The protectress of children. She is the Japanese equivalent of Hariti, ‘the snatcher’, whom the Buddha dissuaded from stealing and eating children, Moved by the doctrine of compassion, that profound Indian sense of ahimsa, ‘no injury to any living being’, the demon goddess forswore destruction and became a tutelary deity of children, a universal mother, surrounded by babies, whom she fosters and keeps safe.
The converted ogress was popular in Buddhist India and China, where she was worshipped as the giver of children. Hariti combined the three archetypal activities of the mother goddess: she bestower life, she fostered life, and she destroyed it. The balance of the divine triad of creation, preservation, and destruction is nevertheless altered by this Buddhist myth. In the depiction of Hariti as a Madonna-like being there is a distinct shift towards benevolence—the idyll of family life.
The cult of Kishimo-jin became popular in Japan towards the end of the thirteenth century. According to legend, she was even seen on one occasion. In shrines from that date onwards her image appears as a mother suckling an infant, while her symbol is the pomegranate, which stands for fertility.