Kinryuzan Sensoji Temple, located in Asakusa, Tokyo is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan. Dedicated to Kannon Bosatsu, the Bodhisattva of compassion, the temple is one of the most widely visited spiritual sites in the world with over 30 million annual visitors. Kinryuzan means the ‘Golden Dragon Mountain’. Legend has it that the Sensoji Temple was founded in 628 AD after two fishermen fished a gold statuette of Kannon from the Sumida River. Although the understandably confused fishermen tried to put the statue back into the river, it always returned to them. Therefore, the Sensoji temple was built nearby for the goddess represented by the statue found by the fishermen.
In India, Nepal and throughout Southeast Asia, Buddha is commonly depicted as tall, slender and serene. However, we are also familiar with the image of the “Laughing Buddha” – a short, well-fed, jolly man whose belly one can rub for good luck. This figure is popular in China and those areas to which Chinese cultural influence spread. Artwork of him from past to present shows him laughing gleefully – a stark contrast with the legendary Buddha.
In Japan, the annual meeting between the two stars is equally celebrated as the Tanabata (“Weaving Princess”) Festival. Traditionally, a bamboo plant would be brought into the house, and a picture of the two stars would be hung upon it. The Altair star is represented as a farmer leading a cow, and the Vega star is a princess with a loom. These celebrations originated in the ancient story of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl.
“Each of the criminals is bound to an iron pillar and the ox-headed demon is in the process of administering punishment—using iron or copper blades he peels the skin of the person’s face, just as a butcher kills a pig and then flays it.” This passage is found in a Chinese Shanshu (“good book” or “morality book”) titled Diyu yu-chi (roughly translated as “Record of a Journey to Hell”). The book emerged in tenth century China and talks about the things that one would find in hell which, of course, include many forms of tortures.
One afternoon in the 1960s, the people of Magelang in Java, Indonesia, gathered on the edge of the main road which connects Magelang and Yogyakarta and sounded anything they could find which could make a loud noise. After some time, the wind blew from the south. This southern wind, according to the local legend, was a Lampor. A Lampor refers to trips to several regions in Java which are carried out by the soldiers of Nyi Roro Kidul, the mythical Queen of the Southern Seas, led by her commander Nyi Blorong.
In an ideal world, celebrating one gender should not come at the expense on another. But we are not living in an ideal world. The roles of the women in Mahabharate are defined by their relationships to the men, women are placed merely on the periphery of the epic – typecast as devoted mothers, virtuous wives and innocent maidens. Amba is a different character from the women in the epic. She had to pay the price for her courage to speak her mind against the most powerful man of the age.
The general appearances of ancient Chinese deities lead us to think of them as sober imperial bureaucrats. Mostly, they look like middle aged men dressed in official-looking robes, spending their time reading formal petitions and responding by giving stern orders to their underlings – rather like the more artistic version of our modern politicians. Although several of the most popular deities are female, gender immediately raises problems for the bureaucratic image of some important deities as governing elites tend to favor a religious practice that reflected themselves (male, old, humourless etc). Women, as well as men who are viewed to be rebels or misfits, tends to be excluded from the sites and definitions of power. But a group of joyful misfits changed all that.
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