Ganesh worship in China and Japan


A Letter From Grandpa

Niranjan Shah, a civil engineer, who pioneered famous high-rise buildings in Baroda, is a broadcaster in India and the USA and a prolific writer. Under “A Letter from Grandpa.” he has been writing since 2002 on India’s historical, philosophical, and literary heritage. He can be reached at   

By Niranjan Shah
My dear Siddarth and Sonum:
In this column dated November 6, 2010 of India Tribune, we saw Ganesh worship in Central America and Europe. Readers Sargam and Dr. Shalin Shah were surprized to see Ganesh worship in China and Japan. Alongwith Vedic culture, Ganesh also went around the world. A Japanese scholar Okakura observes in his Ideals of the East on page 113: “The religion and culture of China are undoubtedly of Hindu (Vedic) origin.” E.B. Havell, who was principal of the School of Art in Calcutta and Madras during the British administration in India, observed in Bharat as Seen and Known by Foreigners on pages 24-25: “In the early centuries of the Christian era from the Indian source came the inspiration of the great school of Chinese painting, which from the 7th to the 13th centuries stood first in the whole world. Through China and Korea, Indian art entered Japan. China is mentioned in the Ramayan as the land of Kosa-kara (i.e. workers of Silk from Silk-worms) and also in the Mahabharat.” 

A Chinese coin of the second century found in Mysore also indicates that China was a part of the ancient Vedic world. Uttarapatha was the Sanskrit name of the ancient international highway, which connected India with China, Russia and Iran. Correspond-ingly the Sapta Sindhu region comprised the Pamir Plateau, Western and Eastern Turkistan and Afghanistan. Khotan is a malpronunciation of the Sanskrit name Gosthan while Prakanva was the original Sanskrit name of Ferghana. In the Luristan region of Wesatern Iran in archeological excavations undertaken in 1970, a strip bearing the engraven figure of the elephant god Ganesh was discovered. It was estimated to be of about 1200 B.C. The strip is now on display in museum in Paris. The Japanese and Chinese know Lord Ganesh as Shoten alias Kanjiten in modern parlance. By themselves those words would not have enabled any individual to visualize that the deity meant was Ganesh; so far away have those Chinese and Japanese words deviated from the original Sanskrit. It is only because we have icons of Lord Ganesh to go with those terms, that we can identify them as signifying the deity Ganesh. Over 200 temples in Japan still have in them such icons of Lord Ganesh in the twin male-female standing embrace form. Such images of Ganesh, though not known to exist anywhere in India at present, must be found somewhere in India because they could not have all migrated to China and Japan leaving some prototypes back in India.

Ganesha appears in China and Japan in forms that show distinct regional character. In northern China, the earliest known stone statue of Ganesha carries an inscription dated to 531. In Japan, the Ganesh cult was first mentioned in 806. In China, an image of Ganesh may be seen in the rock-cut temple at Tun-huang and another in a similar rockcut temple in Kung-hsien. Around the Ganesh are depicted other Vedic deities too such as the Sun, the Moon, Cupid and the nine planetary divinities. 

Ganesh used to be consecrated and worshipped on a special altar in the royal palace in Japan, in July/August on the Ganesh Chaturthi day as per Vedic tradition since time immemorial. Even now Ganesh alias Shoten is invoked and worshipped by the Japanese in the Vedic tradition, when seeking good luck, fortune or success in professional endeavours. Merchants of Kansai worship Shoten in Hosahanji temple on Mount Ikomel in Nara. The biggest Ganesh temple in Japan is in Osaka City, where a permanent priest is on duty to conduct ritual worship of the deity.
Kangiten statues in Japan clearly reflect the deity’s Hindu origins, for in India the deity is known as the elephant-headed Ganesh. In Japan, Kangiten is typically depicted with an elephant’s head and human body, or as a pair of two-armed, elephant-headed deities in embrace.
– Grandpa’s blessing


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