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How Japan worships Goddess of Learning

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A Saraswati or Benzaiten shrine in Ginkakuji, Tokyo. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

By Shailaja Tripathi

Do you know that Saraswati, the goddess of learning, has hundreds of shrines dedicated to her in Japan?

Are you aware that Siddham, the 5th century Sanskrit script which has disappeared in India, is still in use in Japan, and the Ganesha temple in Tokyo is the oldest temple to have witnessed 1,000 years of continued worship?

And we thought Japan was all about the Buddha! At ‘Hindu Deities and Indian Culture in Japan,’ an exhibition of photographs by Benoy K. Behl at National Gallery of Modern Art, Bengaluru, 82 photographs of sculptures, paintings, shrines, ritualistic practices shot across museums and temples in Japan weave a beautiful narrative around Hindu deities actively worshipped there.

Behl, an art historian and filmmaker known for his extensive engagement with heritage, took these images during the course of a Japan Foundation Fellowship last year.

While images of Saraswati (Benzaiten) dominate the collection on display, there are also pictures of Agni (fire god Katen), a temple of Indra (Shibamata Taishakuten in Japanese), Brahma (Bonten), Lakshmi (Kichijoten) and Ganesh (Shoten), revered by the believers in Japan. Between the seventh and eighth centuries, Japan adopted the eight-armed Saraswati as defender of the nation. “There is an entire sect associated with it which is called the Benzaiten sect. Also, it is interesting to note that Saraswati is depicted and venerated not only with the veena, but also remembered for her association with water. Saraswati is originally the personification of the river by that name. Therefore, she is also worshiped in pools of water in Japan,” says Behl. But what about their facial features and form? That seems to change a bit in every painting and figurine. “Deities in Japan are not real figures. They are personification of ideas. Their Lakshmi isn’t heavily ornamented and the first Lakshmi you see in Indian art (in a Buddhist Stupa) is a Gajalakshmi, which again is not heavily ornamented,” explains the art historian.

The four directional kings whom we know as dikpalas, and Apsara, Chandra or the moon (Gnatoo), also feature in the exhibition. A film on the same subject by Behl, commissioned by the Ministry of External Affairs, is also a part of the exhibition. “It features 50 most important priests of Japan who were kind enough to allow me to shoot in their temples, which are otherwise very conservative. I think my background in Buddhist art helped and all of them opened their doors for me. I shot Japanese priests doing havans… you know, they perform havans more often than us,” says Behl. Particularly interesting is an image of priests singing Sanskrit hymns and performing homa. “Today’s Himalayan Buddhism is of a later development and has lost the typical havan or homa. I was delighted to find and record the continuance of the tradition of homa in some of the most important Japanese Buddhist sects, who call it goma. Sanskrit sutras are also chanted on the occasion and it is much like the havan we are all familiar with. Also, the 5th century Siddham script, which has disappeared in India, is still in use in Japan. At Koyasan, they have a school where Sanskrit is taught with Siddham.”

Behl goes on to establish the arrival of Buddhism in Japan with the image of a Nagarjuna figurine shot in Gokokuji temple in Tokyo. Nagarjuna is deeply revered in the country as an intellectual and teacher who established Vajrayana Buddhism. Then there is a shot of a screen painting depicting Bodhisena — a Buddhist monk from India — being received in Japan by Gyoki Bodhisattva who then took him to Nara.

“There are deep meanings in Japanese practices which take us back to early developments of philosophy in India. Besides the Buddha, so many ancient Indian deities and practices are preserved in these temples. An Indian feels quite at home in Japan,” says Behl.

Source: The Hindu

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Exploring the Faces of Faith and Devotion: 7 Principal Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism

Foremost among the several gods and goddesses of Hinduism are the Trimurti; Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh, the holy triad that signify supreme divinity in Hinduism – the creater, sustainer and destroyer of the world

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Are you familiar with the various gods and goddesses of Hinduism? Pixabay

New Delhi, October 9, 2017 : Devout Hindus have a god for every occasion and every day – over 33 million, according to popular beliefs. While people of other religions often interpret them as fictional characters, the multiple gods and goddesses of Hinduism are held with utmost devotion and sincerity by the believers.

