Tonight we continue our mini-theme week on the afterlife, the underworld, and hell. What better way to celebrate Halloween than to celebrate the mythology of hell, right?
Tonight we are taking a look at Enma Daiou, the king and judge of the dead. There are actually a large number of these judges, but Enma is the chief of them all. Like the story of Meido yesterday, Enma comes from Chinese Buddhism, adapted from the original Indian version. The Chinese & Japanese version of hell is a bit different from the Indian version, mostly because it syncretizes Buddhism with Chinese folk religion and Taoism.
One really fun fact I like about Japanese hell and the afterlife is the way it is so much like a reflection of the real world. The judges (including Enma) all wear the clothes of Tang dynasty Chinese bureaucrats, the demons all have specific jobs that they do rather than being chaotic, uncontrollable monsters, and there are even holidays! You may be aware of how Obon is connected with the dead in Japanese/Chinese mythology, but Enma himself sets holidays for his workers and for the tortured. It must be nice to know that, even if you are damned, you still get a day off every now and then!
Enma’s holy days fall on the 16th day of each month. The first and seventh month are particularly important to him, and on these days, he and his servants take off from work and return to their homes. Temples and shrines dedicated to Enma display statues and flags in honor of him, and prayers and supplications made on these holidays are said to provide much more merit than those offered on ordinary days. Temples dedicated to him frequently serve konnyaku treats to guests on these days, as konnyaku is Enma’s favorite food.
In addition, the first day of the seventh month (by the old lunar calendar—this generally translates to mid-August by today’s calendar) is a holiday for all of hell, called Kamabuta Tsuitachi, literally “Kettle Lid First Day of the Month.” On this day, the lids of all of the boiling cauldrons are opened up and the souls are allowed a brief reprieve from torture. This day also marks the beginning of the Obon season, when the dead return from the afterlife to be with their families. The tortured souls in hell crawl out from their boiling pots, cages, and so on, and make the long journey to the world of the living, returning to hell after Obon to resume their torture.
I hope you enjoy the article (click on the image to read it) and if you’re feeling extra curious, go back to yesterday’s illustration and see if you can find Enma Daiou hidden in the picture!