Stories, symbols and rituals are the primary way to transmit ideas across generations and the Hindu religion uses symbols in form of idols extensively. So to represent Wisdom, you can look at a few attributes like,
WIDE EARS – Ability to assimilate a lot of input or listen
SMALL MOUTH – Talk less
FLEXIBLE TRUNK – High Adaptability
LARGE STOMACH – Ability to digest both good and bad
These traits collectively find the depiction in the popular elephant-headed Hindu god of wisdom Ganesha. From childhood, Ganesha has been worshipped at my home annually and I continue this tradition today at my home in Japan for the past 15 years. The below Ganesha idol at my home in Tokyo is installed every Ganesh Chaturthi and is worshipped for ten days.
GANESHA IN JAPANESE CULTURE : Buddhism and many other Hindu gods made their way through the trading route called as “Silk Road” around the 140 BC. Ganesha, worshipped then by the trading community made its way to Japan and even today he is worshipped in Japan as Kangiten, as a god of Conjugal Harmony, Child-Giving and Long Life. Ganesha is also called as Vinayaka in India, which has been translated in Japanese as Binayakaten 毘那夜迦天.
I have been visiting the Buddhist temple Matsuchiyama Shōten which is said to be 1400 years old !!! It is on record that the great techer of Buddhism Jikkaku Daishi visited this temple in 859 AD and carved a Ganesh (Dai-Sho-Kangiten) idol in wood. The temple is located in the popular Asakusa district of Tokyo. Check the Google Maps location here. For reference, Dai means great, Sho means saint, Kangiten means God of bliss.
NOTE : BEFORE YOU GO VISIT THIS TEMPLE, In Japan Kangiten is usually shown as a pair of two-armed, elephant-headed deities in embrace. Images of Kangiten are rare and many are kept as secret images in temples and shrines. Do not expect to see the idol here since this temple also keeps Kangiten, Ganesh as a secret god not displayed to the public.
The most interesting piece is the entrance at the back door! There is a train, which climbs up the “small” hill which is not even two floor tall. If you enter from the front, you will miss this train, go from the back end of the temple if you want to see this wonderful train.Beautiful carvings dot the entrance steps, primarily the carving of the golden money bag and yes radish carving. If that surprises an visitors from India, in Japan, Ganesh or Kangiten is depicted as a two-armed god holding a trident and a radish. The white color of radish denotes extinguishing of “red” fire and as a vegetable for consumption radish has many medicinal properties which keeps keep you healthy (Kangiten – God of Joy and bliss).Radish is readily available at the temple as an offering, which you can buy at 300 yen a piece.
This temple has become well known from the latter half of the Edo period (1603–1869). People visited this temple to pray for the well-being of themselves and their families. In those days, there was a thick forest around, which has now been replaced by the Asakusa neighborhood. Today, Matsuchiyama Shōten has around 2000 believerswho believe in peace and prosperity through various activities, following the teachings of Buddha. Buddhism and Hindu gods are so interwined in Japan.Entrance decorated with many lanterns in September. I visited this on the Ganesh Chaturthi day (the day when Ganesh or Kangiten is worshipped in India), and coincidentally there was a festival going on in the shrine. Offerings to Kangiten or Ganesha in India is in multiples of 21. According to a story, a group of sages came and they offered 21 blades of Dhurva grass to Ganesha to help him with his stomach pain. As soon as he ate them, the burning in his stomach subsided. I do not know the interpretation of the story or its hidden meanings, but a ritual I follow in terms of the offering. Even the money that I offer, 21 yen…. I do it the Indian way.Since taking photographs was not allowed inside the shrine I took one snap standing outside with devotees inside sitting down to pray.Some other statues on the way out of the temple. The see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil statues on the left caught my wife’s attention. Although In Buddhist tradition, the tenets of the proverb are about not dwelling on evil thoughts, in the western world it is interpreted as a lack of moral responsibility on the part of people who refuse to acknowledge impropriety, looking the other way or feign ignorance. A classic example of subjective interpretations. What seems logical is not necessarily global.On the way back, made my way across the Sumida River and the modern Skytree makes its presence felt in this part of the neighborhood in the past four years. A couple who was with us at the shrine also led the way ahead to take a stroll around the river, dressed in nice kimono’s give me a nice photo opportunity.On returning home, we offer the Ganesh god at our home sweet modak made of jaggery and coconuts. In Japan they are made from curds, honey and parched flour. Quite close!