Ours is a polytheistic religion – in other words, a myriad of gods and goddesses of Hinduism. Foremost among the several gods and goddesses of Hinduism are the Trimurti; Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh, the holy triad that signify supreme divinity in Hinduism – the creator, sustainer and destroyer of the world. These divine forces are known to appear in different avatars, embodied by different gods and goddesses.

In Hinduism, Lord Brahma is the creator of the Universe and the first member of the holy trinity (Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh). However, he is not worshiped as Vishnu or Shiva with only one temple dedicated to him, the Pushkar temple of Rajasthan.

Here are some of the many gods and goddesses of Hinduism.

1. Vishnu

Vishnu is the second member of the holy Hindu triad, who sustains the entire world – Vishnu is believed to return to the earth during distressed times to restore the balance between good and evil.

gods and goddesses of Hinduism
Lord Vishnu. Wikimedia

Believed to have incarnated nine times, Vishnu symbolizes the principles of order, righteousness, and truth. His associate is Lakshmi, the goddess of family life and prosperity.

Vishnu is always depicted with a blue-colored human body with four hands, each of which carries four different objects – a conch, chakra, lotus flower and mace. The god is shown to ride the Garuda, an eagle.

So far, Vishnu has appeared on earth in various incarnations. These include fish, turtle, boar, Narsimha (half lion, half man), Vamana (dwarf sage with the ability to grow), Parsuram, Ram, Krishna and Buddha. Devotees believe he will re-incarnate in a last avatar, popularly known as ‘Kalki’, close to the end of this world.

Hindus who worship Vishnu are primarily known as Vaishnava and regard him as the greatest god.

2. Shiva

One of the members of the holy Hindu trinity, Lord Shiva is as the god of destruction, so that the world may be recreated by Brahma. Thus, his destructive powers are perceived as regenerative: necessary to make renewal possible.

Known by different names like Mahadeva, Nataraja , Pashupati, Vishwanath and Bhole Nath, Shiva is known to have untamed enthusiasm, which drives him to extremes in conduct. It is his relationship with wife Parvati which established the balance. While other gods and goddesses are represented in glorious avatars, Shiva is dressed in plan animal skin and usually sits in a yogic aasana.

gods and goddesses of hinduism
God Shiva, Wikimedia

Shiva is often addressed as the Lord of Dance, with the rhythm of the dance believed to be symbolic of the balance in the universe, masterfully held by Shiva. His most significant dance form is the Tandav.

Hindus who worship Shiva as their primary god are known as Shaivites.


3. Lakshmi

One of the most popular goddesses of Hindu mythology, Lakshmi gets hers name from the Sanskrit word ‘lakshya’, meaning ambition or purpose. Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth, prosperity and purity and is the associate of Vishnu.

Lakshmi is believed to reside in places of hard work, and sincerity, However, the goddess leaves whenever an individual is overcome with greed or malice or when these qualities are not evident anymore. Hindus believe Sita is an incarnation of Lakshmi. Hence, they worship the goddess of prosperity primarily during Diwali, which commemorated the Hindu epic Ramayana.

Gods and goddesses of hinduism
Goddess Lakshmi. Wikimedia

Lakshmi is widely represented as an enchanting woman with four arms, settled or standing on a lotus flower.

Devout Hindus worship Lakshmi at temples and inside homes alike, and believe worshipping her with utmost sincerity blesses an individual with success and fortune.


4. Ganesha

The pot bellied, elephant-headed god Ganesha, also known as Ganpati, Vinayak and Binayak, is the son of Shiva and Parvati. one of the most popular gods and goddesses of Hinduism, Ganesha is revered as the remover of all obstacles, which is why his presence is first acknowledged before beginning any new work.

The lord of success and wealth, Ganesha is also the patron of knowledge and learning; devotees believe he wrote down parts of the Hindu epic Mahabharata with his broken tusk.

gods and goddesses of hinduism
Ganesh Puja. Wikimedia

Ganesha is typically depicted as a pot-bellied, elephant-headed red colored god, with four arms and a broken tusk. This head is believed to characterize the atma or the soul and the body represents the maya or mankind’s earthly existence. The rats, which can gnaw their way through every hardship, are believed to symbolize Ganesha’s ability to destroy all obstacles.

Lord Ganesha is shown riding mouse, which can gnaw their way through every hardship, are believed to symbolize Ganesha’s ability to destroy all obstacles.


