Collection: Daruma Dolls

- Daruma Dolls Collection -

Daruma dolls (Japanese: 達磨) are armless and legless votive figures representing Bodhidharma (Daruma in Japanese), the founder of Zen philosophy.

Legend has it that the master Daruma lost his arms and legs from so many years of being hidden in a cave meditating and not using them.

The typical colors are red, yellow, green and white. The doll has a face with a mustache and beard but his eyes are white all over. The daruma's eyes are used as a reminder and motivation to accomplish goals or big tasks.

The owner of the doll paints one round pupil (usually of the left eye) when setting a goal; when the goal has been accomplished, the other eye is painted. A daruma with a single pupil is usually placed where it is visible, as a constant reminder of the work that must be done to achieve the goal.

Normally the Daruma doll is male, although there is a Daruma doll known as Ehime Daruma (Daruma Princess).

Being egg-shaped and having a low center of gravity, some of them return to their upright position when pushed to one side, like a teeter-totter. This symbolically represents optimism, persistence and determination.

History of Daruma Dolls

The current popular symbolism associated with Daruma as a lucky charm originated in part with the Daruma-dera (Daruma Temple) in Takasaki City (Gunma Prefecture, north of Tokyo).

Josef Kyburz, author of "Omocha: Things to Play (or Not to Play) , explained that the founder of Daruma-dera would draw New Year's charms depicting Bodhidharma. Worshippers would keep these charms to "bring happiness and prosperity and avoid accidents and misfortunes."

It is believed that the Daruma figure then originated in this region when the ninth priest, Togaku, found a solution to handle the constant requests from worshippers for new charms. The charms were always given with a one-year validity, so people required new ones every year.

He solved this problem by entrusting them to manufacture their own Daruma charms near the beginning of the Meiwa period (1764-1772). The temple made molds from wooden blocks for the people to use. Peasants then used these molds to make three-dimensional origami charms.

Kyburz notes that, although it is unknown when the Daruma figure was combined with the drum doll ; the two were well recognized as synonymous by the mid-19th century.

The doll quickly grew in popularity, becoming a mascot of the region. This was largely due to the fact that most families were silk producers, a crop that requires a lot of luck to be successful.

There is an annual Daruma doll festival ( 達磨 市 , daruma-ichi ) held in Takasaki City in celebration of being the proclaimed birthplace of the Daruma doll. The celebration is held at the Shorinzan, the name of Takasaki's "Daruma-Dera".

According to the Takasaki City website, "More than 400,000 people from all over the Kanto Plain come to buy new good luck dolls for the year. Takasaki produces 80% of Japan's Daruma dolls." The festival also includes a 24-hour sutra reading by Shorinzan monks for world peace.

Meaning of Daruma Dolls

The name "Daruma" is the Japanese variant of the Sanskrit name "Dharma". More specifically, the meanings, beliefs and legends of Daruma are based on the Indian Buddhist monk known as Bodhidharma. To understand the meaning of Daruma, one must look beyond Japanese popular culture and go back to the India of nearly 2000 years ago.

Bodhidharma is said to have been born in 440, in Pallava, a South Indian Kingdom. The third son of King Simhavarman, Bodhidharma has been described as a member of either the Brahman (priestly) caste or the Kshatriya (warrior or ruler) caste.

In either case, Bodhidharma was introduced to Buddhism and later to the Prajnatara, Buddhist teacher. After becoming a disciple of Prajnatara, Bodhidharma became his successor as well as the patriarch of Buddhism.

As the stories differ, Bodhidharma may have traveled to China under Prajnatara's direction or for a mission while he was over a hundred years old.

The years of Bodhidharma's arrival place him in the range of 475 to 520, however, all stories seem to agree that he landed in southern China.

Upon hearing of his arrival, Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty invited Bodhidharma to a royal audience. The emperor, having proclaimed himself the ardent patron of Buddhism, asked Bodhidharma about the merit of his religious contributions.

After replying with the doctrine of emptiness, Bodhidharma left, as the emperor did not understand. As the popular scene narrates: Bodhidharma crossed the Yangtze River on a reed leaf or in a hurry, northward.

Eventually he arrived at the Shaolin Temple monastery and it is here that several of the most legendary events related to Bodhidharma took place.

Probably the most notable of these events is that of Bodhidharma's meditation for nine years, where he faced a rock wall, possibly from a cave.

Sitting and gazing at it for an extended amount of time, Bodhidharma struggled with fatigue and drowsiness. In a fit of frustration, Bodhidharma cut off his eyelids in order to stay awake.

It is believed that the first tea plants grew where the eyelids fell off. From then on, monks, as well as the rest of Asia, could drink tea as a means to resist lethargy and as an aid in meditation.

Another important aspect of Bodhidharma's meditation explains its present form. Because Bodhidharma remained motionless for such an extended period, he lost his arms and legs, they withered away.

However, Bodhidharma was able to remain upright. Especially for followers of Zen who believe that personal energy resides just below the navel, Bodhidharma's achievement has been attributed to the discovery of inner strength.

Although Zen would have been practiced in China for several hundred years before Bodhidharma, he alone is credited with introducing it. In any case, Bodhidharma introduced a Zen of his own, Mahayana Zen.

