Sarasvati worship in Japan

Benzantine

Statue of Sarasvati at Benzaiten shrine in Japan
Benzantine shrine
Benzaiten shrine, Inokashira Park, Tokyo

The primary divine forces governing Nature right from the process of Creation through its evolution, dissolution and regeneration have been classified as pairs of male and female. The male divinities are those that are responsible for a certain role, function while the female counterpart forms the essence, substance of that role, function.

In this order of things, the pair Brahma and His consort Sarasvati represent the divine forces in play in the growth, expansion and evolution of the Universe. This aspect of the growth of the Universe is thus steeped with the knowledge of all that has transpired since the moment of Creation and continues to drive the further evolution of the Universe.

This driving force of knowledge is called as the divinity Sarasvati as it is a knowledge that continues to flow through the expanse of the cosmos gracefully and incessantly like waves. Saras means gracefully flowing.

 This knowledge power forms the root for all forms of knowledge, speech, skill, arts, fine arts, craft etc. Sarasvati is therefore the divinity that promotes the development of all of these capabilities in man, society and civilization.

This was the thought and understanding that was and continues to be prevalent in the Indian civilization. A similar vein of thought seems to have been held by the civilization of Japan as is evidenced by the presence of a goddess like Sarasvati in Japan.

 Sarasvati by different names

In Japan, Sarasvati is known by different names.

 She is associated with different faculties like music, sweet voice, wealth, fortune, beauty, happiness, eloquence, wisdom and as one who confers strength on warriors.

Name

Goddess of

Benzaiten

talent and weal

Myoten

sweet voice

Daiben, Dai Benzaiten

intelligence

SamaBenzamini

Inspirer to poets and artistes

Benteu, Benten

Speech with a flute in her hands

KrodhaBenzaiten

Violent form worshipped by generals before going to war

In addition to all these forms of divinites connected with speech, music, sweet voice found in Japan, similar to the form of Sarasvati known as Vakdevi or Vani in India, we find that there is a form of Sarasvati associated with war.

 For Indians this may seem to be a variant as war and forces connected with bravery are typically associated with another divinity, Goddess Shakti, Durga.

Here is a very rare piece of knowledge.

Vrtragni

While Sarasvati with weapons as a benefactor of soldiers, a goddess propitiated before war may seem out of place to us, it is interesting to note that in the Rig Veda(6.61.7), Sarasvati is referred to as the destroyer of Asura, Vrtra as Vrtragni. This term “Vrtragni” in Rig Veda denotes overcoming inertia in the Hiranyagarbha, the cosmic egg, before the Big Bang,

Brahmanda Visphotak. It is this overcoming of Vrtra which gave rise to this beautiful Creation.

More on the concept of Vrtra, the inertia, in Hiranyagarbha, the Cosmic Egg and Brahmanda Visphotak, Big Bang has been brought forth in our book and film, “Creation-Srishti Vigyana”.

Sarasvati as Vrtragni does not denote the brute force or bravery associated with warfare. Vrtragni with the act of overcoming Vrtra, denotes the spark of necessity that tips anything over from a state of inertia into a state of action. This spark of necessity then drives further the action, the act of doing something, creating something.

As Vrtragni, Sarasvati is indeed the necessity that is the mother of invention. And She sustains the invention with Her power of knowledge, skills, art and craft.

Popularity of Sarasvati in Japan

Sarasvati and Her forms are popular divinities in the land of Japan. There are 131 temples of Sarasvati in the city of Tokyo alone as recorded in the census of 1832. This shows the acceptance and prevalence of Sarasvati worship as an intrinsic ethos of Japanese culture.

Similarly, there are equal number of Sarasvati temples in Kyoto, Osaka, Nara among the other cities of Japan.

Sarasvati temple in japan

A Sarasvati temple in Japan

Staue of Goddess Benzaiten

Sarasvati

Goddess Benzaiten

Note: Inputs taken from the paper of Dr.Jayanthi Manohar presented at the 14th World Sanskrit Conference in Kyoto in 2009. 

Remembering Gandhi And His Message

October starts with Gandhi Jayanthi, the birthday of the Father of the Nation, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi more popularly known world over as Mahatma Gandhi or the Mahatma – “the great soul”.

He was called the great soul for the principles by which he lived his life and shaped the freedom movement of India and her large population.

One such principle, rather tool, that he introduced in India’s struggle for freedom was Ahimsa, an act which proved successful for India.

Mahatma Gandhi extolling the values of Ahimsa

How was this possible? Ahimsa is non violence. How could Ahimsa have secured India, freedom from the British?

Ahimsa

The British Empire was the most powerful of the world in the 1920s and 1930s. So wide spread was its powerful reach that the British had the arrogance to state,

“The Sun never sets in the British Empire”.

Wide Spread Power of British Empire

All this changed within the next few decades. The mightiest power of the world by 1950s started losing one colony after another. Where did this strength to decolonize come from?

All the strength and power of the British, were no match for the joint will of the people of India.

How was this Ahimsa such a powerful tool to unseat the British power from across the face of the world?

What is this Ahimsa?

Himsa, hinsa means “to hurt others willfully, physically and mentally”. The English word “heinous” seems to have its etymological roots in the word hinsa, himsa.

Ahimsa means “to not hurt others willfully, physically and mentally.”  In other words, Ahimsa is Non Violence in thought and deed.

Thought Leaders

The beacon in the field of science in the 20th and 21st century, by far was Albert Einstein.

Similarly, the beacon for promoting a humanitarian approach could well be Mahatma Gandhi.

