On 4th May, hubby and I visited Todaiji Temple in Nara City. Todaiji or the Great Eastern Temple is a Buddhist temple complex that is one of the most famous and historically significant temples and a landmark of Nara City in Nara prefecture. One of the buildings named Daibutsuden located inside the temple complex houses the world's largest bronze statue of Buddha named Daibutsu. The temple serves as the headquarters of the Kegon school of Buddhism in Japan. The temple is a designated as UNESCO world heritage site and forms part of the ‘historic monuments of ancient Nara’ listing.
The origin of Todaiji Temple lies in Kinshosenji Temple which was founded during the Nara period (710-794) in 728 for the repose of the spirit of Crown Prince Motoi, son of Emperor Shomu. In 741 when the emperor issued his edict ordering the construction of a national system of monasteries called Kokubunji, Kinshosenji Temple was elevated in status. This temple was turned into the head provincial temple of Yamato province and given the name Kinkomyoji. In 743, the emperor issued his proclamation for the erection of a colossal image of the Great Buddha Daibutsu. Meanwhile the temple began to be called Todaiji from around the end of 747 when the construction of its major buildings was begun. The Daibutsu image construction was completed in 749 and was dedicated in 752 in a lavish consecration (eye opening) ceremony at the Daibutsuden Hall that was also constructed at the same time. Subsequently, pagodas, lecture hall, and monks’ quarters were also built at the temple complex. In 855 the head of the Daibutsu fell off in a major earthquake but the image was quickly restored. In subsequent years fires and lightning destroyed the lecture hall, the monks’ quarters and the west pagoda. In 1180 more than half of the compound including the Daibutsuden Hall was destroyed in a fire due to the attack on the temple by Taira no Shigehira. Restoration of the temple was begun by Monk Chogen in 1181 and the Daibutsu image was consecrated in 1185. In the following year Suo province provided income for the reconstruction of Todaiji and the pace of the work increased. Ten years later the reconstruction of the Daibutsuden Hall was completed. As the temple was reconstructed, scholastic activities were revived and during the Kamakura period (1185-1333) the temple trained many monks. Most of the temple buildings again burned down during a battle between the Miyoshi clan and Matsunaga clan in 1567. However, the restoration was extremely difficult because the country was at war that time. Finally in the mid Edo period (1603-1868), Monk Kokei solicited donations and monetary assistance from some powerful feudal warlords and a proper restoration of the temple begun. Because of all these efforts, the present Daibutsu image was consecrated in 1692 and the Daibutsuden Hall was dedicated in 1709. During the Meiji period (1868-1912), due to the separation of Shinto and Buddhist religions and the confiscation of temple lands, the existence of Todaiji Temple was threatened. However, the temple managed to carry out major repairs to the Daibutsuden Hall at the start of 20th century and again in the 1970s. Todaiji Temple today preserves many precious cultural treasures and artifacts from the temple’s past. Eight buildings as well as 23 statues and other works of art located inside the temple complex have been designated as national treasures. Many people from throughout Japan and the world visit the temple to pay their respects every year.
As I wrote in the previous post, hubby and I visited Nara Koen Park on 4th May. We walked around inside the park and saw many deer graze along the spacious lawns and frolic on the grass of the park. After about an hour of enjoying walking surrounded by aesthetically beautiful sceneries and the green landscape of the park, we reached right in front of Todaiji Temple complex. The temple grounds are spacious and cover most of northern Nara Koen Park. Within the temple precincts, aligned along one-kilometer north-south and east-west axes centered on Daibutsuden Main Hall, are an array of halls and storehouses buildings.
I am standing next to a stone monument with ‘Todaiji’ engraved on it. This monument is located at the entrance area of the temple premises.