According to one source, this Zen was a "sword of wisdom" with which to cut the "minds free from rules, trances, and scriptures." Another idea about Zen and Bodhidharma suggests that Bodhidharma was selected as the patron of Zen in order to reinforce its legitimacy as a true Buddhist sect.

Bodhidharma's prominent presence at Shaolin Temple has also influenced the belief that he founded a type of martial art now known as Shaolin (Chinese) kung-fu or karate (Japanese). Some claim that during the Tang dynasty, 618-097 AD, the Shaolin temple became famous for the group of monks trained as warriors to fight with sticks and their bare hands.

Holding that Bodhidharma was in fact of the Kshatriya caste, having been trained by himself in the martial arts, it is possible to see why some believe Bodhidharma to be the first master of these warrior monks.

An additional claim holds that Bodhidharma's teaching of kung-fu was another means of combating the lethargy that monks commonly encountered in meditation and other practices requiring an immobile self.

As for Bodhidharma's death, there are accounts that he died in 528 or 534 AD, near the Lo River or in an area in northern China.

These accounts, however, suggest that three years after Bodhidharma's death, a traveler, or an official, in Central Asia, saw someone resembling him, carrying a staff and sandal, headed towards India.

After the incident was reported, the supposed burial place of Bodhidharma was checked, the grave was empty except for a single sandal.

The Japanese, however, have a different ending for Bodhidharma. According to this version, Bodhidharma traveled to Japan on a reed or rushing blade across the sea in 613 AD.

Along a road. The story relates that Prince Shotoku Taishi, regarded as the reincarnation of Huisi, third patriarch of the Tiantai school and disciple of Bodhidharma, had met a beggar while walking, in whom he recognized his teacher Bodhidharma.

They exchanged poems and then mysteriously the beggar disappeared. Today, in Oji, Japan, there are stones marking the places where the prince and Bodhidharma are said to have met.

Daruma Dolls Shape

Darumas are still usually made of papier-mâché, have a round shape, are hollow, and have a weight at the bottom so that they always return to an upright position when tilted. In Japanese, a roly-poly toy is called okiagari, which means to stand up (oki) and rise (agari).

This characteristic has come to symbolize the ability to succeed, overcome adversity and recover from misfortune. In Japanese popular culture on cards, posters and books, Daruma is often illustrated along with the phrase "Nanakorobi Yaoki" (七 転 八 起), translated as "seven times down, eight times up".

The style of the tumbler doll is similar to an earlier toy called Okiagari Koboshi, a small self-addressing monk that was popular in the Kinki region in the mid-17th century. However, the original okiagari toy is said to have been introduced from Ming China around 1368-1644.

Daruma Dolls Color

Although it is not certain, the origins of the traditional red coloration of Daruma probably come from the color of the priests' robes.

Art historian James T. Ulak has documented a history of depictions of Bodhidharma wearing luxurious red robes, prior to depictions of him as a doll, in an article entitled "Japanese Works at The Art Institute of Chicago".

By virtue of his red robe, Daruma has come to play a role in recovery from illness. During the late Edo period (1600 to 1868), red was believed to have a strong association with smallpox.

Hartmut O. Rotermond, author of Demonic Affliction or Contagious Disease? describes that in Edo and surrounding cities, there were many outbreaks of measles and smallpox. In present-day Japan, there are many red shrines dedicated to a smallpox god, who had a particular fondness for red.

These shrines were built in response to these outbreaks. Believing that the smallpox god, if it pleased him, would spare the inflicted child, the Japanese often stretched ropes around the house tied with strips of red paper, had the child wear a red robe, and made a small altar for the god to place them. Daruma figures in the form of a talisman.

These precautions were also used to warn others that there was sickness in the house and to encourage cleanliness around the sick.

The red Daruma, however, was used to pacify the god, while the okiagari image was to encourage the patient to recover as quickly as he fell ill. Daruma is also available in a set of five colors: blue, yellow, red, white and black, called Goshiki daruma.

These days, daruma can also be found in colors other than red, including gold, which is meant to bring luck in financial matters.

Daruma Dolls Eyes

Daruma eyes are often blank when sold. Monte A. Greer, author of Daruma Eyes, described the "large, round, symmetrical blank white eyes" as a means of tracking important goals or tasks and motivating them to work to completion.

The receiver of the doll fills one eye when setting the goal, then the other when accomplishing it. In this way, every time they see the one-eyed Daruma, they remember the goal.

One explanation of how this custom began says that to motivate Daruma-san to grant your wish, you promise to give him the full eye once the goal is achieved.

This practice may also have something to do with "enlightenment," the ideal attainment of Buddhism. This custom has given rise to a phrase in Japanese translated as "Both eyes open."

Referring to "opening" the second eye, it expresses the realization of a goal. Traditionally, the Daruma was bought as a home, and only the head of the household painted on the eyes.

An example of this is politicians during election time. Political parties have often been shown at their headquarters with large Daruma dolls and amulets purchased from local temples as a prayer for victory.

