô (one of one million pagodas)
Nara period (710–794)

Carved wood with traces of gesso
Museum purchase made possible by
the Margaret Watson Parker Art Collection
Fund, 1969/2.21

In the final years of her reign, the empress Kôken commissioned one million wooden stupas (pagodas), each containing a short Buddhist ritual phrase known as a dharani, as a personal and public devotion. These objects were distributed to the most powerful temples in Nara, the capital of Japan during her reign. We do not know how many were produced, but most extant examples were housed in the temple of Hôryu-ji.

Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of Kôken’s project is the printing of the dharani, which ranks among the earliest examples of a mass-produced text. The technology, which used woodblocks or bronze plates, was developed in China. The text included with this stupa is from the Dharani of the Pure Immaculate Light (Japanese: Mukujôkô darani). The sutra from which it comes encourages copying dharani to ensure a long life,karmic benefits, and rebirth in a Buddhist heaven.

Subject matter
This miniature wooden stupa, or pagoda, is one of one million Buddhist small stupas commissioned by Kôken (718–770), Empress Regnant of Japan (r. 749-758), to celebrate her triumph in 764 over Fujiwara Nakamaro, whose rebellion had earlier forced her from the throne. The central axis of the stupa would have been hollowed out to contain a dharani, a powerful Buddhist prayer, which amimates and sacralizes the stupa.

Physical Description
Wooden miniture model of a tower, comprised of a round base, a bar in the middle where three larger discs and six or seven small discs are inserted. A bulb-shaped ornament rests on top.

Primary Object Classification
Wood and Woodcarving

Primary Object Type

Collection Area

If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form. Keywords
miniature (size attribute)
pagodas (buildings)
reliquary busts

& Author Notes

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