We entered Todaiji Temple premises through a massive wooden gate named Nandaimon or the Great South Gate. It is the main gate of the temple. The original gate was erected during the Nara period but was destroyed by a typhoon during the Heian period (794-1185). The construction of the existing gate was completed at the beginning of the 13th century during the Kamakura period. The gate was constructed based upon Song dynasty architectural models, which was newly introduced to Japan by Monk Chogen at the end of the 12th century. The ridgepole was raised in 1199 and the structure was completed in 1203 along with the statues of two Kongo Rikishi Nio guardian deities housed in the gate. The gate with its double hip-and-gable Irimoya-zukuri roof is five bays wide and two bays deep. Originally there were three pairs of doors. The 18 pillars that support the roof measure 21 meters and the entire structure rises 25.46 meters above the stone platform on which it stands. Nandaimon Gate is the largest temple entrance gate in Japan and is designated as a national treasure. Two huge wooden statues of muscular Nio guardians are housed on either side of Nandaimon Gate. The statues are said to have been sculpted in just 69 days under the direction of the sculptors Unkei, Kaikei, and their workshop members. Both the statues measure about 8.5 meters in height, and were sculpted around the same time as that of Nandaimon Gate, that is, during the beginning of Kamakura period in 1203. From the time of their completion until recently the statues had never been moved from the niches in which they were originally installed. In fact, little restoration had been done to the statues and so they were in poor condition. Therefore the two figures were evaluated and extensively restored during a restoration project between 1988 and 1993. Both these statues are designated as national treasures. We appreciated the architectural design of Nandaimon Gate and loved seeing the two massive wooden Nio statues. One of them was closed-mouthed Ungyo Nio statue and the other was open-mouthed Agyo Nio statue. Both the Nio statues, with fierce facial expressions, are supposed to protect the temple premises from evil spirit. We also saw Shishi lions located on the interior backside of either side of the gate. Shishi lions are also supposed to ward off evil spirit.
I am standing in front of Nandaimon Gate
Hubby standing in front of the gate
Daikegonji is written on the upper roof of the gate. Daikegonji means big temple of Kegon Buddhism.
Open-mouthed Agyo Nio statue located on one side of the gate
Fierce facial expression of Agyo Nio statue
Closed-mouthed Ungyo Nio statue located on the other side of the gate
Fierce facial expression of Ungyo Nio statue
Two Shishi lions located on the interior backside of either side of the gate
Hubby and the backside of the gate as seen from inside the temple premises
Once we passed through Nandaimon Gate, we saw a paved pathway leading straight towards Daibutsuden Hall located in the northern direction. As we walked along the 200-meter long pathway, we started getting a sweeping view of the horned roof of Daibutsuden Hall in the background and yet another gate named Chumon in the foreground. We also saw a pond named Kagami Ike located towards the eastern side of the pathway. We noted a red Torii Gate beyond the pond which leads to a shrine dedicated to Benzaiten deity. In the foreground of the gate, we saw a stage which seemed to be floating in the pond. The stage is used for performing traditional Gagaku music. We also saw a traditional wooden ship floating in the pond. The ship was publicly constructed by 10 carpenters from China over a period of 3 weeks in the month of March for the project ‘Culture City of East Asia 2016, Nara’. This traditional East Asian ship is a symbolic representation of the ancient Junk ships that still sails in the East China Sea since 2nd century AD. The symbolic ship is afloat in the pond instead of sea, and will be on display until 23rd October, 2016.
