Japan

Syllables for gods

Print edition : October 16, 2015

Siddham, 5th century Sanskrit script, Gokokuji, Tokyo. On Japanese tombs you find the Sanskrit alphabet. The Japanese cannot read this alphabet but still use it to respect the dead. The 5th century Siddham script, which has disappeared in India, is still in use in Japan. At Koyasan, they still have a school where Sanskrit is taught with Siddham. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Sanskrit Beejakshara, Inoji Yama temple, Kyoto. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Sanskrit prayers and pronunciation in Japanese, Gokokuji, Tokyo. The mantras are in Sanskrit as the Japanese feel that translating them will destroy their effectiveness. The pronunciation given in Japanese helps the priests to chant the mantras. The Japanese wrote Sanskrit through simplified Chinese characters, which developed into the Japanese alphabet Kana. Accordingly, the structure of sounds of Sanskrit and Japanese Kana are almost exactly the same. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Sanskrit Beejakshara, Sensoji, Tokyo. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Esoteric Ganesha, or Shoten, Unryun, Sennyuji, Kyoto. Ganesha is an important part of the Esoteric, or Tantric, tradition of Japan. The Japanese pray to him in Sanskrit, with the mantra Om Kri Gyaku Un Swaka. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Beejakshara of Amitabha, Sanboin Hall, Daigoji, Shiga Prefecture. In Japan, they also use the Sanskrit letters for writing the sacred syllables or Beejakshras, which have the power of mantras. Every Buddhist monastery in Japan has a seal with a Beejakshara to use as a short name of the monastery. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Esoteric Ganesha, or Shoten, National Treasure Museum, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Kamakura. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Matsuchiyama Shoten, Ganesha Temple, Tokyo. This may be the oldest temple to Ganesha in the world that has been in continuous use. Ganesha has been worshipped here for the last one thousand years. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Ganesha, or Shoten, temple near Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Kamakura. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Lakshmi, or Kichijoten, Bishamonten or Kubera group, Heian period, 8th-12th century, Kurumadera Temple Museum, Kyoto prefecture. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Lakshmi, or Kichijoten, Horinji Temple, Nara prefecture. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Hariti Onjoji Museum, Shiga prefecture. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Lakshmi, or Kichijoten, 12th century, Daigoji, Shiga prefecture. Photo: Benoy K Behl

Lakshmi, or Kichijoten, Ninnaji Museum, Kyoto. In 768 C.E., the office of the Prime Minister decided that the worship of Sri, or Lakshmi, would be carried out in every temple in the country. Scrolls of Lakshmi were distributed for worship to all temples. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Lakshmi, or Kichijoten, Onjoji Museum, Shiga prefecture, national treasure. Worship of Lakshmi is done in Japan to ensure the peace of the land, wind and rain in good season, good harvests, joy of the people, and the good of all sentient beings. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Agni, or Katen, 12th century, National Treasure from Toji, courtesy Kyoto National Museum. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Agni, or Katen, Meguro Ryusenji, Tokyo. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Agni, or Katen, screen painting, Daigoji, Shiga prefecture. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Brahma, or Bonten, Kofokuji Museum, Nara. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Indra, or Taishakuten, Kofokuji Museum, Nara. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Indra, or Taishakuten, 8th century, Koonji Museum, Saijo, Ehime. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Indra, or Taishakuten, Tsumyoji, Kyoto. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Indra, or Taishakuten, Shibamata Taishakuten Indra Temple, Daikyoji, Tokyo. About two million people visit the temple every year. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Brahma, or Bonten, Todaiji Temple, Hokkedo Hall, Nara. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Mahakala, or Daikokuten Unryun, Sennyuji, Kyoto. The appearance of Mahakala is transformed in Japan, where he is presented as a deity of abundance. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

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