Mantra (in Japan)
おん そらそばていえい そわか
Jp. = Benzaiten Chn. = Biàncáitiān
Female. Origin = India. The river goddess Benzaiten is the sole female among the Seven Lucky Gods of Japan. Her temples and shrines are almost invariably in the neighborhood of water -- the sea, a river, or a pond. She is the patroness of music, the fine arts (dancing, acting, visual), and good fortune in general, and is often shown playing a four-stringed lute. She is often represented as a beautiful woman with the power to assume the form of a serpent, or shown seated on a dragon or serpent and playing a lute. In fact, in Japan, the snake is almost always associated with Benzaiten, who was originally a Hindu deity (Sarasvati) who represented learning, music and poetry. Such artistic learning and wisdom often bring prosperity, hence her inclusion in the Japanese group of seven luckies. She also often holds a sacred jewel that grants desires.
In India, her birthplace, she is called Sarasvatī (literally "flowing water"), which is the name of an actual Indian river. She is thus a Goddess of the River. She arrived in Japan soon after the introduction of Buddhism to this island in the 6th century, and her worship was based largely on her attributes as described in the Sutra of Golden Light (金光明最勝王経) as translated into Chinese by Yijing 義浄 in the 7th century. This sutra is regarded primarily as a scripture for state protection, wherein Benzaiten is described with eight arms that hold protective martial instruments including the bow, arrow, sword, ax, spear, long pestle, iron wheel, and silk rope. It was only since Japan's Kamakura period that Benzaiten was represented with two arms and carrying a biwa (Japanese mandolin).
8-Armed Benzaiten (Jp. = Happi Benzaiten 八臂弁財天)
At Hoan-den (Enoshima Island in Japan)
Kanagawa Pretectural Asset, Kamakura Period
Legend says Shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo asked the
Buddhist monk Mongaku to make this statue to curse his enemies
Photo courtesy of Fujisawa City Tourist Association
8-Armed Benzaiten (Jp. = Happi Benzaiten 八臂弁財天)
Stone, 8 arms, Hase Dera (Kamakura, Japan), Date Unknown
Hase Dera Temple claims it was made by Kobo Daishi
ASSOCIATION WITH SNAKES. In Japanese artwork, Benzaiten is occasionally surrounded by white serpents, or crowned with a white serpent. Some images of Benzaiten are also accompanied, although rarely, by a large white serpent with the head of an old man. On days of importance to the serpent in Japan, one can find many festivals at the numerous Japanese shrines and temples dedicated to Benzaiten (Benten), in which votive pictures with serpents drawn on them are offered. It is also said that putting a cast-off snake skin in your purse/wallet will bring you wealth and property. Finally, during the Kamakura Period, artists for the first time began to create "naked" sculptures of Buddhist and Shinto deities. The object of their artistic talents was often Benzaiten, although other deities, like Jizo Bosatsu, were also sculpted in the nude.
Nude Benzaiten, Hase Dera (Kamakura, Japan)
Myōon Ten 妙音天 (aka Benzaiten)
At Hoan-den (Enoshima Island in Japan)
Photo courtesy this web site
OTHER BENZAITEN MYTHOLOGY & ASSOCIATIONS
- Benzaiten appears in the Konkomyo-o-kyo (金光明最勝王経, translated into Chinese by Yijing 義浄 in the 7th century AD) where she was the sister of Enma-ten (Yamaraja), the King of the Buddhist hells, from where her worship began in China in the 8th century. In the Konkomyo-saisho-o-kyo Sutra in Japan, she is said to protect those who possess this sutra and to help them acquire all sorts of material gain. (Source: Flammarion Iconographic Guides, Buddhism).
- Sea Dragon and Enoshima Island
Below text courtesy of "Myths and Legends of Japan"
by F. Hadland Davis, first published in 1913 by
George G. Harrap & Company, London
Near Kamakura in a certain cave there lived a formidable dragon, which devoured the children of the village of Koshigoe 腰越. In the 6th century AD, Benzaiten was determined to put a stop to this monster's unseemly behavior, and having caused a great earthquake she hovered in the clouds over the cave where the dread dragon had taken up his abode. Benzaiten then descended from the clouds, entered the cavern, married the dragon, and was thus able, through her good influence, to put an end to the slaughter of little children. With the coming of Benzaiten there arose from the sea the famous Island of Enoshima, which has remained to this day sacred to Benzaiten, the Goddess of the Sea. <end Hadland quote>
- Uga Benzaiten 宇賀弁財天
During Japan's Heian era, the powerful Tendai sect on Mt. Hiei merged the Buddhist deity Benzaiten with an obscure local kami (spirit) named Ugajin to create the syncretic deity known as Uga Benzaiten, a deity of good fortune and wealth. For much more on this composite Buddhist/Shinto deity, please see the Kokugakuin University database. This latter entity is also called Hakuja 白じゃ (white serpent; also known as Ugajin 宇賀神), considered her companion. (Editor's Note: Unable to confirm the Japanese spelling of Hakuja.) Even today, when many of the myths surrounding Benzaiten are mostly forgotten, the Japanese believe that seeing a white snake is an omen of great luck -- but not many will remember why. Says the Flammarion Iconographic Guides by Louis Frederic: "Ugajin, as a separate entity, usually appears in artwork as an old man surrounded by a large white snake, with only the head appearing."