5. Krishna

Believed to be the most popular and the most powerful avatar of Vishnu, Krishna is revered as the Supreme Being or the Purana Purushottam out of a list of several hundred gods and goddesses of Hinduism, by several devout Hindus. One of the most loved and mischievous gods, Krishna means ‘black’ and can be believed to denote mysteriousness.

In Hinduism, Krishna takes several different roles- that of a hero, leader, protector, philosopher, teacher and a friend and is believed to have lived on earth between 3200 – 3100 BC. His birth is widely celebrated on the midnight of Ashtami during the month of Shravan, and is called Janmashthami.

gods and goddesses of Hinduism
Picture of idols of Lord Krishna and Radha, decorated for Janmashtami. Wikimedia

Stories of Krishna’s birth, childhood and youth and widely read and circulated, with every mother wanting to have a child like him. His raas with Radha is also remembered widely.

Krishna is held with utmost reverence for his role as the charioteer of Arjuna, as explained in the Mahabharata. It was in the middle of this war that Krishna delivered his famous advice about ‘Nishkam Karma’ which propagated action without attachment, which formed the basis of the Bhagwat Gita.

Krishna is extremely fond of white butter and there are several stories about how he stole butter from gopis throughout his childhood. He is depicted as a dark and extremely handsome, usually depicted with a flute which he used for its seductive powers.


6. Ram

Maryada Purushottam Ram is the ideal avatar of Vishnu. An epitome of chivalry, virtues and ethical demeanor, Ram is the seventh incarnation of Vishnu who is believed to have taken birth to eradicate all evils from the world.

gods and goddesses of Hinduism
Ram Darbar. Wikimedia

Unlike all other gods and goddesses of Hinduism, Ram is believed to be a historical character, instead of an imaginary figure. The Hindu epic Ramayana is a retelling and celebration of Ram’s life – a tale of his fourteen years in exile with his wife and brother.

Ram’s birthday is celebrated as Ramnavmi, wherein devotees invoke him with religious chants to attain his blessings shield. The festival of lights, Diwali, which is one of the major festivals in Hinduism, is also observed to celebrate the return of Ram, Laksham and Sita back to Ayodhya after an exile of fourteen years.

Ram bears a dark complexion to show his resemblance to Vishnu and his other avatar Krishna, and is almost always depicted with a bow and arrow in his hands and a quiver on his back. Ram also wears a tilak on his forehead. Accompanying the statues of Ram are idols of his wife Sita, brother Lakshman and the celebrated monkey-god Hanuman, who together combine the Ram Darbar.

7. Saraswati

Daughter of Shiva and Durga, and the consort of Brahma, Saraswati is revered as the goddess of wisdom, learning, speech and music. She is the goddess of knowledge and arts. Devotees often worship the deity before commencing any educational work- books and stationary items are often revered as Saraswati is believed to reside in them.

Saraswati Vandana, religious chants dedicated to the goddess of music often begin and end all Vedic lessons. The goddess also plays songs of wisdom, affection and life on the veena, a string instrument.

gods and goddesses of hinduism
Sarswati, Wikimedia Commons

Saraswati is visually represented in pure white attire and rides a peacock, with a lotus in one hand and sacred scriptures in the other. She also has four hands that signify the four aspects of learning- mind, intellect, alertness, and ego.

Out of all the 33 million gods and goddesses of Hinduism, devout Hindus believe only Saraswati can grant them moksha- the ultimate emancipation of the soul.

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Hinduism Acts As a Boundary for the Spread of Radical Islam in India: Chinese Media

The article called attention to the solid impact of Hinduism in India

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Hinduism in India
Hinduism in India. Pixabay

Sep 03, 2014: Muslims in India generally stayed unaffected from the radicalization of Muslim gatherings in different parts of the world in light of the strong impact of Hinduism in the nation, which has established a mark of itself by going past a religion to end up plainly as a lifestyle and a social establishment, said the state-run Chinese media on Wednesday.

Adulating Hinduism for helping India setting up an ever lasting attachment towards the religion among different sects, an article in Global Times, titled – “Hinduism tied to India’s geopolitical standing” said that Hinduism made India a boundary for the spread of radical Islam on the global geopolitical scene.

