Japanese Mythology: Benten

In Japanese mythology Benten was a sea goddess, giver of wealth and romantic happiness, and the protector of sailors and children. She was also the goddess of eloquence. She is one of the Seven Lucky Gods of Japan. She was a daughter of the Dragon King and is often shown riding or accompanied by a dragon or sea serpent. Some say she would use white dragons as messengers. In Japan, she is shown as having 8 arms, two of them in the prayer position. This hints at her real origin in India where she was called Sarasvati, which means “flowing water” or eloquence.

In Japan, ancient mythology is not dead but a part of everyday life. It's legends tie the people and places of today with the past. There is one popular myth about a dragon who lived in a cave on the mainland. He had a bad temper was eating the children in a village now called Koshigoe. Benten, hearing of this in her home in Lake Biwa, grew angry and decided to put an end to it. The villagers saw an eruption and flames in the sea near Koshigoe as a new island formed from an underwater volcano. Benten appeared in the sky above the fire. The eruption created the island of Enoshima where Benten stepped down from the clouds. On the island, she married the dragon and changed his awful ways. Or, in another version, promised she would marry the dragon only if he changed. In either case, the children of Koshigoe were now safe, and the people built a shrine to Benten on Enoshima.

This is not merely mythology, the island of Enoshima really exists, and there is a shrine to Benten there. During low tide Enoshima is a peninsula connected to the mainland, during high tide it is an island again like Mont Saint-Michel in France. At high tide Benten's temples are only just above the water line.

Japanese Mythology: Benten --> Mermaid Mythology

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