Saturday, December 29, 2012

Stardust

A star, one of a million lights...
She leaves on a blissful yatra... in Her eternal flight,
Her memories remain... as beautiful sparkles into the endless nights,
To be cherished for ever... As priceless treasures and heartfelt sights.

Meeting and parting quote

I pray your New Year be blessed with a lot of happiness, smiles, joys and peace. A personal loss is what is keeping me away from all of you and your blogs right now. Kindly excuse me for the same. Please also accept my apologies as I’ve closed the comments section for this post.

I will be back soon... take care.


Friday, December 21, 2012

A Walk In The Yoshekien Garden in Nara, Japan

Day 5 in Nara: Deer Park - Todaiji Temple in Nara - YOSHIKIEN GARDEN - Kofukuji Temple - Naramachi street

Standing in the shadows of the more famous Ishien garden, Yoshekien garden is a quiet, tranquil place located just 10 minutes away from either the Todai-ji temple and the Kofuku-ji temple (next diary entry). The biggest advantage of this garden over Ishien is that it is absolutely free for the tourists which serves as a boon for the visitors touring the country.

Yoshekien Garden

Formerly serving as the dwelling of priests from the Kofuku-ji temple, the garden went under private possession in the Meiji Era before being taken over by the Nara Prefectural Government in 1918. After construction of buildings and other structures, the Garden finally opened its gates to the general people in 1989. The Garden comprises three areas namely the Pond Garden, the Moss Garden, and the Tea-ceremonial Flower Garden, each sequentially unlocking the gates to the other.


So, come along...

Yoshikien garden in Nara, Japan
Entrance

Let's walk the paths that weave through beautiful vistas and soothing landscapes,

Steps in the Yoshikien garden in Nara, Japan
Way forward in the Yoshikien garden in Nara, Japan
Moss garden at the Yoshikien garden in Nara, Japan
The pathways inside the garden

Let's stand by the tranquil pond,

A view of the Pond garden at the Yoshikien garden in Nara, Japan
Pond Garden

And admire the beauty that the lovely flowers behold...

Beautiful flowers at the Yoshikien garden in Nara, Japan
Moss growth at the Yoshikien garden in Nara, Japan
Moss Garden

Or, let us take a seat in the tea house and drink in the wisdom...

Tea house at the Yoshikien garden in Nara, Japan
Tea house

Nature beckons us sometimes...

Moss garden views at the Yoshikien garden in Nara, Japan
Moss Garden

To walk on it's ways... and understand the ways of life and living.

Once the abode of temple priests, a leisurely walk in the garden gave us the feeling that the place has retained it’s pious vibrations of yore...

Way to the Moss garden at the Yoshikien garden in Nara, Japan

Flourishing with a quiet pond that reveal the splendors of life, stony paths that lead from one step to another, elegant flowers that bloom bright and joyful or the hushed panoramas that echo the pleasing sound of tranquility, a walk in the Yoshekien garden was all about pleasant reflections,

About reflections that juxtapose the outsides and the insides,

Resting place at the Yoshikien garden in Nara, Japan

And, about reflections... that heal the mind, body and the soul.

Pond garden at the Yoshikien garden in Nara, Japan

Previous Posts from the Japan Trip -

1. Planning for Japan: Visa, Flight Bookings, Hotel Reservations, etc.



Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Great Buddha at Todai-ji Temple in Nara, Japan

Day 5 in Nara: Deer Park - TODAIJI TEMPLE - Yoshikien Garden - Kofukuji Temple - Naramachi street

After the deer escapade, we (accompanied by Snowwhite and Red Rose) proceeded to our first temple for Day 5 - the Todai-ji temple, a massive structure in wood, ranking as the highest wooden structure in the world - only to be surrounded by some more deers here. The Todai-ji temple is one of the most flocked temples in the town, no wonder then it's also popular hangout place for the deers.

Way to the Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan
Deers on the way upto the Todai-ji Temple

The main Nandaimon wooden gate took us to the temple site, at the center of which stood the main temple built entirely out of wood... centuries old and housing one of the largest images of Buddha. The surroundings were peaceful with the lush scenery of Nara park all around and the temple standing right at the center looked beautiful from every angle that I saw.

The world's largest wooden structure - Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan
The Todaiji Temple from a distance

We stood there, right in front of the temple admiring it's grand scale and glory. The temple undoubtedly was huge and remarkable, but it was the peace permeated in the quarters that overwhelmed me more.

