Lord Ganesha and other Deities in Japan and China

TOKYO, JAPAN, October 26, 2010: A few hundred Japanese congregate in the courtyard of the Asakusa Shrine in central Tokyo. The five-story pagoda is ornate and immaculate, not least because it was rebuilt in the 1970s. This is the Shoten-cho part of the Japanese capital, famous for its many temples and shrines. Less known is that , the Noble God, is the Hindu Deity Ganapati. And there are temples to Sarasvati and Shiva to be found amid these crowded streets. In the 1830s, say scholars, over 100 Ganapati temples could be found here.

Few Japanese and fewer Indians realize most Deities worshipped in Japan are of Indian origin. “A majority of Japanese Gods are actually Indian Gods,” was a common line of the former Japanese Ambassador to India, Yasukuni Enoki. Hindu Deities were imported wholesale from the 6th century onwards. “These Indian Deities were introduced from China into Japan as Buddhist Deities with Chinese names,” writes Sengaku Mayeda of Japan’s Eastern Institute. Thanks to the centuries and translation hurdles, the names and appearances of the Gods have become localized to the point of anonymity.

An example is Shichifukujin, the popular Japanese sect of the Seven Deities of Fortune. This pantheon includes Sarasvati, Shiva and Vaisravana – under their Japanese names of, respectively, Benzaiten, Daikokuten and Bishamonten. Some names are direct Japanese translations. Daikokuten means “great head God”, a direct translation of one of Shiva’s names, Mahakala.

Source: Hinduism Today (November 24th, 2010)
Scholars commonly date the presence of Ganesha in Japan with the age of Kukai (774- 834), the founder of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. The centrality of the worship of Ganesha or Vinayaka or Kangiten, as he is popularly called in Japan, is a distinguishing feature of this cult. The doctrines, rituals and beliefs of the sect have a number of parallels with the cult of Ganpatyas, to which belonged saints like Gajanan Maharaj of Shegao, Maharashtra.

China, the land through which the Elephant-headed divinity entered Japan has Ganesha Sculptures dating back to the fourth century, which surprisingly predates any depiction of Ganesh in India. Both the lands recognize Ganesha as having converted to Buddhism.

Ganesha’s most popular form in Japan is the dual-Vinayaka or the Embracing Kangi. Two tall figures, elephant headed but human bodied, male and female, stand in embrace. The female wears a jeweled crown, a patched monks robe and a red surplice. 

Her tusks and trunk are short. Her eyes are narrowed. Her body is whitish. The male neither wears a monk’s robe nor a crown, though he may have a black cloth over his shoulders. His body is reddish brown. His trunk is long. His eyes are wide open. His countenance is not compassionate, but loving. His head rests on the female’s shoulder. The feet of the female may rest atop the male.

Also called the Deva of bliss, Ganapati is invoked both for enlightenment and for worldly gains – more for the latter than the former. Katigen – Vinayaka is offered “bliss – buns” (made from curds, honey and parched flour), radishes, wine, and fresh fruits. The offerings are later partaken in the same spirit as Hindus take prasad. Whosoever fulfills the rituals of the dual Kangiten is believed to attain success in all worldly endeavors.


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