Benoy K. Behl explores the cultural link

Transcending boundaries: A scene from Benoy K. Behl’s film showcasing the Saraswati deity in Tokyo

Transcending boundaries: A scene from Benoy K. Behl’s film showcasing the Saraswati deity in Tokyo   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Benoy K. Behl talks about his cinematic journey in the land of the Rising Sun

“I could hardly believe it when I saw a shrine of the deity Saraswati in Tokyo in 1994. It was similar to what we witness in temples back home. I found peace and tranquillity there,” said Benoy K. Behl, who was the centre of attraction at India Habitat Centre over the weekend where his coffee table book “Hindu Deities Worshipped in Japan”, published by The Hindu Group, was put on display. His film “Indian Deities Worshipped in Japan”, made for the XPD Division, Ministry of External Affairs, was also screened on the occasion.

The author-cum-filmmaker with his latest book

The author-cum-filmmaker with his latest book  

Excerpts from an interview:

Take us to an archetypal Hindu temple in Tokyo and other Japanese cities?

Like in our temples, incense is used during puja by the Japanese. What is most surprising is that they solemnise havans, which they called Goma. Like our temples, there too Sanskrit mantras are chanted. I was amazed to see that Japanese priests, who cannot read Sanskrit, are able to chant mantras. They are able to do this because the Japanese alphabet kana is created on the phonetics of Sanskrit. The mantras are written phonetically in the prayer books. Therefore, all priests are able to chant in Sanskrit.

In some aspects, they differ. The 6th century Siddham script is also preserved in Japan, though we do not use it in India. Beejaksharas (seed syllables) are regarded as holy and are given great importance. Each deity has a beejakshara and these are venerated by the people, even though most of them cannot read it.

What motivated you to make a film on this subject?

In 2014, the Japan Foundation very kindly gave me a fellowship to study this subject further and to travel in Japan to take more photographs. I remain deeply grateful to the Japan Foundation for their invaluable support for this research and documentation.

The next step in taking this information to the public was the film I was assigned to make for the Ministry of External Affairs, on ‘Indian Deities Worshipped in Japan’. The film remains one of the most popular films which I have made and has been shown at educational institutions and museums across the country.

What is the objective of making this film?

The purpose of making this film is to make Indians and Japanese aware of how close our cultural bonds are with each other. Our relationship with Japan is far closer than Indians seem to be aware of. It is time to understand this and to build upon it. It is time, in fact, for the world to learn from the peaceful and civilised outlook which is rooted in ancient India and in the culture of countries like Japan. It is about time to stop destroying ourselves and the world around us, through unthinking and uncaring commercialism.

Japan is the one country where Buddhism is flourishing in all its facets. Here, technology and transcendence are living together. The deep-rooted spirit of Buddha’s teachings energises the Japanese people. Buddhist temples are numerous and vast numbers of people visit them every day. Besides the Buddha, so many ancient Indian deities and practices are preserved in these temples. An Indian feels quite at home in Japan.

Tell us about your research process

This research has been done by visiting scores of temples in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara in Japan. There have been detailed conversations with Buddhist priests and scholars of Japan. I am very fortunate to have an extremely wide base of study, as I have visited and documented temples and art in all corners of India and in the many countries of Asia. Fortunately, this provides a vast perspective in which it becomes easier for me to connect and to co-relate the cultural representations which I see before me in any one country.

Did you face any obstacles?

I was extremely fortunate that over 50 of the important Buddhist temples of Japan have showcased my works on ‘Buddhist Heritage of India’ and ‘Buddhist Heritage of the World’. Therefore, I was very fortunate to get a great deal of cooperation for the shooting of this film. Dr. Mihoko Hiraoka, Dr. Shobha Rani Dash, Ms. Keiko Ito and Ms. Chisato Nakayama were also extremely helpful and very kind to provide their assistance for the shooting. The respected chief priests of about 50 temples of Japan were extremely kind to give their interviews for this film. This film is, above all, a unique collaboration between scores of people who have come together to point out the amazing cultural connections between Japan and India.

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Printable version | May 27, 2020 6:40:01 PM |

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