Albert Einstein and Mahatma Gandhi, thought providers for 20th and 21st century

The popularity and acceptability of Gandhi’s views, practices can be seen in the simple fact that, in the world, on the face of this earth, it is Mahatma Gandhi’s statue that stands as the most popular leader of humanism. His statues can be seen from Canada, in the North West of the world map to New Zealand in the South East.

Statue of Mahatma Gandhi at Saskatoon Saskatchewan, Canada

Statue of Mahatma Gandhi at Wellington Railway Station, New Zealand

There have been many from other countries who have been inspired by the Non Violent Struggle of Gandhi.

Solidarity Movement, Poland

Mahatma Gandhi used Ahimsa as a tool to fight colonialism in 1930s and 1940s.

While many today may see the tool of Ahimsa as outdated, the fight against communism in Poland was fought on the principle of Non Violence and Ahimsa by the Solidarity Movement led by Lech Walesa.

Lech Walesa, the former President of Poland

Emblem of Solidarity Movement

Communism had its vice grip on half of the world then. After leading Poland through a Non Violent struggle against communism, Lech Walesa led the reconstruction of a non communist Poland. This Solidarity movement led to the fast demise of communism in Eastern Europe over the next decade. Lech Walesa received Noble Peace Price for having led a peaceful movement during turbulent times.

Ruminating on the movement, Lech Walesa expressed that,

Only non-violence can lead the world to a new world of lasting peace and enduring friendship.”

Lech Walesa, a true admirer of Mahatma Gandhi further went on to say,

“We didn’t succeed when we tried to fight with arms, but we won when we adopted non-violence. I am a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi.”

“Truly the whole world should be a disciple of Gandhi.”

Non Co-operation in South Africa

South Africa carried on the despicable policy of apartheid, apartness, well into modern times in the 1980s. Mahatma Gandhi as a young barrister at law in 1920s had questioned the prevailing apartheid law system of South Africa by launching his non-cooperation movement, the path of Satyagraha.

Nelson Mandela who carried forth the torch of protests lit by Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa,  was incarcerated in jail for 27 years. It was the will of the leaders, the hope of the people and their absolute faith that apartheid policy can be overcome only by the soft power of Ahimsa as taught by Mahatma Gandhi, which served successfully, as the beacon during their struggle for ousting apartheid from South Africa.

Nelson Mandela in a Prison Outfit

Martin Luther King in America

In 1960s, Martin Luther King Junior led the Afro-Americans of America to freedom from slavery, both in deed and in thought, to a period of equality for one and all. He has also expressed in his works that he took the non violent struggle route drawing inspiration from the Ahimsa policy of Mahatma Gandhi.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Rev. Jesse Jackson, an American Civil Rights activist while delivering the Gandhi Memorial Lecture in 2008, speaking about Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi said,

Rev. Jesse Jackson alongside statue of Mahatma Gandhi

John Lewis, Congressman of Georgia, USA, while referring to Dr. King as ‘one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced’ says,

“Dr. King picked up Gandhi’s teaching and message.

And if it hadn’t been for this message, America would have probably been more like South Africa, Lebanon, Northern Ireland. It would probably have been a much more divided nation.”

It is this Non Violent Movement of Civil Rights, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and Ahimsa that has held a super power like America together as recently as in 1960s.

Antiquity of Ahimsa

Ahimsa, the thought of not to hurt any other creature, is innate to the Indian civilization.

While people immediately associate Ahimsa, non violence with Mahatma Gandhi, Gandhi in his autobiography, “My Experiments with Truth”,  says

There is nothing new about ahimsa. It is as old as the hills.”

Autobiography – My Experiments with Truth

The concept of Ahimsa is mentioned in the Veda, Sastra, Smriti, Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam and many ancient texts in local languages.

Atharva Veda defines Ahimsa as

Ahimsa is not causing pain to any living being at any time through the actions of one’s mind, speech or body.”

Ahimsa is mentioned as the foremost Dharma, knowledge and penance in Mahabharatha.

When we say Mahabharatha, people immediately think of the Kurukshetra War. Even in this scenario of imminent battle, the value ofAhimsa is extolled in Shanthi Parva, the chapter on peace.

Mahavira and Buddha also spoke about and practiced Ahimsa

Ahimsa, a difficult path to tread

While the idea of Ahimsa is noble, by no stretch of imagination is it an easy path to tread. Mahatma Gandhi in his own words says,

Recurrent effectiveness of Ahimsa

The power of Ahimsa thus has had its recurrent effect not just in India, but in different parts of the world repeatedly.

The Ahimsa movement which had its effectiveness in the 1930s and 1940s in India, led to the cascading effect of dismantling colonialism the world over.

The equal rights for Afro-Americans, that was fought in 1960 in America, under the leadership of Martin Luther King Junior, also had non violence as its basic tool to fight the unequal policy of the land then.

The non violent resistance movement of solidarity in Poland following the principle of Mahatma Gandhi started the dismantling process of communism in the 70s and 80s in Eastern Europe.

In South Africa, the apartheid, the apartness policy was torn apart by the non co-operation movement again inspired by Gandhi’s Ahimsaprinciples.

Ahimsa has had its positive impact right through the ages not only in India but across the globe to this day and shall do so in future too whenever the hand of oppression rises.

D.K. Hari and D. K. Hema Hari are authors, research collators and founders of Bharath Gyan.They may be contacted on bharathgyan@gmail.com and followed on twitter on @bharathgyan or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Bharathgyan.

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