Meanwhile, snowwhite drew our attention to two unique protruding structures at the top of the temple and asked –


Can you guess what they symbolize?

The worlds largest wooden structure - Todaiji Temple in Nara

Looks like the tip of a shoe, I said rather sheepishly.

Now what could a shoe be doing at the top of a temple?
Ha, talk of creative minds! Of course, I was wrong! History has seen fire destroy the edifice twice which is why the authorities decided to build these water symbolic structures on the top of the temple as a protecting force against fire. When we further learnt that this temple today was a mere scaled down version of the original one which was 1.5 times bigger, the grandiosity of the original structure was surely hard to imagine.

Four columns of marble flooring led us to the main temple hall, all of them laid in such a manner so as to depict the journey of Buddhism from India to Japan via China and Korea. As we approached the hall, we paused again; this time for taking in a bit of the sacred vapors from the incense bowl. This would protect us from all diseases and keep evils at bay.


The sacred incense at the Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan
Blow some vapors onto yourself

In the hall, the bronze image of the Great Buddha was striking – big, life-like and bulky. Around the 8th century, Japan had gone through a lot of troubles and difficulties. It was at this time that Emperor Shomu had decided to enshrine the Great Image of Buddha (Daibutsu) to restore the lost peace and happiness of the country. Through centuries, times came to become better but the image continues to do it's work -- infuse life, hope and peace in it’s enthusiasts till date.

The Great image of Buddha or Daibutsu at the Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan
15 mtrs tall Buddha in the sitting position

Snowwhite took time out pointing out the various aspects of the statue in detail. There was a lot to learn about the history of the statue and it's built, how His face was more radiating than the rest of His body and how His webbed hands gave out a blessing for one and all. There was a lot of peace to be found in His gaze, a lot of solace while standing at His feet. His serene face, the lotus flowers around Him, the glow emanating from the candles further enhanced His message of leading a pure life.


Candles burning at the Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan
Peace

Besides the image, the temple also had a bell to announce your arrival in His house and quite a few Buddhist statues and other historic sculpts preserved over the years.

The gong and the bell at the Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan
The Bell in the temple

Antique Buddhist images at the Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan
Other Buddhist images in the temple room

The highlight of the hall, however was a partially hollow wooden pillar believed to be the size of the Daibutsu's nostril. It is said that those who who can pass through attain deliverance in their next life.

Why don’t you give it a try, Arti? We think you can make it.

After some kind motivations from my blogger friends, I pushed myself through the wooden hole but gave it up soon after, after getting stuck mid way. A bit more prodding from Snowwhite and redrose and I was down, trying again. Just that this time, I was a lot more determined!

The Buddha nostril, the gate to salvation at the Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan
The hollow wooden pillar in the temple - Buddha's Nostril

I twisted my body this way and curled up that way until finally I realized that I had successfully passed through the door. Boy, if I wasn’t delighted! I had a fair enough reason too. Thanks to my Nara friends, albeit with a little difficulty, I had opened my door to Nirvana!

As we circumambulated the temple hall, I heard more and more stories from their folklore and realized that there was a lot of wisdom, a lot of knowledge veiled within the temple corridors...
not only historical but the other worldly as well.

A bit of India at the Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan

I realized... that this place had it all - beginnings, belongings and also... the eternal gates to salvation.

Before heading further, we made a quick stop at Binzuru Sonja - the healing Buddha; one of the original disciples of Buddha.

The healing buddha at the Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan
It is said that if you place your hand on that part of His body
that corresponds to your ailing part and then place it on yours, your ailment will disappear.

We could barely reach out till his legs, but even then we all made sure we did not miss out on touching this one!

Previous Posts from the Japan Trip -

1. Planning for Japan: Visa, Flight Bookings, Hotel Reservations, etc.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Messengers of God - Deers in Nara Park, Japan

Day 5 in Nara: DEER PARK - Todaiji Temple - Yoshikien Garden - Kofukuji Temple - Naramachi street

Covered in a vast area with a flourishing garden of trees, leaves and flowers, Nara Park is the place which proudly stands as the symbol of Nara today.

Nara Park

And rightly so, since the park holds a lot of Nara in it. You can easily spend a day here by visiting one or all of the several UNESCO World heritage sites namely the Kofuku-ji Temple, the Todai-ji Temple and the Kasuga Grand Shrine, playing with the gentle deers (easily crossing 1000 in number) roaming around freely in the locale or by simply losing yourself to the tranquility of the innate worlds.