The article asserted that-

Why does it seem that Muslims in India have remained largely apart from the radicalization that has happened to Muslim groups in other parts of the world? Indian Muslims seldom have extreme organizations compared with groups in many other Asian countries. In the southern part of the Philippines, extremists backed by Islamic State have turned their occupied cities into horrible places. In southern Thailand, terror attacks staged by Muslim extremists take place almost every week.

The article called attention to the solid impact of Hinduism, the dominant religion of India while answering the question: Why does it seem that Muslims in India have remained largely apart from the radicalization that has happened to Muslim groups in other parts of the world? 

“Like many other religions, Hinduism has its extreme side, but for the most part, its more moderate side has the strongest influence. Perhaps it is this more moderate influence that has helped establish India’s lasting cohesion and is one of the reasons that the country has not separated”

Indians take pride in the Mughal Dynasty, the time of history which was built up by Muslims, not even by the Hindus, however, there was a strong Hindu influence in that time also.

“In the long history of India, Hinduism has gone far beyond a religion to become a lifestyle and social institution. Both its extreme and tolerant sides have constituted the foundation for its relationship with Muslims and this dual character is going to exist for a long time,” it said.

The consequence of this relationship has made India a hindrance for the spread of radical Islam on the global geopolitical scene.

Also Read: How Hinduism is Interpreted by Western Indologists-David Frawley. Wendy Doniger. Koenraad Elst

The article brought up that the absence of Islamic fanatics in India has established its role in Asia and it has been thought about by the US, Japan, Russia and European nations as well.

“In the future, India is sure to continue to stand out in geopolitical significance when it comes to increasing religious and ethnic conflicts around the world. Where China is concerned, this significance should not be ignored”, the article concluded.


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Japan comes Out in Full Support for India in its 2-month Long Military Standoff with China at Doklam

The support of the Indian position by Japan is a notable step as China has not only violated agreements with India and Bhutan but Japan as well

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Japan backs India on Doklam standoff issue
Doklam standoff. Wikimedia Commons
  • Japan said there should be nothing to change the status quo on the ground by force
  • The statement comes as an endorsement of the Indian position that China has violated agreements with India and Bhutan
  • India has made its standpoint clear that it stands for peace and that the border problem can be resolved diplomatically and not by war

New Delhi, August 18, 2017: Japan has come out in full support for India in its two-month long military standoff with China at Doklam, near the Sikkim-Tibet-Bhutan tri-junction, stating no ‘unilateral forces’ to change the status quo on the ground.

Japanese Ambassador to India Kenji Hiramatsu acknowledged the situation at the Doklam Plateau and said, “We recognize Doklam is a disputed area between Bhutan and China and the two countries are engaged in border talks. We also understand that India has a treaty understanding with Bhutan, that’s why Indian troops got involved in the area”, mentioned ANI report.

The support of the Indian position by Japan is a notable step at a regional level as China has not only violated agreements with India and Bhutan but Japan as well.

It is appropriate to state that Japan is also involved with the sovereignty issue with China… Click To Tweet

The Bhutanese Government had earlier recounted ANI over the phone, “Our position on the border issue of Doklam is very clear.”

ALSO READ: China warns India about 1962 Military Defeat, asks to Withdraw troops from “Chinese territory”

In a response to the developments in Doklam, the Bhutanese Government issued a press release on June 29 where it was clearly mentioned that the construction of the road inside the Bhutanese territory is the infringement of the agreements and affects the process of demarcating the boundary between the two countries.

China is trying to build a trail through Doklam plateau, which is part of Bhutan, a construction that would serve as an impediment to India’s military defenses.

Doklam stand-off has now approached its second month, and there has been no change in the situation. China’s Foreign Ministry has restated that India should withdraw all its troops and equipment as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops will continue to defend Dong Lang, which is Chinese territory.

The prolonged standoff began on June 16 when India sent troops to stop China constructing a road in the Doklam area, a remote, unsettled territory claimed by both China and India’s ally Bhutan. India opposed the road construction after the Chinese troops neglected Bhutanese protests, which triggered the border tensions.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has reemphasized that “India’s roadmap is peace and talks are going on to resolve the issue diplomatically”.

India has made its standpoint clear that it stands for peace and that the border problem can be resolved diplomatically and not by war.


NewsGram is a Chicago-based non-profit media organization. We depend upon support from our readers to maintain our objective reporting. Show your support by Donating to NewsGram. Donations to NewsGram are tax-exempt.