Who are the protectors of a shrine? (Shinto part 5)

The shrine environment is symbolically protected from evil spirits and misfortune in several ways. In front and on either side of the entrance of the shrine complex miniature buildings can contain guardians. Sometimes there you find two rather scary looking beings with semi-human features and with a size of more than human dimension. These Deva kings (Nioosama) are of Indian origin and are also found at the gates of Buddhist temples. Even though these statues have a scary appearance, they are actually kind in nature and their frightening exterior is meant simply to ward off evil spirits.
Another type of protectors are animal images. Most likely these animals appear in pairs as male and female. The most common animal guardians are sculptures of dogs or lions; like in the picture shown above (Japanese komainu). Other examples of animal statues at shrines: At the Inari shrine near Kyoto, you can find images of foxes, or then at Kasuga shrines in Nara deers are considered the attendants of messengers of the Kami; and function less as an actual guardians.
Obviously the most valuable part of the shrine needs protection too. At most shrines it is not possible to see or go into the inner compartments; with the intention of protecting the sacred symbol from being violated. Even during special festivals when the doors are opened, a curtain of split bamboo or some other material hangs in the entry and prevents the priest and worshippers alike from looking within.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤).

Do note further related readings to be found at:

Shinto part 1:

Shinto part 2:

Shinto part 3:

Shinto part 4:

Shinto part 6:

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