Daruma is a traditional Japanese doll and has become a symbol of perseverance and luck in this country. But outside of Japan, not many people know about the history of this funny-looking doll.
Imagine you are visiting Japan. You have a few more days before you have to go home and need to choose to buy souvenirs. A gift must be unique, avoid keychains with pictures of famous landmarks, or sometimes KitKat (a Japanese “specialty”). In that case, there are few things as rich and unexpected as a Daruma doll.
Daruma is truly one of the symbols of Japan. But not only is this lovely and unique, this doll also represents a legendary figure, with a long history, rich heritage and special origins.
The legend behind the image of the Daruma doll
Daruma is modeled after the Zen master Bodhidharma, believed to be the founder of Zen Buddhism and lived around the 5th or 6th centuries. His background is still shrouded in a mist of mystery, and most of the documents about his life are folk legends.
Ukiyo-e woodblock painting by Bodhidharma.
The legends give different theories about Bodhidharma such as whether he came from India or Persia. According to the story, he traveled to the East and stopped in Shaolin to teach martial arts, before continuing his journey and stopping at a cave to meditate. This is also where the legend of Daruma (Japanese transliteration of Bodhidharma) begins.
According to legend, he wore a spade for 9 years without a break and only closed his eyes once after 7 years. Because he was so angry at what he considered to be his lack of discipline, the Zen master cut off his eyelids so that he could never sleep again. When his eyelids fell to the ground, a green tea tree sprouted from it. From this legend, Japanese monks used to drink tea to stay awake.
According to legend, because he was motionless for 9 years, his limbs also fell from his body. That’s why Daruma dolls show off these traits so clearly – without limbs and with eyes that are always wide open.
The Deepest Characteristics of Daruma
Every element of Daruma’s appearance has a certain symbolism.
One of the Daruma’s most notable features is its empty eyes. These dolls do not have pupils but instead have large circles in their eyes. One of the theories behind this choice of design has to do with the legend of Bodhidharma cutting off his own eyelids.
A more popular view is that it stems from the fact that, in the past, people who wanted the doll to help them achieve their goals would swear that they would grant Daruma vision if he helped. they succeed. To symbolize this, they would draw Daruma’s eyes once his wish was granted.
Beards and eyebrows painted on the doll are intended to reproduce Bodhidharma’s facial features, but they do not serve a purely aesthetic purpose. In fact, the eyebrows are shaped like a crane, and the beard is like a turtle.
These two animals often symbolize longevity in Japanese culture as well as in many East Asian countries. Craftsmen began to apply these shapes on Daruma to match the Japanese proverb that means “A crane lives a thousand years, a turtle lives a thousand years”.
Speaking of the body, Daruma’s lack of limbs symbolizes the sacrifices made to attain enlightenment by Bodhidharma. However, this feature also makes the doll shaped like a toppled doll and cannot be knocked over – symbolizing the virtue of perseverance.
It is also a reminder drawn through the Japanese proverb nanakorobi yaoki (7 falls, 8 rises) of the Japanese, a reminder that even if one is knocked down, one must constantly rise.
In addition, on the body of Daruma, there are often kanji for good luck or expressing the wishes of the owner.
Finally, although red is the most famous, Daruma can take on different colors depending on the wishes. For example, yellow represents fortune, black is to ward off evil, green is health.
However, according to legend, red is the original color. The Japanese believe it is the color of Bodhidharma’s robes; Moreover, red symbolizes good luck in Asian culture.
Daruma in modern Japanese culture
According to recorded history, the first Daruma doll was made in the 17th century in Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture by a farmer as a blessing charm by monks.
Since the livelihood of farmers depended strongly on the luck of the crop, this meaning gradually attached to Daruma and turned it into a lucky charm for the purposes of the user.
In modern times, Daruma has become a souvenir, a display item and a cute gift. However, it has not completely lost its original power in the collective imagination. Although it is not common to find people who know the full history behind this lucky charm, Daruma is still commonly purchased to help bring luck for success.
After purchasing the Daruma, one will paint one eye on it first while striving to fulfill one’s wishes and sincerely pray. Then, once the objective is completed, the second eye will be filled in to show gratitude and return full sight to Daruma.
A year after buying Daruma, people can bring it back to the temple where they bought the doll to burn, whether the wish is successful or not. There is even a festival called daruma kuyo or dondoyaki held at many temples in Japan to burn Daruma together.
Today, Daruma dolls are still used to decorate restaurants, shops or homes for good luck. Its size is also indicative of one’s level of desire, as it is believed that the larger the doll, the greater the desire of the person who has it.
However, the use of Daruma is not limited to businesses or certain private households. This doll has, over the centuries, gained a privileged place in Japanese culture, to the point where it tends to appear in a number of situations and places.
For example, politicians often bring their dolls during interviews, speeches, especially during election time. Like everyone else in possession of Daruma, they have a wish and pledge to repay the gods with their eyesight if he grants them.
Arguably, this also delves into a cultural creed in Japan, through which a politician can demonstrate his or her determination and commitment to the country and its people through the symbolism associated with it. with Daruma.
This familiar Japanese souvenir has certainly gone through many changes and interpretations throughout history. It is considered as a deity that can help achieve success. It represents one of the most important aspects of Zen Buddhism regarding patience, perseverance, and sacrifice.
Although Japan possesses a very interesting culture and is extremely rich in symbols and traditions, few other images of this country can match its diverse origins and meanings. into society like Daruma.
Source: Live Japan