Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, arts, and wisdom, is worshipped by many Indians but not in the unique way Japanese do: in the pool of water.
There is a large number of shrines to Saraswati in Japan, tells art-historian Benoy K Behl at the Indian Museum here where a rare display of his photographs reveals little known facts about the influence of Hinduism and Hindu deities in that country.
Due to goddess Saraswati’s association with the mythical river Saraswati, she is worshipped in pools of water in Japan, Behl says.
"There are scores of Hindu deities which are very actively worshipped in Japan. In fact, there are hundreds of shrines of Saraswati alone," he says.
He shows a photo of the goddess with a veena at a shrine in Tokyo as he says the one in Osaka must be the most the impressive and the tallest shrine of Saraswati in the world.
Saraswati is worshipped as Benzaiten, he goes on to tell, whereas Lord Ganesha is worshipped as Shoten. Garuda is known as Karura in Daiyuzan-Saijoji temple near Odawara.
As he shows photographs from his last year’s visit to the country for the Japan Foundation Fellowship, he says people there worship other Hindu deities, we in India rarely do.
"In fact, deities we have forgotten in India, such as Vayu and Varuna, are still worshipped in Japan," Behl said.
Besides religion, Japanese have also preserved the Siddham, a 5th century Sanskrit script.
At Gokokuji in Tokyo, a photo shows Japanese tombs with the Sanskrit letters.
"The Japanese cannot read this alphabet, but it is still used to respect the dead. It is very interesting that 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," the historian said.
The exhibition which will run till February 21 shows innumerable photographs of goddess Lakshmi, lord Indra, Brahma, Ganesha, Garuda, and other deities.