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Hindu deities

October 03rd, 2015
in:Arts
by:Jose Kalathil
located in:India

At least a score of Hindu deities, which are almost forgotten in India, their country of origin, are worshipped in Japan, but with different names.

In fact, there are hundreds of shrines to Saraswati (Benzaiten) alone, and innumerable representations of Lakshmi, Indra, Brahma (Bonten), Ganesha (Shoten), Yama (Enma), Garuda, and other deities. Goddess Saraswati is depicted and venerated not only with the Veena (Indian guitar), but also remembered for her association with water. (Saraswati is originally the personification of the river by that name.) In Japan, Benzaitan is worshipped in pools of water. Japan has thus preserved ancient Indian traditions. 
 
According to filmmaker, art historian and photographer, Benoy K Behl, the Sixth century Siddham script is also preserved in Japan, though it is existent in India. 'Beejaksharas' of Sanskrit in this script are regarded as holy. Each deity has a 'Beejakshara' which is venerated by the people even though most of them cannot read it. After each visit to a temple, a devotee brings home the imprint of this Beejakshara. At a school in Koyasan, Sanskrit is taught with Siddham. It is also believed that the distinctive torii gateways at temples in Japan are linked to the torana (flags) gateways of Indian temples. A Japanese folklore mentions about Indian deities (deva) and demons (asura). Mr Behl said rathas (chariots) used in Puri festival, are seen in Kyoto Gyan festival.  
 
Many links in the development of Vajrayana Buddhism can be found in Japanese Buddhism. Today's Himalayan Buddhism is of later development and has lost the typical 'havan' or 'homa'. (Homa refers to any ritual in which offerings are put into a consecrated fire. Its practice by "Rishis" (sages) in ancient time refers close to the Vedic era.) 
 
Benoy said he was delighted to find and to 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 the same way as Indians do. He said he felt at home in Japan during his stay there under a Fellowship of the Japan Foundation. 
 
About 100 words in the Japanese language are taken from Sanskrit which was also the basis for the formation of the Japanese alphabet "Kana." In the supermarkets, a major brand of milk products is called "Sujata". The company personnel are taught the story of "Sujata" who gave sweet rice milk to the Buddha, with which he broke his period of austerity, before he gained Nirvana (a place of complete happiness.) 
 
There are deep meanings in Japanese practices which take one back to early developments of philosophy in India. In many ways, the philosophic understanding is best preserved in Japan. Japan has not had the breakdown of cultural norms which India suffered because of an enforced colonial education system. 
It may be noted that Hinduism and Buddhism have common origins in the River Ganges culture during the so-called "second urbanisation" around 500 BC. They have shared parallel beliefs that have existed side by side, but also pronounced differences. 

According to Japan Foundation, India, director general, Kaoru Miyamoto, for some time the relation was one-sided. Japan looked at West and later realised that it needed India. Till then, for Japanese India was curry, yoga, ayurveda etc. For Indians Japan was technology, automobiles, harakiri etc. 


In the 6th century, Buddhism spread from India to Japan via China and Korea. Since then many monks and scholars have visited each other, notably among them the Indian monk Bodhisena who lived in Japan from 736 AD till his death in 760 AD. 
 
Japanese scholars also studied in the ancient Nalanda University in India. One of the most famous Japanese travellers Tenjiku Tokubei (1612–1692) was named after India. Tenjiku ("Heavenly Abode") means India. 
  
In the 16th century, Japan established political contact with Portuguese in India. They initially believed that the Portuguese were Indians and that Christianity was a new "Indian faith". Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, Indians visited Japan as crew members in Portuguese and British ships. 
 
During the anti-Christian persecutions in 1596, many Japanese Christians fled to Goa. In the early 17th century, there was a community of Japanese traders there. During Meiji era (1868–1912), Japan-India Association was founded in 1903. 
 
After the end of Anglo-Japanese Alliance on 17 August 1923, many Indians who resented the British rule, shook shelter in Japan. The lndian Independence Movement leader, Rash Behari Bose helped improve India–Japan ties. Future Japanese prime minister Tsuyoshi Inukai, pan-Asianist Mitsuru Toyama and other Japanese supported India in its freedom struggle. 
In 1899, Tokyo Imperial University set up a chair in Sanskrit and Pali, with another chair in Comparative religion in 1903. Thus, a large number of Indian students visited Japan in the early 20th century and founded the Oriental Youngmen's Association in 1900. 
 
Since India was under British rule when World War II broke out, over 2 million Indians participated in it; many served in combat against the Japanese who conquered Burma. Some 67,000 Indian soldiers were captured by the Japanese when Singapore surrendered in 1942. In 1944-45, the combined British and Indian forces defeated the Japanese in Burma. 
 
Subhas Chandra Bose, who led the Azad Hind, to end the British rule through military means, formed the Azad Hind Fauj or Indian National Army (INA). The INA composed mainly of former prisoners of war captured by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore. The INA also recruited volunteers from Indian expatriates in Southeast Asia. Eager to participate in any invasion of India, Bose told Japanese that a victory such as Mutaguchi would lead to the collapse of British rule in India. The idea that their western boundary would be controlled by a more friendly government was attractive to Japan.
  
After the restoration of sovereignty, Japan and India signed a peace treaty, establishing diplomatic relations in 1952, in which India waived all reparation claims against Japan. This treaty was one of the first signed by Japan after the World War II. 
 
The 1950s and 1960s witnessed the 'golden age' of cinemas of both countries. Satyajit Ray's and Guru Dutt's films influenced Japan, while Japanese films by Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu and Takashi Shimizu attracted Indians. 
 
Political and trade ties improved with India bagging the majority share of Japanese official development assistance. Japanese companies, such as Sony, Toyota, and Honda, have built manufacturing units in India. Automobile major Suzuki has partnership with Indian company Maruti Suzuki. 
 
Sureshchandra Bandopadhyay, Manmatha Nath Ghosh and Hariprova Takeda have written extensively on their visits to Japan. There was strong friendship between Japanese thinker Okakura Tenshin and Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore and Bengali poet Priyamvada Banerjee. 
 
On the 50th anniversary of Indo-Japan Cultural Agreement, Year 2007 was declared as the Indo-Japan Friendship and Tourism-Promotion Year. 
 
Japan has also reconstructed Nalanda University, created Buddhist tourism circuit, buit stupas in various places including Delhi and Saranath, where he delivered his first sermon after attaining enlightenment (Buddhahood) at Bodh Gaya. 
 
Tamil movie star Rajnikanth is a household name in Japan. From July 3, 2014, Japan started issuing multiple entry visas for short term stay of Indians. 

Article written by:
Jose Kalathil
Author
Current Map: Our coverage
Many links in the development of Vajrayana Buddhism can be found in Japanese Buddhism.
A modern glass Buddha in a japanese temple.
LED-lightet Buddhas in the Koukokuji temple in Tokyo.

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