Bato Kannon (horse-headed Kannon) (馬頭観音)

Bato Kannon (horse-headed Kannon, also called Mezu Kannon), hayagriiva in Sanskrit, is one shape of Bosatsu (Bodhisattva) worshipped in Buddhism. It is one of the transformations of Kannon Bosatsu (Kannon Bodhisattva) and is also included in Roku Kannon (six deities of mercy). It has fierce expression, which is rare for Kannon.

Sanma yagyo (characteristic things of the Buddha) is a white horse head and a club in a triangle. Its shuji (the characteristic one syllable word to depict the Bodhisattva in Esoteric Buddhism) is Kan (haM).


Its name in Sanskrit, hayagriiva (transcription: 何耶掲梨婆), means "horse head." This is another name of Vishnu, the highest deity in Hindooism, who is thought to have had influence on the formation of Bato Kannon.

In addition, it has various names including 'Bato Kannon Bosatsu,' 'Bato Kanzeon Bosatsu,' and 'Batomyoo.'
It is Bosatsu who eliminates lack of wisdom and Bonno (earthly desires) of the people, and breaks evils.

This is Kannon who ranges over the ocean of life and death, symbolizing great power of briskness and effort to conquer Four Hindrances, as if the treasure horse of Tenrinjoo (universal ruler) ranges over all around to conquer, and it is said it eats up the heavy hindrance of avidya just like a gluttonous horse. It is also called Shishi Mui Kannon.

While other Kannons are represented with a feminine and serene expression, only Bato Kannon has a fierce expression with fury in its eyes, boiling with rage, and showing fangs. Therefore, it is also called 'Batomyoo' and is sometimes classified into the category of Myoo (Acala, one of the Five Wisdom Kings) instead of the category of Bosatsu (Bodhisattva).

In addition, due to the name 'Bato' (horse head), it is worshiped as a guardian Buddha of horses in folk beliefs. Furthermore, it is said that this Kannon saves not only horses but all chikusho (beasts), and guides and benefits chikushodo (the realm of animals) among Roku Kannon (the Six Kannons).

Usually, its statue form consists of Funnuso (an angry expression found on Buddhist images) which is described above, a red body, a white horse head on its head, and Sanmensanmokuhappi (three faces, three eyes, and eight hands) (with one vertical eye on its forehead). Some sutra preaches that its statue form is a human body with horse head, but there are few statues in that form in Japan. There are statues with one face and two hands, one face and four hands, three faces and two hands, three faces and six hands, or four faces and eight hands. Many are standing statues, but there are also some seated statues. It has a horse head on its head and forms a mudra called 'Bato in' that represents the shape of a horse's mouth in front of its chest. Some statues have swords, axes, or sticks, while there are statues that have lotus buds. Swords are often held by statues with eight hands.

The wooden standing statue in Puzai-in Temple in Ishikawa prefecture and wooden seated statue in Mago-ji Temple in Fukui prefecture were created in the late Heian period. The wooden standing statue in Kanzeon-ji Temple in Fukuoka is a big statue as tall as five meters, and a representative example of Bato Kannon in Japan. The wooden standing statue in Joruri-ji Temple in Kyoto is an example created by Nanto busshi (sculptors of Buddhist Statues in Nanto) etc. in the Kamakura period.

Statues and stone monuments of Bato Kannon

After the early-modern times, statues of Bato Kannon were often built by the road side where a horse died suddenly or in Shibasaki (places to dump horses). In such cases, only stone monuments with letters 'Bato Kannon' carved on it are often built instead of statues.

In modern Japan, statues are enshrined near racecourses to hold memorial services for horses which died during races.

[Original Japanese]