The only Goddess amongst the set of Seven Lucky Gods, Benzaiten is the Goddess of Beauty, Art, Music and Knowledge. She is also invoked as the River Goddess, patron of children and the Protector of the Nation.
Usually portrayed as a beautiful woman shown seated on a Dragon or a serpent and plays a lute; or is shown with eight arms holding implements such as the sword, bow, arrow, spear, axe, iron wheel, long pestle and silk rope and is called the Happi Benzaiten. She is sometimes depicted naked in her esoteric form and then known as Uga Benzaiten. Most of the shrines and temples dedicated to Benzaiten are close to the sea, rivers and lakes as her messenger, the snake lives there.
With humble beginnings, Benzaiten quickly came to be popular in 1392-1568 which was during the Muromachi era and by the Edo period (1600-1886 AD), she was a favored deity amongst the business and educated class leading prosperity led to her inclusion amongst the Seven Lucky Gods. She is also known to grant wishes through a jewel that she carries sometimes called pearl and others say it’s a jade.
Originating from the Hindu Goddess of Learning, poetry and music, Goddess Saraswati, Benzaiten was adopted into the Japanese culture with the advent of Buddhism in the 6th century. The Hindu Goddess Saraswati was based on the mythical river Saraswati which came to be symbolic with learning and knowledge. She is worshipped according to the sutras of the Golden Light, which is basically for protecting the nation. There is mention of her in the Lotus Sutras and closely adapted from Hindu religion.
As the River Goddess, she came to be associated with everything that flows- music, eloquence, speech and knowledge. The deity is enshrined on the Island of Enoshima located within the Sagami Bay, just about 50 km from Tokyo. In the history of Enoshima shrines, Enoshima Engi the central figurine is a Dragon and Benzaiten. It was written in by a Japanese Buddhist monk, Kokie.
Beautiful, powerful and has the divine powers to bestow prosperity with her celestial jewels, Benzaiten has been worshipped individually for centuries in Japan and later became a part of the much sought after Seven Lucky Gods to complete the balance of divinity. Today numerous statues and idols are carved in a number of materials as both a lucky charm and auspicious omen at home and at work to be invoked to be blessed with knowledge and prosperity.
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