We approached one of Japan’s iconic temples, Tōdai-ji, via a serene and vegetated pathway. Tōdai-ji was established in 752 and is now a Kegon-shu sect of Buddhism. The centre of a long vermillion coloured building, Chu-mon, is the main entrance into the temple. However, the west end was used today. This building lay opposite a lake, “Kagami- Ike”. Even from a distant, this “Great Eastern Temple” looked impressive. A wide paved path led towards the entrance of the “Daibutsu-den”, Great Buddha Hall. Measuring 57m long and 50m wide make this building the world’s largest wooden structure. This temple is sometimes called Nara “Daibutsu”, Great Buddha of Nara.
Under the Chu-mon Gate, visitors placed incense into a large bronze container. The smell of the incenses and sight of the grand temple added a sense of being aware and being present in a place of worship. I loved this moment – “being prepared for the yet to come”. We made a slow walk towards the grand “Daibutsu-den”.
At its core is a magnificent golden bronze statue of the 15 meters tall Buddha. Worshippers and visitors alike mingled in the dim lit large hall with the air filled with incense. Although built during the Edo Period, these structures, including the Buddha statue, had been rebuilt. Today, although only two- thirds its original size, it is still very impressive and overwhelming.
In one corner, people shook a bamboo canister enthusiastically until a stick emerged with a number on it. This number is checked against a corresponding piece of paper. Their faces said it all. Fortunes are available in English too!
As I walked around this giant statue, I wondered why this wooden building and bronze statue was made the biggest. It did not fit with the Japanese psyche – reverence and worship of nature. The simpler things in life! These structures were intentionally made bigger. Was the motif to be over – powering? A huge human effort and endeavours, and certainly a huge cost must have been incurred in its construction. However, it is a magnificent piece of work.
A passage through a hole in one of the giant cypress pillars ensured partial deliverance from sins. Great effort is summoned by some to squeeze through and much to their delight, having completed the process successfully. I sensed relief. Me, not quite there yet! Towards the exit, queues formed. Temple officials busily offered opportunities for donations. Their novel way was through donating individual grey tiles. Personal words and symbols can be inscribed onto the tiles. I inscribed out our family names. Just before the exit at the Chu-mon gate, I looked at the grey tiles on the monumental structure highlighted by the rather cloudy overcast. Someday, a single tile, somewhere in the Tōdai-ji complex, will carry our family’s names.
I was contended. We passed the lake and reached the Great South Gate, “Nandaimon”. This impressive wooden structure is guarded by two imposing warrior-like statues. Outside the gate, sika deer gathered in numbers as usher’s to Tōdai-ji. More likely that their favourite sika crackers,”shika sanbei” are sold by vendors and fed by enthusiastic visitors. We ended on the main roads and replenished with some ice cream – “macha” ice. It turned out to be just that with no other ingredient. It was too little and too much. This was the only single “dish” that I did not consume completely. Soon, we were back in the din of Nara’s shopping arcades. Today’s excursion had been great, unhurried and quite inspiring. The nostalgia of Nara had truly gripped me.