Japan's Hindu Linkages Still Alive
BY: STAFF CORRESPONDENT
Lord Indra is worshipped in Japan as Taishakuten
Feb 20, NEW DELHI, INDIA (HPI) Apart from the widely known fact that Buddhism in Japan has its origin in India, not many probably know that so many Hindu Deities surround the life of a Japanese. Speaking at a lecture titled "Hindu Gods and Goddesses rooted to Japan" here Friday, Lokesh Chandra, the director of International Academy of Indian Culture, highlighted how deeply Indian religion and culture has influenced Japanese culture and tradition over the past centuries.
He said that many temples across Japan are full of Hindu Deities. Chandra said Japanese couples who desire to have a beautiful daughter pray to Goddess Saraswati even to this day. Saraswati is also believed as the patroness of writers and painters. "In ancient times, Japanese generals prayed to Saraswati to be victorious in war," Chandra told the gathering which was also attended by the Japanese Ambassador to India Yasukuni Enoki and his wife.
Year 2007 is being celebrated as Japan-India Friendship Year to commemorate the 50th year of the cultural agreement between the two countries. According to Chandra, who has travelled to Japan many times to study the country's culture and tradition, Saraswati is also worshipped as the "Goddesses of the kitchen."
There is a suburban district in Tokyo named Kichijo, which traces its roots to "Lakshmi," the Hindu Goddess of Wealth. Lakshmi was propagated to China along with Buddhism in the ancient time, to be known as Kichijo in its Chinese form and then reached Japan as a Buddhist Goddess.
Chandra also spoke extensively about how Sanskrit language has influenced traditional Japanese calligraphy. The Indian text was introduced into Japanese society many centuries ago. Japanese monks had to study Sanskrit in order to master Buddhism from original Indian scriptures and textbooks.
Lord Ganesha in Japan symbolizes the joy of life that arises from the power rooted in the virtues of wisdom and compassion. There are roughly 100 temples dedicated to Ganesha in Japan, Chandra added. An 11th century Ganesha temple is the oldest among them.
Together with Hindu Gods and Goddess, ancient Japanese society was also introduced to Indian dance forms and musical instruments. One can also see the Indian epic Ramayana in the traditional Japanese dance forms of Bugaku and Gigaku.
Bishamon is the Japanese equivalent of Kubera, the god of wealth
As stated by Basil Hall Chamberlain (1850 - 1935), one of the foremost Western interpreters of Japanese culture:
"In a sense Japan may be said to owe everything to India; for from India came Buddhism, and Buddhism brought civilization - Chinese civilization, but then China had been far more tinged with the Indian dye than is generally admitted even by the Chinese themselves.”
They do not realize, for instance, that the elderly man or woman who become, as they say inkyo, that is, hands over the care of the household to the next generation.... they do not realize that this cheery and eminently practical old individual is the lineal representative of the deeply religious Brahman householder, who, at a certain age, - his worldly duties performed, - retired to the solitude of the forest, there to ponder on the vanity of all phenomena, and attain to the absorption of self in the world-soul through profound metaphysical meditation."
In the book India and Japan: A Study in Interaction During 5th to 14th Century by Upendra Thakur, we read:
"Many fragments of the Japanese myth-mass were unmistakably Indian. The original homeland of the first man and women of Japanese mythology is said to have been in the Earth-Residence-Pillar i.e. Mount Meru of Indian mythology. There is another story of Buro-no-Kami whose identity has been established with the deity called Brave-Swift-Impetuous-male. This Kami may be none other than the Indian deity Gavagriva, the Ox-head deity. The story recounts in the style of the jatakas how the deity punished the heartless rich brother and rewarded the king hearted poor brother. In India one of the names of the moon is Sasanka (lit. having a rabbit in the lap) and there is an ancient Indian legend why it is so called. The belief prevalent in ancient Japan that there lived a rabbit in the moon was probably an outcome of the Indian influence."
And anthropologist Donald A. Mackenzie noted:
"The Churning of the Milky Ocean reached Japan. In a Japanese illustration of it the mountain rests on a tortoise, and the supreme god sits on the summit, grasping in one of his hands a water vase. The Japanese Shinto myth of creation, as related in the Ko-ji-ki and Nihon-gi, is likewise a churning myth. Twin deities, Izanagi, the god, and Izanami, the goddess, sand on "the floating bridge of heaven" and thrust into the ocean beneath they "Jewel Spear of Heaven". With this pestle they churn the primeval waters until they curdle and form land."