Walking along the paved pathway after passing through Nandaimon Gate
The paved pathway along with the horned roof of Daibutsuden Hall in the background and Chumon Gate in the foreground
Horned roof of Daibutsuden Hall, Chumon Gate, and hubby
I am standing next to Kagami Ike Pond
Torii Gate, a stage for performing traditional Gagaku music, and the pond
Symbolic wooden Junk ship floating in the pond
After leisurely walking along the paved pathway for about 15 minutes, we reached in front of Chumon Gate. This wooden gate is located right in front of Daibutsuden Hall. It is a two storied Romon gate that was reconstructed in 1716 and has Irimoya-zukuri hip-and-gable roofed architectural style. It is designated as an important cultural property. Chumon Gate is the entrance gate to the most scared part of the temple premises, which consists of Daibutsuden Hall and a few other structures. The gate is connected to a wooden roofed corridor extending on both sides of the gate in the shape of U and leads to the left and right of the Daibutsuden Hall. Thereby, the corridor enclosure fences off the most sacred part from the rest of the temple premises. We stood next to the gate for some time and appreciated the architectural style of the vermilion colored Chumon Gate and the corridor. We also saw huge wooden statues of Tobatsu-Bishamonten and Jikokuten deities housed on either side of the gate. These deities are two of the four Shitenno deities that are considered to be protectors of the four directions. Tobatsu-Bishamonten deity protects the north side and Jikokuten deity protects the east side. These two statues were constructed by a sculptor named Yamamoto Junkei of Kyoto during Edo period and were dedicated in 1719 in a lavish consecration (eye opening) ceremony. We loved seeing these huge statues housed on either side of Chumon Gate. Afterwards when we tried to enter the most sacred part of the temple premises through this gate, we realized that the gate was closed and visitors were not allowed to enter via this gate. We were a bit confused but soon noted that there were several additional smaller entrance gates located along various directions of the roofed corridor enclosure. So we walked along the pathway towards the southwest corner of the corridor and entered the sacred premises through a small entrance gate located at this corner. We saw a ticket counter located near this gate where we paid 500 Yen per person as admission fee to enter inside the sacred premises.
I am standing in front of the vermilion colored gate
Statue of Tobatsu-Bishamonten deity located on one side of the gate
Statue of Jikokuten deity located on the other side of the gate
Roofed corridor and Chumon Gate as viewed from the southwest corner
Entrance gate located at the southwest corner of the corridor
We entered the most sacred area of the temple premises though a small gate located at the southwest corner of the roofed corridor. Next we walked along the corridor back towards the Chumon Gate and reached near the backside of the gate inside the sacred premises. We noted that Daibutsuden Main Hall is located right across (north of) the Chumon Gate and a 95-meter long paved stone pathway connects the gate to the hall. Initially while walking along the roofed corridor inside the sacred premises, we were stunned to see the massive Daibutsuden Hall right in front of us. However, soon afterwards we got accustomed to seeing the building. We slowly walked along the paved pathway, and appreciated the architectural style of the majestically gorgeous hall. Now I will briefly write about the history of the hall building. Daibutsuden Hall is the main hall of the temple and is also known as Kondo Hall or the Great Buddha Hall. It is a magnificent wooden hall that houses the bronze statue of the Great Buddha Daibutsu. The hall was first built during Nara period in 758. However tragedy befell the hall building twice when it was destroyed by fires of war but fortunately both the times it was rebuilt. First time the hall was burned down in 1180 and was soon rebuilt in 1195. The hall again burned down in 1567. Following this, a temporary shelter hall was built but it was destroyed by a storm in 1610. Afterwards the Daibutsu statue stood unsheltered for almost a century due to lack of funds to reconstruct the hall building. Finally the hall was rebuilt under the direction of Monk Kokei during the Edo period in 1709. The current hall building is this third generation structure. It is a massive structure that is 50.5 meters deep, 57 meters wide and 48.7 meters high. The original hall and the one rebuilt in 1195, were both eleven bays wide but the present structure was reduced in size to seven bays because only limited funds were available at the time due to wars. Although the width of the present hall is 30% smaller than its predecessors, the height and depth of the structure remain the same as those of the original. The hall was ranked as the largest wooden building in the world until 1998. It has been now been surpassed by modern structures, such as the baseball stadium named Odate Jukai Dome located in Akita prefecture. Daibutsuden Hall is designated as a national treasure. We loved viewing this magnificent wooden ornate hall building very much. The horned roof of the hall looked amazing. While walking, we took several photos of the hall from various positions and angles. I have also included a photo that we clicked from the east side while standing outside the sacred premises.