(L) Uga Benzaten, Nude; at Kamaishi Daikannon Complex, Kamaishi City, Iwate
(R) Found on Japanese web site, but no resources were provided; site no longer online
- BELOW TEXT COURTESY OF:
Benzaiten is the Japanese name of Sarasvati (also read "Saraswati"), which was originally a mighty river in ancient India (see Vedic Saraswati River). Later she became the eponymous deity of that river. Benzaiten arrived in Japan during the 6th through 8th centuries, mainly via the Chinese translations of the Sutra of Golden Light (金光明經), which has a section devoted to her. She is also mentioned in the Lotus Sutra. As a river-deity, she came to be the goddess of everything that flows: words (and knowledge, by extension), speech, eloquence, and music. The characters used initially to write her name, read Biancaitian in Chinese and Benzaiten in Japanese (辯才天), reflected her role as the goddess of eloquence. Because the Sutra of Golden Light promised protection of the state, in Japan she became a protector-deity, at first of the state and then of people. Lastly she became one of the Seven Gods of Fortune, and the Sino-Japanese characters used to write her name changed to 弁財天 (no change in pronunciation), which reflects her role in bestowing monetary fortune. She is enshrined on the Island of Enoshima (江の島) in Sagami Bay, about 50 kilometers south of Tokyo, and she and a dragon are the central figures of the Enoshima Engi (江嶋縁起), a history of the shrines on Enoshima written by the Japanese Buddhist monk Kokei (皇慶) in 1047 A.D. For more details on the Enoshima Engi, please click here (outside linke).
- In Japan, the worship of the Goddess Kichijouten and of the Goddess Marishiten has been largely supplanted by Benzaiten worship.
- In her role as one of Japan's Seven Lucky Gods, she represents the Virture of Amiability.
- Benzaiten 弁才天
Below Text Courtesy of JAANUS
Also written 瓣財天. Skt. = Sarasvati. A Buddhist goddess of music, learning, eloquence, wealth, longevity, and protection from natural disasters. Among her many variant names are Daibenzaiten 大弁才天, Myouonten 妙音天, Bionten 美音天, and, most common, Benten 弁天. A river goddess in Indian mythology, she was adopted into Japan's Buddhist and then Shinto pantheons. This origin helps to explain why many Japanese temples and shrines dedicated to Benzaiten (including those at Itsukushima 厳島, Enoshima 江ノ島, and Chikubushima 竹生島 are located near water. As described in the KONKOUMYOU SAISHOUOUKYOU 金光明最勝王経 (translated into Chinese by Yijing 義浄 in 7c), Benzaiten has eight arms with hands that hold a bow, arrow, sword, ax, spear, long pestle, iron wheel, and silk rope. The earliest Japanese example, an 8th-century sculpture at the Sangatsudou 三月堂 of Toudaiji 東大寺 is of this type. In another form, Benzaiten is represented as a plump woman dressed in a flowing Chinese-style gown and holding a four-stringed lute, biwa 琵琶. This iconic type first became popular in the 13th century, a well-known example being the sculpture with wood body dressed in silk robes at Tsurugaoka Hachimanguu 鶴岡八幡宮. She is sometimes depicted seated on a white serpent. In esoteric Buddhism, Benzaiten was associated with Fifteen Sons or Disciples, Juugo Douji 十五童子. They are:
Benzaiten gained in popularity during the Muromachi period (1392-1568). By the Edo period (1600-1868), her large following among the merchant and urban classes ensured her inclusion among the Seven Gods of Good Fortune (Shichifukujin 七福神), and new temples and shrines were dedicated to her. <end JAANUS quote>
- Aikyou 愛敬
- Hanki 飯櫃
- Hikken 筆硯
- Guiba 牛馬
- Inyaku 印鑰
- Juusha 従者
- Keishou 計升
- Konsai 金財
- Kantai 官帯
- Sanyou 蠶養
- Sensha 船車
- Shusen 酒泉
- Shoumyo 生命
- Touchu 稻籾
- Zenzai 善財
- Editor's Note: At Hase Dera in Kamakura,
Benzaiten is associated with 16 Daughters or Disciples.
Ivory Benzaiten in collection of
Andres Bernhard AKA Rapick - Italy
Modern Japanese Netsuke Piece of Benzaiten
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