History & Culture

Land that reveres Sanskrit

Eight-armed Saraswati, one of the photographs at Benoy K. Behl's exhibition at the CP Art Centre in Chennai Photo: R. Ragu  

How close we are to Japan! The exhibition, ‘Indian Deities Worshipped in Japan,’ is indeed an eye-opener of sorts. The photos and texts provided by Benoy Behl, renowned art historian and film-maker, show how a huge slice of the Hindu pantheon, is actively worshipped in Japan.

Sanskrit is revered there and Siddham, a sixth century script that has disappeared in India, has been preserved. Buddhist priests chant Sanskrit mantras in pristine diction performing havan or homam. Beejakshara mantras are venerated in Japan, only nation where Buddhism is followed in all its forms.

Behl hits the nail on its head when he observes, “People of modern outlook need not be concerned that looking at ancient culture means less economic development. In fact, culture provides discipline, meaning and concentration...” A walk around the neatly mounted and aesthetically displayed photographs leaves one admiring a country that has diligently preserved its heritage even while making long strides towards development.

The display dwells at length on Saraswati, deity that occupies pride of place in the Japanese scheme of worship. Called Benzaiten, the goddess is seen playing a stringed instrument called Biwa. She is seen with two and eight arms. There are temples dedicated to her in Kyoto. The eight-armed goddess is considered protector of the nation. She is also the harbinger of wealth, water being the medium to invoke her. Beautiful pictures of Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan is shaped like the veena in Saraswati’s hand.

Ganesa is Shoten with a trunk, six arms and two tiny tusks. Agni or Katen is depicted as a four-armed male holding a receptacle of fire. Kichijohen refers to Lakshmi. She is calm and meditative with the left hand in abhaya hasta mudra. The Indian goddess of wealth and prosperity is worshipped by Japanese for peace of the land, good season with wind and rain, a good harvest and welfare of all.

Indra (Taishakuten) is depicted as a stern and austere figure with a thin mustache. There is also colourful portrait of this deity enshrined in Todaiji temple. His abode in Daijoji, Tokyo, is said to have been visited by two million people.

Pictures of Garuda are interesting. Mahavishnu’s mount appears fierce, in warrior costume, with a prominent nose. The portly figures of Yama (Emma) and Chitragupta make the display quite comprehensive.

Astride a colourful peacock is a beautifully turned out male figure. Subramanya? No, it is the Buddha. This endearing and rare picture, it is learnt, has been sourced from the Koyasena Museum.

The exhibition, organised by C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyar Foundation and Japan Foundation, is on till February 21, at the Main Gallery of C.P. Art Centre, Eldam’s Road, Alwarpet.

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Printable version | May 12, 2021 2:08:43 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/land-that-reveres-sanskrit/article8253012.ece

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