弁天窟

Benten-kutsu - Benten Cave - Benzaiten Grotto


Useful Information

Location: 3-11-2 Hase, Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture.
(35.312986, 139.533521)
Open: All year daily 8-16:30.
[2022]
Fee: free.
[2022]
Classification: SubterraneaCave Church
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension:
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: yes
Bibliography:
Address: Benten Cave, 3-11-2 Hase, Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, Tel: +81-, Fax: +81-,
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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History

736 according to legend temple founded by Tokudō Shōnin.

Description

弁天窟 (benten kutsu, Benten Cave) is located on the precincts of 長谷寺 (Hase-dera, Hase Temple) and is a series of artificial tunnels which are part of the temple. The tunnels have side chambers and niches with buddhist statues and altars for offerings. The entrance to tunnel is marked by a typical Japanese red torii gate, nevertheless many visitors overlook the cave. The walls of the cave are carved with statues of Benzaiten and the sixteen other children of Kobo-Daishi. According to legend this is the cave where Kobo-Daishi stayed and practiced his asceticism.

The cave is also called Benzaiten Grotto after 弁才天 or 弁財天 (Benzaiten), the goddess of everything that flows: water, time, words, speech, eloquence, music, and knowledge. Benzaiten is a syncretic entity with both a Buddhist and a Shinto aspect. The Japanese Buddhist goddess originated from the Hindu goddess Saraswati. The Sutra of Golden Light has a section devoted to her. Benzaiten is often shown holding a biwa in Japan, Saraswati is often portrayed with a veena.

The temple on the surface has two levels. The Kannon (main hall), housing a massive wooden statue of Kannon, and Amida Hall are located on the upper level. The Jizo Hall and the Benten Hall, after which the cave is named, are located on the lower level. The temple originally belonged to the Tendai sect of Buddhism, but eventually became an independent temple of the Jōdo-shū. According to legend the temple was founded in the Tenpyō era (729-749), in 736 by Tokudō Shōnin. Documents in the temple library suggest that it was actually during the Kamakura period (1192-1333). The main statue of Kannon is 9.18 m high and made of camphor wood with gold gilding. It is one of the largest wooden statues in Japan. The eleven heads of the statue represent the eleven steps in the search for enlightenment.

In 721 a monk named Tokudō started to carve statue from a camphor tree. The beam was so large, Tokudō decided to carve two statues. One was enshrined in Hase-dera in the city of Nara, Yamato Province. The other was set adrift in the sea, to find the place with which it had a karmic connection. In 736 the statue washed ashore on Nagai Beach on the Miura Peninsula near Kamakura. The statue was brought to Kamakura and a temple built to house it, which is considered the foundation of Hase-dera temple.