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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hinduism played a very significant role in molding Japanese character and culture.

"Shintoism has been designated by some scholars as the Japanese version of Hinduism" - Chaman Lal. 

The new teachings of the Shingon sect originated in India much before it was introduced in China in the 8th century A.D. The Shingon or esoteric principles are based on Tantric rituals which were practiced in India by the followers of Sanatan Dharma since early times. China received esoterism in the fourth century A.D. it actually flourished there from the eighth century onward. From there it reached Japan through Saicho (Dengyo Daishi) and Kukai (Kobo Daishi).

Hindu deities accepted in Indian Buddhism found their way to China as part of Buddhist pantheon, and the mode of worship of these divinities was exactly the same as followed by the Buddhists in India. The Chinese transformed the Indian elements in Buddhism in their own way, with the result that the character and role of the Buddhism oriented Hindu Gods and Goddesses who found their way to Japan and China slightly changed, ‘hued in Chinese dye.’

The Hindu deities in course of time again passed through another phase of transformation to suit the Japanese thoughts and ideas, and many of these transformed deities gained highly revered positions which they had never before attained either in India or China. In fact, several minor gods and goddesses who were too insignificant to merit careful attention in India, attained a considerably exalted position in Japanese Buddhist pantheon. It is commonly believed in Japan that the Hindu deities if worshipped properly, bestow quickly material benefits and other favors in day to day life on their devotees rather than any spiritual gain. This has made these gods and goddesses very popular in Japan as “the common people are more interested in worldly or material benefits than in the so-called abstract spiritual achievement.”

Of the various Hindu deities who were widely worshipped in Japan:

Indra (Taishaku-ten), Varuna (Sui-ten), Yama (Emma), Agni (Ka-ten), Mahakala (Daikoku-ten), Sarasvati (Benzai-ten or Banten), Ganesa (Sho-ten or Kangi-ten), Brahma (Bonten), Vayu (Hu-ten), Vaisravana or Kubera (Bishamon-ten), Mahesvara (Makei-shura-ten), Isana (Ishana-ten), Nilakantha (Shokyo-Kannon), Prithvi (Ji-ten), Surya (Nit-ten), Chandra (Gat-ten), Narayana or Vishnu (Naraen-ten), Kumara or Kartitikeya (Kumara-ten), Lakshmi (Kichijo-ten) Marishiten, Idaten (Skanda) and many other minor deities.

These deities protected Buddha and the Buddhist world. Indra, the king of gods, played an important role as a virtual protector of Buddhism. In China and Japan, Indra was worshipped with usual vajra (thunderbolt) and guarding the entrance of some monastery or temple. Taishaku-ten, the Japanese name of Indra, is derived from the Chinese Ti-shih-t’ien. He is variously known in Japan as Shakudaikanin (Sakra devanam), Makaba (Maghavan), Basaba (Vasava), Shashibachi, Kausika and Sngan (the thousand-eyed: Sahassa natta). The different Japanese texts, such as Dainichi-kyo (the Mahavairocana Sutra), the Sonsho-Buccho-Shuyuga-Ho-Kigi, the Seiryo-ki, the Shosetsu Fudo-ki and the Kongo-kai-Shichi-shu, are unanimous in placing Indra in eastern gate, wearing jeweled crown and ornaments and holding vajra in his hand.

Besides him, Agni is also one of the twelve guardian-deities in Japan who is everywhere depicted as guarding the south-east corner. He naturally finds his place in Japanese Mandara which has remarkable similarity with the representation of Agni in some Indian sculptures.

The worship of Yama is incorporated in the Ju-o or Ten Kings. He is known as Yama-ten ie. Yama deva when benign and Emma O when dreadful as the Judge of the Dead. In Japan such shrines are dedicated to Yama are called Emma-do ‘Hall of Yama’, with drawings or paintings of ten kings inside the hall.

The other god, who plays a significant part in the religious life of the Japanese people, is Maheshvara (Makeishura-ten), otherwise called Shiva of whom various forms have been conceived in Japan. He is depicted as having two, four, eight and eighteen arms and riding a white ox. Mahakala (Daikoku), the terrific god (another form of Shiva), whose images abound in the temples of Tibet and China enjoys an exhalted position as a household deity in Japan whose association with wealth and prosperity gave rise to a strange but interesting custom known as Fuku-nusubi (fortune-stealing). This custom started with the belief that he who stole divine figures (gods and goddesses) was assured of good fortune, if not caught in the act of stealing. In the course of time stealing of divine images became so common a practice in Japan that the Toshi-no-ichi or the ‘year-end-market’ held in the Asakusa Kannon temple became the main venue of the sale and disposal of such images by the fortune-seekers. Many small stalls were opened where articles including images of Daikoku or Mahakala were sold on the eve of New Year celebrations.