Daibutsuden Hall as viewed from the southwest while walking along the roofed corridor inside the sacred premises
The hall as viewed from the east side from outside the sacred premises
The hall as viewed from the south (front) while walking along the paved pathway
Hubby standing on the pathway along with the hall in the background
We saw a large cauldron of burning incense and ashes located near the backside of Chumon Gate inside the sacred premises of the temple. Smoke from the cauldron is believed to bestow good health. We saw many people lighting incense sticks to the already fuming stock and with their hands wafted the incense fumes over their bodies. I also lit a bunch of incense sticks and wafted the incense fumes from the cauldron over hubby’s body as well as mine. I hope that we will stay healthy for a long time. Afterwards, we started walking along the 95-meter long paved stone pathway leading to the Daibutsuden Hall. After walking along the pathway for about 70 meters, we saw Temizuya water fountain to our right side. Temizuya is used for ritual purification before praying at the hall. At the fountain, we used a bamboo scooper to take some water and poured it over our hands and purified ourselves. We walked further along the pathway for another 5 meters or so and next saw a huge bronze octagonal lantern located in the middle of the pathway. It is an artifact that dates from the time of the founding of Todaiji Temple during Nara period. The large fire chamber of the lantern is covered with a sloping jeweled roof. It rests upon a stone base supported by a stone post emanating from a lotiform pedestal. The eight panels of the fire chamber are grilles of diamond shapes. The four stationary panels are ornamented with celestial musicians while the four pairs of hinged doors are decorated with lions running across clouds. This lantern is designated as a national treasure and we loved seeing it. After another 20 meters of walking further along the pathway, we reached in front of Daibutsuden Hall. We climbed a few stone steps and reached the front verandah of the hall. On this verandah, we saw yet another large cauldron of burning incense and ashes. Here also, I lit a bunch of incense sticks and added it to the already fuming stock. Afterwards, we turned around and stood on the verandah of the hall appreciating the beauty of the sacred premises for quite some time. It felt so serene and peaceful.
I am wafting incense fumes over my body from a cauldron located near the backside of Chumon Gate
Temizuya water fountain
Hubby washing his hands at Temizuya water fountain
I am waiting for my turn to light a bunch of incense sticks into the cauldron of burning incense that is located on the front verandah of Daibutsuden Hall
View from the verandah of Daibutsuden Hall. Temizuya (1), Chumon Gate (2), and the bronze lantern (3) are seen in this photo.
Roofed corridor enclosure towards the east and southeast as viewed from the verandah of the hall
On entering the Daibutsuden Hall, we saw a colossal blackened statue of Daibutsu, the Great Buddha, right in front of us. This huge towering statue is the principal image of the hall. It is a 14.98 meters tall bronze statue of Buddha seated on a lotus throne. Daibutsu is the world’s largest bronze statue of Buddha, and is perhaps the most famous attraction of Todaiji Temple as well as Nara City. Daibutsu is properly known as Rushanabutsu, which later came to be known as Dainichi Nyorai or Mahavairocana or the Cosmic Buddha in Esoteric Buddhism of Japan. The statue is designated as a national treasure. Now I will briefly write about the history of Daibutsu. During the Nara period in 743, Emperor Shomu issued his proclamation for the erection of the Great Buddha Daibutsu. The construction of the colossal statue initially began in Shigaraki-no-miya. After enduring multiple earthquakes and fires, the construction was resumed on the grounds of Kinkomyoji Temple in Nara in 745, and was completed in 749. The construction of the image consumed most of Japan’s bronze production for several years that left the country almost bankrupt. The image was dedicated in 752 with a lavish consecration (eye-opening) ceremony. The statue has been, recast, repaired and renovated several times for various reasons, including earthquake related damages and fires due to wars. In 855 the head of the Daibutsu fell off in a major earthquake but the statue was quickly restored. In 1180, the statue was destroyed in a fire during a war. Soon afterwards, restoration of the statue was begun by Monk Chogen in 1181 during which the body of the statue was reconstructed, and the Daibutsu image was consecrated in 1185. The temple again burned down and the statue was destroyed in a fire during yet another war in 1567. However, during that time the entire country was at war, and the restoration of the image was extremely difficult. In fact, the only repairs that could be made were to cover the head of Daibutsu with copper sheathing and the statue stood unsheltered for almost a century due to lack of funds to reconstruct the hall building. Finally in the mid-Edo period Monk Kokei oversaw the restoration process of the statue during which the head of the statue was rebuilt, and due to his efforts the Daibutsu image was consecrated in 1692. It is interesting to note that little remains of the original Daibutsu image. The base of the statue that remains today dates from the original 8th century statue, the current body was recast in the second half of the 12th century, the current hands were made in the Momoyama period (1568-1603), and the head was made in the Edo period. The 14.98 meters tall Daibutsu is seated on a 2 meters tall pedestal. It has a 5.4 meters long head, and consists of 966 spiral perm balls of hair atop his head. The statue has a golden halo that is 27 meters in diameter and consists of 16 smaller images of Bosatsu. The statue of Daibutsu weighs 250 tons but including the pedestal and all other accessories, the statue weighs almost 500 tons. We loved seeing the huge image of Daibutsu and spent a lot of time observing the intricate details of the statue. We clicked several photos of the statue from various positions and angles.
