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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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Nissan’s Former Chairman Seeks Bail

Ghosn and Kelly have denied all charges. Nissan said it regretted any concern caused to its stakeholders

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A court sketch, drawn by Nobutoshi Katsuyama, shows ousted Nissan Motor Co Ltd chairman Carlos Ghosn during an open hearing at Tokyo District Court in Japan, Jan. 8, 2019.(voa)

Nissan’s former Chairman Carlos Ghosn has requested his release on bail after being indicted in Tokyo Friday on two new charges, his lawyers said, as the once-feted auto executive awaits a lengthy criminal trial that could be as long as six months away.

Ghosn was the overlord of an alliance that included Nissan Motor, Mitsubishi Motors and France’s Renault, until his surprise November arrest and removal as chairman of both Japanese automakers sent shockwaves through the industry.

The former executive, lauded for rescuing Nissan from the financial brink two decades ago, was charged with aggravated breach of trust for temporarily transferring personal investment losses to Nissan in 2008.

Ghosn, former Representative Director Greg Kelly and Nissan itself were also charged for understating Ghosn’s income for three years through March 2018. The three parties have been indicted for the same charge covering the years 2010-2015.

Ghosn and Kelly have denied all charges. Nissan said it regretted any concern caused to its stakeholders.

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Japan

Bail is rare

It is rare in Japan for defendants who deny their charges to be granted bail ahead of trial. Kelly posted bail on Christmas Day and is unable to leave Japan without special permission.

Ghosn’s lawyer, Motonari Otsuru, expects his client to be held until trial, which he said could begin in about six months.

If bail is granted, Ghosn, who is suffering from fever, according to his lawyer, would not likely be released until Tuesday given that Monday is public holiday.

Kelly, a Ghosn ally, was hospitalized for treatment of a pre-existing neck problem after his release and has since been discharged, said his lawyer Yoichi Kitamura.

“This second indictment for Kelly comes as no surprise as it merely makes what was a five year period for the first into eight years,” Kitamura said.

Kitamura said he expects Ghosn and Kelly to be tried together on the two charges of understating income, and that he will work closely with Ghosn’s legal team.

Nissan complaint

Also Friday, Nissan said it had filed a criminal complaint against its former leader.

The automaker, in a statement, said it filed the complaint “on the basis of Ghosn’s misuse of a significant amount of the company’s funds. Nissan does not in any way tolerate such misconduct and calls for strict penalties.”

Ghosn, 64, appeared in court Tuesday for the first time since his arrest, looking thinner and grayer. He denied the allegations, calling them “meritless” and “unsubstantiated.”

He said he had asked Nissan to temporarily take on his foreign exchange contracts after the 2008-2009 financial crisis prompted his bank to call for more collateral. He said he did so to avoid having to resign and use his retirement allowance for collateral.

Also Read-Travel Ban Imposed on Pakistan Peoples Party Leaders Continues

Ghosn’s lawyer Otsuru on Tuesday said Nissan had agreed to the arrangement on condition that any losses or gains would be Ghosn’s. Ghosn said the contracts were transferred back to him and that Nissan did not incur a loss.

On Thursday, the boards of Nissan and controlling shareholder Renault, where Ghosn remains chairman, met for an update on the matter. Nissan later said it remained committed to the alliance. (VOA)