Kangiten – The Hindu Deities in Japan – 2005

In 2004, I came across a “kangiten” on Miyajima near Hiroshima at the entrance to Miyajima Misen Daisho-in Temple. On August 16, 2005, I posted a blog article to our previous uniyatra.org website. I am reposting this article here. For an update, please see “Kangiten – The Hindu Deities in Japan – Research Update”.

Hindu Symbolism in Miyajima – TUESDAY, AUGUST 16, 2005

Professor Phyllis Larson notes that the characters read かんぎてん (kangiten) and the first two both mean joy or pleasure. Apparently this refers to religious joy. In my Japanese dictionary there is a reference to a religious person who receives the sutra with joy and protects it. In another dictionary, the word is listed as a Buddhist term that refers to heaven in the Jodo sect. The first dictionary also said that the top half is always an elephant, and the lower, human. But clearly this is a sign of Buddhist origins in Hinduism, don’t you think?

Other details on this include:

Ganesh Worship in Japan by Satish Purohit:

Scholars commonly date the presence of Ganesha in Japan with the age of Kukai (774- 834), the founder of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. The centrality of the worship of Ganesha or Vinayaka or Kangiten, as he is popularly called in Japan, is a distinguishing feature of this cult. The doctrines, rituals and beliefs of the sect have a number of parallels with the cult of Ganpatyas, to which belonged saints like Gajanan Maharaj of Shegao, Maharashtra.

China, the land through which the Elephant-headed divinity entered Japan has Ganesha Sculptures dating back to the fourth century, which surprisingly predates any depiction of Ganesh in India. Both the lands recognize Ganesha as having converted to Buddhism.

Ganesha’s most popular form in Japan is the dual-Vinayaka or the Embracing Kangi. Two tall figures, elephant headed but human bodied, male and female, stand in embrace. The female wears a jeweled crown, a patched monks robe and a red surplice.

One definition of kangiten is

Also read Kankiten. Also Shouten/Shouden 聖天. Abbreviation of Daishoukangiten 大聖歓喜天. The elephant-headed Indian deity Ganesa, who is also sometimes called Nandikesvara, Ganapat or Vinayaka. A son of Siva still worshipped as a deity who foils obstacles to ones actions and grants good fortune to new beginnings. He appears in the *Ryoukai mandara 両界 曼荼羅 as an elephant-headed deity called Binayakaten 毘那夜迦天. In China and Japan he came to be revered under the the name of Kangiten. Although in texts, two, four and six-armed forms are mentioned, 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. Many are small, and made of metal because his ritual involves pouring oil over the images. The ritual associated with Kangiten was secret and was part of other ritual observances, such as the goshichinichi no mishuhou 後七日の御修法 . In popular worship he signifies conjugal harmony and long life. There is an iconographic drawing of Kangiten in Touji 東寺, Kyoto, by Chinkai 珍海 (1091-1152).

Hokaiji in Kamakura contains a kangitenimage in its Kangiten Hall

At the southeast corner of the Temple grounds or on the right of the main hall stands a small structure, in which the statue of Kangiten (Nandikesvara in Skt.), an ICA, is enshrined. The statue with 152-centimeter height, made during the first half of the 14th century, is unique in that it has two elephant faces on two human bodies hugging each other. Originally, Kangiten was a god of Hinduism and was later employed by Buddhism. In Japanese folklore, Kangiten is believed to invite a conjugal affection and bless couples with children. Unfortunately, the statue is not on public display and the feretory door is always closed.

Kangiten can also be found at Gumyo-ji in Yokohama:

And, although not ordinarily on view to the public, the temple has a Buddhist statue called the Kangiten. This Buddhist image, which is originally a Hindu Deity, is carved in the unusual form of a man and woman embracing each other. Incidentally, if reservations are made for five or more people, it is possible to have a shojin Buddhist-style meal at the temple, consisting of purely vegetarian fare, without meat, fish or eggs. On such occasions, visitors are given the opportunity to see the Kangiten.

Finally, this book (which I have not yet read) contains a chapter on Hinduism in Japan: Ganesa : Unravelling an Enigma (ISBN 81-208-1413-4). Thanks to Google Scholar, the following exerpts relate to kangiten in Japan:

Ganesa is called Shoten (noble god), Daishoten (great noble god) and Tenson (venerable god) in popular parlance in Japan. […] He is an important diety in the mantrayana (esoteric) school of Japanese Buddhism. […] Shoten is also quite popular in the non-esoteric sects. In 1979, Ganesa was being worshipped in as many as 243 temples in Japan. [p. 163]

In Japan, Ganesa is known generally by three names: Binyakaten, the generic appellation Binayaka meaning Vinayaka, Shoten (Aryadeca) and Kangiten. His other names are Ganabachi or Ganapati and Ganwha (Ganesa). […] The third epithet Kangiten applies to a unique type of Ganesa evolved in China and Japan known as the double (two-paired). Kangiten is a god of happiness; or joy who brings prosperity and promotes well-being. Thus, the Japanese Ganesa, like the Indian prototype, is both a vighnakarta, obstacle creator and vighnaharta, obstacle remover, in his tantric form he radiates happiness, joy. [p. 164]