Seated bronze statue of Daibutsu enshrined inside Daibutsuden Hall
The statue is 14.98 meters tall and has a golden halo
Facial expressions of the Daibutsu are superb
Daibutsu as viewed from the southwest
Daibutsu as viewed from the west
Daibutsu as viewed from the southeast
Daibutsu as viewed from the east
Hubby and Daibutsu as viewed from the east
Inside the Daibutsuden Hall, we noted that the Daibutsu image is flanked by two more great statues of Esoteric forms of Bosatsu. These two statues are golden colored and are placed slightly behind the Daibutsu. To the right side of Daibutsu (to our left side while facing the statues), we saw a huge gilded wooden statue of seated Kokuzo-bosatsu enshrined in the hall. Kokuzo-bosatsu is the deity of boundless space treasury, and symbolizes emptiness and wisdom as vast as the void. The deity is said to grant infinite wisdom, memory and intelligence. The statue is 7.1 meters tall and was sculpted in 1752. To the left side of the Daibutsu (to our right side), we saw another huge gilded wooden seated statue named Nyoirin-kannon enshrined in the hall. Nyoirin-kannon is one of the many Esoteric forms of Kannon Bosatsu. Nyoirin-kannon, is the deity of the jewel and the wheel, and presides over the six realms of Karmic rebirth. The statue is 7.22 meters tall and was sculpted in 1738. Both these statues were sculpted by two families of sculptors of Buddhist statues led by Yamamoto Junkei of Kyoto and Tsubai Kenkei of Osaka. In fact, these statues are two of the series of Buddha statues that the two sculptors made over a period of 30 years. These two statues are golden colored and constructed using Yosegi-zukuri technique, and are typical representative wooden Buddhist sculptures of the Edo period. Both these statues are designated as national important cultural properties. We observed and appreciated both the statues in detail and took several photos from various positions and angles. In fact, we had to circle the statue of Daibutsu in a clockwise direction to reach in front of the statue of Nyoirin-kannon as walking in the opposite direction was not allowed inside the Daibutsuden Hall. Actually we saw the Nyoirin-kannon statue at the very end of our tour of the hall, but for the sake of brevity and clarity I have included the details in this paragraph itself.
Golden colored seated statue of Kokuzo-bosatsu located to the right side of Daibutsu image
Hubby standing in front of Kokuzo-bosatsu statue
Front view of Kokuzo-bosatsu statue
Facial expressions of Kokuzo-bosatsu statue
Golden colored seated statue of Nyoirin-kannon located to the left side of Daibutsu image
I am standing in front of Nyoirin-kannon statue
Front view of Nyoirin-kannon statue
Facial expressions of Nyoirin-kannon statue
Walking around to the back of Daibutsuden Hall, we saw two huge standing wooden statues of Komokuten and Tamonten deities. These deities are two of the four Shitenno deities that are considered to be protectors of the four directions. Komokuten deity is the protector of the west side, and is seen holding a writing brush in the right hand and a scroll in the left hand, which symbolizes the copying of Sutras. Tamonten deity is the protector the north side, and is seen holding a treasure club in the left hand a pagoda in the right hand, which symbolizes the protection of Buddhism and wealth. According to the records of Todaiji, the four Shitenno deities were originally constructed by sculptor Unkei in the beginning of the 13th century. Afterwards, Daibutsuden Hall along with these deities was destroyed by a fire during a war in 1567. While the hall was reconstructed in 1709, the repair and replacement of its damaged interior statues took more than another century. Reconstruction of the statue of Komokuten deity began in 1799 and the work on the statue of Tamonten deity started after that. Both these statues are constructed using colored Yosegi-zukuri technique. However, the temple ran out of funds during the production of these two deities, which is why the statue of Tamonten is the only one painted. The statue of Komokuten is rather complete sans the polychroming. We noted that the other two Shitenno deities were not present inside the hall. This is because Zochoten deity, the protector the south side, and Jikokuten deity, the protector of the east side, were never finished. However, only the heads of these two deities were completed and are on display inside the hall. We loved seeing the details of the two standing statues of Komokuten and Tamonten deities and the fierce expressions on the faces of all the four Shitenno deities.