Daruma Dolls Hair

Daruma's facial hair is a symbolic representation of animals well known in Asian culture for embodying longevity: the crane and the turtle.

The eyebrows are crane-shaped, while the cheek hair resembles the turtle's shell.

Some sources claim that originally, there was a snake or dragon depicted on the mustache and cheeks, but it was changed to turtle to emphasize the desire for longevity.

In this way, Daruma was designed to match the Japanese proverb "The crane lives 1,000 years, the tortoise 10,000 years."

Daruma Dolls Iconography

In terms of iconography, Bodhidharma has been depicted in numerous forms, including paintings, sculptures, carvings, and temples. Throughout all of these different forms, however, Bodhidharma is generally depicted with these same characteristics: bulging eyes, no eyelids, large eyebrows, prominent nose, bushy beard, and a cloak (usually red in color), which reveals only his face.

The most notable use of the Daruma is as a symbol of good luck and fortune. One of the earliest uses of Daruma was as an amulet to protect children from disease, especially smallpox.

It was said that red was the favorite color of the god of smallpox and therefore the predominantly red coat of the Daruma appeased him. Like Maneki-neko, the cat that calls and brings fortune, Darumas are also featured in shop windows, signs and advertisements.

Likewise, the Daruma is ordinarily displayed in the home and can even be used as a decorative figure. The Daruma image is also frequently seen on household items such as tea sets, sake sets, bowls, plates, fans and chopsticks.

One of the most common forms of Daruma is the okiagari (self-righting) Daruma. This interpretation of Daruma is that of a drum doll - without arms or legs - alluding to folk history.

These darumas are weighted at the bottom so that any time it falls it always returns upright. This feature of the Daruma okiagari is a symbol of the feat achieved by Bodhidharma, who remains upright while gazing endlessly.

The doll's ability to stand upright implies both the values of perseverance, determination and success. As deeply rooted cultural values, the Japanese instill this in their children, and it has long been a popular toy with which parents teach this to their children.

The Daruma otoshi (Daruma drop) is another popular Japanese toy. It consists of a stack of five thick discs and a Daruma figure placed on top, which are usually made of wood.

The object of the game is to remove with a mallet each of the discs starting with the bottom until only the Daruma figure remains. Like the self-righting Daruma, this toy also symbolizes the concentration, patience and endurance attributed to Bodhidharma.

Another popular form of Daruma is the paper mache me-nashi or me-ire Daruma. This is a variant of the Daruma okiagari, which is almost always red, and has white circles in place of the eyes.

The purpose of this lies in the belief that when a wish or prayer is made, one of the pupils will be painted on it, and if the wish comes true, the other pupil is painted.

This traditional practice is attributed to the Buddhist rite of Kaigen kuyo (opening of the eye-ceremony) in which a Buddhist image is given religious qualities. In the making of that image, the eyes are left as the last to be constructed, the fulfillment of the eyes is seen as giving the image of its spirit.

The sizes of this type of Daruma are also used according to the importance of the wish or prayer. A small daruma for small wishes and large darumas for more serious needs.

These darumas are often accumulated over several years in which small wishes can become larger ones.

Called a "political rite of passage," the blind daruma okiagari is also widely used in elections. From local officials to the prime minister, candidates often paint on one of the eyes of a giant Daruma in the hope of winning an election, often doing so in large ceremonies. Consequently, winning parties hold even larger ceremonies featuring performing and painting on the eyes of the other Daruma.

The presence of Daruma is also derived in temples, markets and festivals that are all in honor and celebration of Daruma. The Daruma Ichi (markets) are usually held with the New Year season, starting in January and lasting until March.

As the Daruma represents good luck, New Year is the most popular time they are given as gifts. In addition to Daruma okiagari, many other forms of Daruma can be purchased at Daruma Ichi such as EMA Daruma. Ema, or votive tablets, handmade as Daruma, are used to write your own name and wishes and then taken to a Daruma temple.

Daruma has become a widespread element of Japanese culture. But whether religious, political or cultural beliefs are used, the Daruma always has a positive meaning.

Commonly written next to the image of a Daruma, the saying nana korobi hachi oki, "seven falls and eight rises," perfectly sums up the determination, strength and success that Daruma brings to life.

Burning of Daruma Dolls

One of the most spectacular Daruma festivals is the Dairyu-ji, the annual burning of Daruma. Held around January 18, a gigantic bonfire is made in which thousands of Daruma figures are thrown.

If a Daruma has led to the fulfillment of a wish, there is a general presumption that the good luck of a Daruma lasts for only one year.

At the end of the year, all Daruma return to the temple where they were purchased for a traditional burning ceremony. This ceremony, called daruma kuyō ( だ る ま 供養 ), takes place once a year, usually just after New Year's Day.

The most famous of these events are held at Nishi-Arai Daishi Temple (Tokyo) and Dairyū-jiTemple (Gifu). At these events, people bring the Daruma figurines they had used that year to the temple.

After expressing gratitude to them, they give them to the temple and buy new ones for the next year. All the old Daruma figures are burned together at the temple.

After a solemn display of the monks' entrance, the reading of sutras and the blowing of horns, the tens of thousands of figurines are set on fire.