From Goddess to Dragon: Benzaiten

Bernard Faure

The Island Shrine of Itsukushima (founded around 811 CE) lies just a short ferry ride from mainland Hiroshima, on the island of Miyajima, famous worldwide as Japan’s Shrine Island, and known by its famous red torii (Shinto gate) standing in the sea.

The shrine is dedicated to Benzaiten, the complex and very distinctly Japanese expression of the Hindu goddess Saraswati.

The image of Benzaiten (Sarasvati) as a goddess of music and of the arts in general was favored not only by court musicians but also by the blind musicians called biwa hoshi… Eventually her popularity spread, and she became a protecting deity for other groups of the blind as well, including minstrel monks (moso) and the female mediums and massage spe­cialists of northern Japan.

Click here to read the chapter about Benzaiten.

Originally published as a chapter of Protectors and Predators: Gods of Medieval Japan, Volume 2. University of Hawai’i Press, 2015. Republished here with thanks.