Standing wooden statue of Komokuten deity
Fierce facial expressions of Komokuten deity
Standing wooden statue of Tamonten deity
Fierce facial expressions of Tamonten deity
Display of the heads of Zochoten deity (left side) and Jikokuten deity (right side)
We saw several interesting displays in the back of Daibutsuden Hall. We saw the display of a full-scaled Shibi roof tile and an Onigawara roof tile. Shibi roof tile is a golden horn-like ornamental tile that is set in pair on both ends of the ridgepole. Although Shibi tile looks like a horn, it actually represents highly stylized fishtail. Onigawara is a type of ornamental ridge-end gargoyle roof tile. We also saw the display of a full-scaled model of the left hand of Daibutsu, which was overwhelmingly huge. Next, we saw display of four miniature-scaled models of the original as well as the reconstructed Todaiji Temple premises. The first model was the reconstruction of the original temple from the Nara period on the scale of 1 to 50. The model was created during Taisho period under the supervision of a specialist named Amanuma Shunichi. We could clearly see that the Daibutsuden Hall was wider than the current building, and there were two pagodas to the east and west that reached 100 meters in height. The second model on display was the Daibutsuden Hall that was rebuilt 820 years ago during the Kamakura period in 1195. The model was scaled to a size of 1/50. The third model on display was the present-day Daibutsuden Hall that was rebuilt 306 years ago during the Edo period in 1709. This model was also scaled to a size of 1/50. The fourth model on display was the present-day Nandaimon Gate that was rebuilt during the Kamakura period in 1203. This model was scaled to a size of 1/20. It was wonderful to see the miniature-scaled models of the original and the reconstructed temple premises. While walking in the back of the hall, we saw one of the supporting pillars of the hall pierced with a hole in its base that is said to be the size of one of the nostrils of the Daibutsu image. Legend has it that those who can squeeze through this opening will be granted enlightenment in their next life. It is a very popular attraction and we saw many people trying to pass through the 0.3 meters high, 0.37 meters wide, and 1.2 meters long hole. It was so funny.
Display of a full-scaled Shibi roof tile (right) and an Onigawara roof tile (left)
Display of a full-scaled model of the left hand of Daibutsu
Display of the model of the original temple premises from Nara period scaled to a size of 1/50
Display of the model of Daibutsuden Hall from Kamakura period scaled to a size of 1/50
Display of the model of the present-day Daibutsuden Hall scaled to a size of 1/50
Display of the model of the present-day Nandaimon Gate scaled to a size of 1/20
A kid trying to squeeze through the hole pierced at the base of a supporting pillar of the hall
The hole at the base of the supporting pillar has the same size as that of one of the nostrils of the Daibutsu image
We left the Daibutsuden Hall after enjoying seeing various statues and structures inside the hall. On the verandah of the hall, we saw a seated statue of Binzuru deity. It is a wooden structure sculpted during the Edo period. The deity is said to have healing powers. It is believed that if a person rubs a part of the image and then rubs the corresponding part of own body, their ailment (if any) will disappear.
I am standing in front of the statue of Binzuru deity
There are many more interesting buildings and structures located inside Todaiji Temple premises but we decided to skip seeing them this time. We left the temple premises and walked up to Kofukuji Temple located nearby. I will write about our visit to Kofukuji Temple in the next post.