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Feast of Kun Iam

Introduction

The Feast of Kun Iam is one of the folk religious festivals. Kun Iam is also called “Kun Sai Iam” which literally means “perceiving the sound from the World” because of his readiness to rescue those in need or difficulties, and his responsiveness to people‘s wishes. Therefore, he is regarded as a merciful Buddha by the folk. People who have difficulties only have to pray and utter his name, and their problems will be solved or they are rescued. In the Chinese temples and monasteries and folklore, Kun Iam has always been presented as a female in statues and paintings. The feminine appearance of Kun Iam has existed since the Northern and Southern Dynasties, and has become popularized after the Tong Dynasty. Most women worship the “Sending-child Kun Iam.” Those women who wish to get pregnant usually offer incenses and joss sticks to Kum Iam. There are several dates to celebrate the Feast of Kun Iam: The nineteenth day of the second lunar month is Kun Iam’s Birthday, the nineteenth of the sixth lunar month is Kun Iam‘s Enlightenment, and the nineteenth of the ninth lunar month is Nirvana. People worship Kun Iam on those days. Women, in particular, go to the Kun Iam temples in droves to worship Kun Iam and pray for peace and good fortune. Some people would even place a Kun Iam statue at home.


Origin

Kun Iam belief is the most common religion in folklore. It is originally a Buddhist belief and has become a folk belief in China in form of a female deity with many manifestations in its legends under the influence of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. The Kun Iam belief demonstrates one of the cultural characteristics of Chinese folk religions with the inclusiveness of three ethics in one religion. In the history of Buddhism in China, since the Lotus Sūtra had translated from Sanskrit into Chinese by Kumārajīva of the Eastern Jin Dynasty, people have a better knowledge of Kun Iam. The twenty-fifth section of “The Universal Gate” and the smallest classical sutra “Heart Sutra”, in particular, have been widely introduced into the areas that Mahayana is revered. The name “Kun Sai Iam” in Chinese is a free translation of the word “Avalokites’vara” in Sanskrit. Kun Iam is considered as a left retinue of Amitabha, and one of members of the “Western Trinity.” Buddhists describe him as a merciful Buddha, and claim that as long as people ask Kun Iam for help, he can immediately perceive the sound and is ready to help. Thus, he is called “Kun Sai Iam.” 

On the other hand, the Chinese character “shi” (世) happened to be found in the name of the Emperor Li in the Tong Dynasty, which was a taboo in the ancient China, thus his name was simplified to “Kun Iam.” 

Kun Iam is one of the four Bodhisattvas in China. It is claimed that Kun Iam has once appeared on the Putuo Mountain in the Zhejiang Province. However, some classical sutras indicate that there have been countless incarnations for Kun Iam. Therefore, various names and images have been presented such as Hexa Kun Iam, Hepta Kun Iam and even Tritria Kum Iam. The title “Kun Iam” stands for only one in general. It is claimed that Kun Iam can present in any appearance to help the needy, and he always has a female appearance in the Chinese temples and monasteries. Kun Iam‘s female appearance first existed in the Northern and Southern Dynasties and became popularized after Tong Dynasty. Nowadays, Kun Iam is widely considered as a Buddha. In fact, Kun Iam, according to the Buddhist texts, is one of the retinues of Amitabha (Buddha), and appears as a Buddha in order to help the needy. This is the key point why he touches people’s heart and is considered as a supreme Buddha for worship. It is not surprising that he is regarded as “Kun Iam Buddha” in folklore.

Feast of Kun Iam

The Feast of Kun Iam is one of the folk religious festivals. Kun Iam is also called “Kun Sai Iam” which literally means “perceiving the sound from the World” because of his readiness to rescue those in need or difficulties, and his responsiveness to people‘s wishes. Therefore, he is regarded as a merciful Buddha by the folk. People who have difficulties only have to pray and utter his name, and their problems will be solved or they are rescued. In the Chinese temples and monasteries and folklore, Kun Iam has always been presented as a female in statues and paintings. The feminine appearance of Kun Iam has existed since the Northern and Southern Dynasties, and has become popularized after the Tong Dynasty. Most women worship the “Sending-child Kun Iam.” Those women who wish to get pregnant usually offer incenses and joss sticks to Kum Iam. There are several dates to celebrate the Feast of Kun Iam: The nineteenth day of the second lunar month is Kun Iam’s Birthday, the nineteenth of the sixth lunar month is Kun Iam‘s Enlightenment, and the nineteenth of the ninth lunar month is Nirvana. People worship Kun Iam on those days. Women, in particular, go to the Kun Iam temples in droves to worship Kun Iam and pray for peace and good fortune. Some people would even place a Kun Iam statue at home.