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. 

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