In ancient times, the Japanese warriors went to war in helmets bearing Sanskrit bijas as benediction for victory. Such helmets can still be seen at the Reihokan Museum at Koyasan. The Tokonoma or alcoves in Japanese parlor often have a smiling image of Daikoku or Mahakala, clad in Japanese robes, and standing on two bags of rice representing affluence. Mahakala, as we know, symbolized the Great Time (maha = great and kala = time): the time of affluence, in contradistinction to a-kala (famine): the negation (a) of good time (kala). The Japanese also maintain the Bijaksara of Mahakala as a Siddham-nagari monogram. The traditional pilgrims climbing the holy Mount Ontake wear tenugui on white Japanese scarves with the sacred mantra Om.

Vishnu, one of the Puranic trinity, is not as popular as in India. He is referred to as Naraen-ten (Narayana), also called Kengo-rikishi or Kongo-rikishi or Nio has many common features with Vishnu (Bishinu-ten) in Japanese. Visnu-Narayana, according to Japanese conception, possesses unusual physical strength, generally rides Karura (Garuda), has one face and two arms, or three faces with two arms, the left face assuming the face of an elephant or lion and the right one having the form of a bear. He is shown having four or eight arms only in rare cases. In the Karura-o-Oyobi-Shoten-Mitsugon Kyo he is also refered to as Vijaya, having three faces and four arms, with a halo of green color behind his head. Karura (Garuda) received treatment in Japan apart from his position as Nararen-ten’s mount, and the Sesasayana aspect of Narayana is nowhere referred to in the Japanese text.

In Japan, the Nio guardian figures are named Misshaku Kongo (Agyo) and Naraen Kongo (Ungyo). They represent the use of overt power and latent power, respectively. Naraen is also called Narayana (Sanskrit)

Ganesha or Sho-ten or Shoden (also Vinayaka in Japanese), on the other hand, seems to have been widely worshipped god in Japan with whom is associated the Chinese-Japanese conception of the elephant-headed male-female embracing Vinayaka. One of the most popular deities in Japan, Ganesa traveled through China.

Variously known as Daishokangi-ten (abbreviated as Kangi-ten), Sho-ten, Ganabachi (Ganapati), Nandikeshvara and Binayaka-ten (Vinayaka), he is without doubt the product of the introduction of Tantricism in China and Japan (806 A.D onward) which envisaged an elephant-headed Yogini form of female Vinayaka giving birth to a new concept of Vinayaka couple both elephant-headed – a unique development in the religious history of Japan. It is really strange to find that though the Japanese Durani-shu-kyo (Dharani Samuccaya) originated in India, the concept of this twin form of Ganesa (with Ganesani) could not develop in India proper.

The popularity of this god can be judged from the fact that there were about 250 temples in Japan in which the images of Sho-ten and Kongi-ten are worshipped either as a single image or double-bodied images. In the Hozan-ji temple on Mt. Ikoma in Nara, Sho-ten is worshipped mainly by the merchants. In Osaka we have the biggest temple of Sho-ten, where, besides devotees, a permanent priest offers prayers daily. Moreover, the priests also separately offer prayers to him to remove obstacles in way to success.

In the Japanese test Daisho-kangi-Soshin-Binayaka-tongyo-Zohon-Giki (vol. I) he is also called Daijizai-ten (Maheshvara) a conception which we come across also in Brahaddharma Purana, where Ganesha is given fifty different appellations one of which says that “Shiva and Sankara’ are but the two appellations ascribed to Ganesa which is further corroborated by the Agni Purana (chap. 71) wherein Mahadeva is said to be one of the many appellations of Ganesha. Ganesha is still worshipped in Japan. A special temple is consecrated to the esoteric Twin Ganesa at the Jingoji monastery of Takao where every year worship is held in his honor. Besides this, special shrines are also dedicated to Ganesha in some other Mantraynic monasteries. Sometimes, even in shops one comes across graceful images of either standing or seated Ganesha.

