Dakiniten (written as 荼枳尼天 or 荼吉尼天 in kanji characters) is a Buddhist goddess. The term 'Dakini' is the transliteration of the Sanskrit term dākinī (spelled Dakini in English).
Dakiniten derives from a goddess from India. Dakiniten was originally a goddess of farming, but later came to be assumed to govern sexual desire and later came to be assumed to be a female fierce god eating human flesh or live human hearts. In Hinduism, this goddess is assumed to be a dependent of Kali (a Hindu goddess). This goddess was introduced into Buddhism, and it was supposed that she had been exorcised by Daikokuten (the god of Wealth), that is, the incarnation of Dainichi Nyorai (Cosmic Buddha), and then permitted to eat human hearts, if dead.
She is said to have unrestricted supernatural powers, knows the death of a person six months ahead, and takes and eats the person's heart.
Belief in Dakiniten in Japan
In the Shingon Esoteric Buddhism, Dakiniten is located in the southern part of Gekongoin (the most peripheral section of the Womb World) of the Womb World (one of the two worlds in Esoteric Buddhism, representing Dainichi Nyorai's spirit of salvation having every possibility of generation as a womb, where a fetus grows), and this goddess is depicted as a small tengu (mountain spirit (portrayed as winged and having a long nose)) sitting astride a white fox; therefore, she is also called Shinkoo Bosatsu (Fox King).
There exist records showing that prayers were offered for Dakiniten at an Esoteric Buddhism ceremony performed on the occasion of an emperor's enthronement. In addition, several persons including TAIRA no Kiyomori and Emperor Godaigo were known to have performed a method of Dakiniten in esoteric Buddhism, however, "Genpei Seisuiki" (The Rise and Decline of the Minamoto and Taira clans) states that TAIRA no Kiyomori discontinued this method. This goddess is extraordinarily difficult to enshrine because it is supposed that any person is required, once this goddess is enshrined, to keep believing therein in exchange for his or her life until his or her last moment and also that should such a duty be neglected (in other words, should incantation to worship the deity be discontinued), such a person would immediately become ruined or meet with disaster. Thus, Dakiniten was considered to be a non-Buddhist religion and belief in it tabooed.
Dakini was originally supposed to sit astride a jackal in India but the fox was substituted for the jackal in introduction to China and Japan (because jackals were not present in those countries). In other words, an image of Dakiniten riding a fox (which has not existed in India) has not been depicted in Taizo Mandala (Womb Realm Mandala) or the orthodox scriptures or ritual manuals of Esoteric Buddhism and was created in medieval Japan and the like.
It is supposed that the creation of the above image resulted in Dakiniten coming to be syncretized with a Shintoist god, Inari (the fox god) in Japan.
In Japan, Dakiniten is believed to be a goddess of good fortune.
Belief in Dakini in later India
In later Esoteric Buddhism after the introduction to Japan, a sexual image was added to Dakini, which resulted her to be depicted as a naked goddess having a skull.
Tachikawa School (Esoteric Buddhism)
Dakiniten later came to be deemed as a goddess governing sexual love, which resulted in Tachikawa School of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism being gradually founded from the Kamakura period until the period of the Northern and Southern Courts and flourished in Japan. It is supposed to enshrine Dakiniten, set a skull as a principle image and attain Buddhahood while still in the flesh by sexual intercourse as a rite. For this reason, Tachikawa School was said to be regarded as a heresy and was finally exterminated in the Edo period. However, it is still controversial as to whether the doctrines and rites of Tachikawa School mentioned above were true or not because the above theories are all based on documents written by those who regarded Tachikawa School as a heresy and oppressed it, and most of the documents written by devotees of Tachikawa School, which are vital for verification of the genuineness of those theories, were subjected to book burning and Tachikawa School was treated as a heresy against the backdrop of its involvement in the political power struggle between the Southern and Northern Dynasties.