Kongorikishi and Nio are the two wrath-filled and muscular guardians of the Buddha, standing today at the entrance of many Buddhist temples in China, Japan and Korea, in the form of frightening wrestler-like statues. They are manifestations of the Bodhisattva Vajrapani protector deity and are part of the Mahayana pantheon. According to Japanese tradition, they travelled with the historical Buddha to protect him.

Naraen Kongo also called Agyo in Japanese, is a symbol of overt violence: he wields a vajra mallet "vajra-pani" (a diamond club, thunderbolt stick, or sun symbol) and bares his teeth. His mouth is depicted as being in the shape necessary to form the "ah" sound, leading to his alternate name, "Agyo". Naraen Kongo is Narayeon geumgang in Korean, Nàluóyán jingang in Mandarin Chinese, and Na la diên kim cuong in Vietnamese.

Misshaku Kongo also called Ungyo in Japanese, is depicted either bare-handed or wielding a sword. He symbolizes latent strength, holding his mouth tightly shut. His mouth is rendered to form the sound "hum" or "Un", leading to his alternate name "Ungyo". Misshaku Kongo is Miljeok geumgang in Korean, Mìji jingang in Mandarin Chinese, and Mat tích kim cuong in Vietnamese. It is equivalent to Guhyapada.

        Buddhism began in India, and then became part of Chinese culture. Around 550 A.D. Buddhism was introduced into Japan through Korea. This non-native religion became an important part of Japanese culture during the Nara period (710-790 A. D.), especially among the aristocracy.

Hindu Gods incorporated into Buddhism as protectors against evil spirits. If you look at their mouths, you will notice that one has its mouth open and the other has its mouth closed, said to represent life and death, the beginning and the end. The most famous Nio can be found at the entrance gate of Mahapanya Vidayalai University compound. The Nio (Benevolent Kings) are a pair of protectors who commonly stand guard outside the temple gate at Mahayana Buddhist temples, one on either side of the entrance. In Japan, the gate itself is often called the Nio-mon (literally Nio Gate). At Shinto shrines, however, the Nio guardians are replaced with a pair of koma-inu (shishi lion-dogs) or with two foxes. These mythical and magical shrine guardians are commonly (but not always) depicted with similar iconography -- one with mouth open, the other closed

The Nio’s fierce and threatening appearance is said to ward off evil spirits and keep the temple grounds free of demons and thieves. In some accounts, the Nio were said to have followed and protected the Historical Buddha when he traveled throughout India. They have since been adopted by the Japanese into the Japanese Buddhist pantheon. Each is named after a particular cosmic sound. The open-mouth figure is called “Agyo,” who is uttering the sound “ah,” meaning birth. His close-mouth partner is called “Ungyo,” who sounds “un” or “om,” meaning death. Other explanations for the opened/closed mouth include: 

•              Mouth opens to scare off demons, closed to shelter/keep in the good spirits.

•              Represent Alpha & Omega, Beginning & End, and Birth & Death.

One with mouth open, the other with mouth closed.

They represent the Vajra god in two forms; one is masculine with mouth tightly closed; the other is feminine with mouth open.


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