Skanda-Karttikeya also appears to have been one of the extremely popular deities in Japan. Variously known as Kumara-ten, Kenda or Ida-ten he is regarded as the son of Daijizai-ten (Maheshvara) in Japanese mythology.

Saraswati is yet another Hindu deity extremely popular in Japan, and is known by various names such as Benzai-ten, Bezai-ten, Benteu, Benten, Sama, Benzamini, Myo-ongakuten, Meoongten, Myo’on-ten (goddess with sweet voice), Daiben, Dai-Benzai-ten (goddess of great intelligence), Dai-bentenno, Bio-ten, Ku-doku, Mio-on-Tennio. Etc.

The first such goddesses made in Japan were of Kichijo-ten (Sridevi or Lakshmi) and Benzai-ten (Sarasvati). The Indian concept of Sarasvati being the consort of Brahma is also retained in Japan. Generally considered as an extremely beautiful lady, she is supposed to be the ideal of feminine beauty, and the goddess of music, wealth, fortune, beauty, happiness, eloquence and wisdom.

This concept of the goddess, it appears, was irretrievably linked up with her personification with the famous Vedic river Saraswati.

It is interesting to note that while in India she is always depicted as a charming goddess of music, fine arts, and learning holding a vina with her both hands, in Japan she is sometimes portrayed as a ferocious goddess too, embodying ugliness as well as beauty. Benten with a lute is a beautiful lady, but Benten with a sword is a brave lady like Itanuka of whom the people are frightened. There is an image of Benten in war-like posture, in Enoshima, holding a sword in her hand with a serpent and tortoise sitting at her foot and two Deva kings standing on either side.

Lakshmi (Kichijo-ten), the goddess of wealth, is extremely popular. She is variously known as Kichisho-ten or Kissho-ten or Makashiri (Maha Sri) and as Lakushmi.

From the Mikkyo-no-Bijutsu we learn that the image of Laksmi (Kichijo-ten) was the first image of a female deity in Japan in the Nara period (645 – 794 AD) which for the first time witnessed the making of the images of the female divinities like Lakshmi and Sarasvati (Benzai-ten) and Hariti (Kishi-mojin).

From the Mikkyo-no-Bijutsu we learn that when the elegant image of Kichijo-ten was first made it impressed the Japanese Buddhist monks so much that they became ardent devotees of this goddess and her popularity spread far and wide within a very short period. This is further confirmed by a passage in the Nihon Ryoki. The “dazzling beauty” of this goddess “aroused more than ordinary interest on the part of the priests. Needless to say, the popularity of Kissho-ten worship spread quickly. There is even an old story about a man who fell in love with a picture of this splendid beauty.”

She is depicted in various forms. She is generally seen beside Bishamon-ten.

In the Nara period the images of this goddess were made “both in icons and objet d’art. Two images of this deity belonging to the Nara period are still preserved in the refectory of the Horyuji temple and in the Hokke-do shrine of the Todai-ji temple. One of the many images of this goddess, one preserved in the Yakushi-ji temple is very famous. It is painted in fine colors on fine hemp cloth. Another beautiful image made of wood (1078 AD) of the Heian period is preserved in the Golden Hall of the Horyu-ji temple. Yet, another very famous sculpted image of the goddess is preserved in a Zushi or shrine of the Jaruri-ji temple, Kyoto.

Besides these Vedic deities, the Raksasas and the Asuras were also given due place in the Japanese pantheon. In Japanese mythology, Raksasa and Nairrti are known as Rasetsu and Nirichi (Niri-ieio) respectively. Garuda, the mythical bird and mount of Lord Vishnu is known as Karura in Japanese mythology which is also associated
with Naraen-ten or Narayana as his vehicle.

Co-existence of the native Shinto and Indian Buddhists and Vedic deities in the same temple was, and is a common feature in Japan. Like Buddhism, Tantricism, an inseparable part of Hinduism spread far beyond the boundaries of India, Nepal, Tibet and Burma. Thus, we find that the Hindu gods who were incorporated into Indian Buddhism gradually found their way to China and then to Japan where many of these Hindu deities found a status which they had never attained either in India or China.

(source: India and Japan: A Study in interaction during 5th cent - 14th century - By Upendra Thakur p. 27 - 41).