Wednesday September 19, 2018
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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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A Start Up Company From Japan To Launch ‘Love Satellites’

If this service receives a good response, Warspace would expand its business and will send out more commemorative objects into space.

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Japan Love satellite
.Japanese firm to launch love satellites. Flickr

A Japanese start-up linked to the University of Tsukuba is set to launch small satellites with commemorative titanium plaques carrying love messages into space by the end of 2019, the company said on Monday.

Those interested would be able to engrave messages of their choice on the plaques, which would be 1.8 centimeters long and 0.8 centimeter wide, set to be carried to space aboard the satellites and orbit around the Earth for around two years before being destroyed, Efe reported.

Around 10 centimeters in size, the CubeSat satellites would be able to carry up to 600 pure titanium plaques and would be transported to the International Space Station (ISS) by a rocket of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Japan Love satellite
Around 10 centimeters in size, the CubeSat satellites would be able to carry up to 600 pure titanium plaques

In the ISS, the astronauts stationed there will take photographs of the ultra-small satellite which would be then sent to the couples to prove that their messages have reached space, Warspace CEO Toshihiro Kameda said.

The start-up had planned to offer this service exclusively to the couples getting married at a hotel in Tsukuba, in Ibaraki prefecture, for the price of $270, but in the face of growing demand it decided to expand its offer and set up an online order facility in September.

Although they have not determined the number of people interested in the service yet, couples from Japan, the US and Taiwan have contacted the company.

Japan Love satellite
University of Tsukuba, Japan. Flickr

Also Read: ISRO’s First Manned Space Mission to Cost $1.4 Billion

The mini satellites and the plaques would be destroyed after two years by burning up when they come in contact with Earth’s atmosphere, said Kameda, a professor who teaches the mechanics of materials at the University of Tsukuba.

If this service receives a good response, Warspace would expand its business and will send out more commemorative objects into space which would later return to Earth, the head of the project said. (IANS)

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