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A quest for Japan's Indian gods

Jayashree Narayanan, September 9, 2015, DHNS 0:07 IST

Photography exhibition

Indian traditions are famous for their presence in many parts of the world. Out of the many customs adapted and included in other countries, the innate religious practices stand out. Capturing the Indian gods and ancient language in Japan’s culture, cultural historian and photographer, professor Benoy K Behl takes one into such in-depth study.

With a career spanning 36 years in research, Behl started with his study in Japan in 1993. With a fellowship from Japan Foundation last year, he took the study further. Presenting his findings in 2,000 photographs in an exhibition titled Indian Deities Worshipped in Japan at the Japan Foundation Gallery in Lajpat Nagar, he tells Metrolife, “I noticed that there are deep relationships between the culture and the deities which are worshipped in Japan and in India.”

Jawhar Sircar, CEO, Prasar Bharati who inaugurated the exhibition, speaks reminiscently of the contribution of Behl’s relentless study. He says that Behl's contribution to the documentation and understanding of Indian and Asian culture is unparalleled. Mentioning that the photographs reflect a theme which has not been explored before, The Japan Foundation director Yojiro Tanaka says that Behl's work “took the relationship between Japan and India to an altogether new level.” He says that even the Japanese had not been so much aware of the deep cultural connections which Behl has brought out.

Emphasising the fact that at least a score of Hindu deities are actively worshipped in Japan, the framed photographs capture idols and representations of Lakshmi, Indra, Brahma, Ganesha, Garuda and other deities. Deities that Indians have practically forgotten — such as Vayu and Varuna are still worshiped in Japan. Many links in the development of Vajrayana Buddhism can be found in a study of Japanese Buddhism.

In continuance with the tradition of homa in some of the most important Japanese Buddhist sects, who call it goma, Sanskrit sutras are chanted on the occasion and it is much like the havan which we are all familiar with. Some of the photographs depict the original Sanskrit texts and mention that many words in the Japanese language are from Sanskrit. The ancient language is also credited as the basis for the formation of the Japanese alphabet Kana. With such tales from the Japanese land, Behl tells Metrolife, “Fifty of the most important temples of Japan and their chief priests opened their doors fully and very kindly to me and I was able to document this subject in considerable detail.” He adds, “It is wonderful for me to see that the philosophic culture of ancient India is so well preserved in that distant country.”

The exhibition is on till September 12 at The Japan Foundation, 5A Ring Road, Lajpat Nagar IV.

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