Dear - Oh - Deer!


After reading a lot about deers,
one of the major draws in the Nara Park who enjoy a lot of attention from both the tourists and the locals alike, and how sacred they are on the blogs of the Nara bloggers, I was anxious to spend some time with these innocently docile, and much loved creatures and fulfill my wish of stroking their furry bodies, right from the very day I had stepped in the town.

I finally got my chance, on the morning of Day 5, thanks to our friend cosmos.

Deers roaming around in Nara Park, Japan
Deers in Nara Park

The Legend ~ A  white deer is believed to have been
the vehicle for the god of the Kasuga Taisha,
hence deers in Nara enjoy a sheltered status as godly messengers today.

After a brief introspection of the park that had a lot of deers roaming around freely; I immediately got down to work -- of finding a deer for myself so that I can run my hand through his fur. Little had I known then, what a tough job I had taken at hand.

Besides being naïve and tame,
the deers are quite smart not to give you any unwarranted attention!

I approached them vying for some of their attention only to be disappointed as many of them simply went about minding their business (of food!) while some others just shied away. The real activity started, when cosmos bought a packet of deer food – ‘shika senbei’ - from a shack nearby and handed a major portion of it to me. With the crackers in my hand, I suddenly became the center of their attraction! All their eyes, which were ignorant till a few minutes ago, all of a sudden turned ingenuously pleading.

I was the one, now being chased!

"I smell shika-senbei"

A Deer bowing at a boy's food-filled fingertips!

Feeding deers with shika senbei - the deer food in Nara Park, Japan
Deers flock a girl for a grab of their share

So much for fun and this lasted till the crackers lasted or perhaps just a little more after that. After I was done with the crackers, came the tougher part of convincing them that I now had no more. Generally, flashing off both your empty hands does the trick and influences them that there is nothing more left in your pockets. That's exactly what I did and that's when they left tagging along to go ahead in their pursuit of finding someone else.

 ...In the hope of some more

Empty handed again, I started scampering around the park in the hope of finding a deer that was lazy enough to stick to his place and not scurry away while I fiddled with him.

My joy knew no bounds when I finally got lucky!

Messengers of God... Messengers of Love, harmony, peace and purity.

A few experiences in life are indescribable. Running after the deers, feeding them with their cookies and... stroking their backs were definitely some of them. Each moment spent in their playful, and affectionate company was enough to give a gentle call to the innocent child within. The same child that lights up your path to the beauty that you have always been, the beauty that reflects in the essence of your very being, the simple essence... that is sometimes also known as, 'The Message of God'.



Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tea Ceremony at the Jiko-in Zen Temple in Nara, Japan


We left our slippers outside and entered the temple's drawing room. I took a seat and eagerly waited for the idyllic experience to unfold. Here, a special ceremony... one that holds prime importance in the living of Japan, was to be observed.

Jikoin Zen Temple, Nara - Japan
The Jiko-in Zen Temple

Tucked away in the lap of nature, we were at the zen temple in Nara - peaceful, silent and serene... a world unto itself and the lovely people guiding us, once again, were cosmos and sarah. Narrow cobbled trails winding upwards and enveloped in all shades of green had brought us to the drawing room of the temple where we were to experience the tea ceremony of Japan.

Way to the Jikoin Zen Temple, Nara - Japan
Way to the temple

Also standing in the temple complex was the main temple and a beautiful garden amongst similar other structures.

The Drawing room also serving as the Tea room

The drawing room’s (or the tea room's) beauty lied in the sheer simplicity in detailing. Tatami mats covered the wooden floor, flower vases adorned the various nooks and corners and a certain degree of warmth swayed in its air. Overlooking the room was a beautiful garden which was only adding to the serenity of the place.

The drawing room of the Jikoin Zen Temple, Nara - Japan
The drawing room or the tea room

As we took a seat, I observed cosmos and sarah sitting in a peculiar position. Taking cue, I messily tried for the same but loosened up soon enough after learning that it is more important to enjoy the ceremony, rather comfortably. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the rules to be followed weren't strict, instead more emphasis was laid on relaxation and leisure, thus ensuring complete joy in the activity.

A group of  people taking tea at the Jikoin Zen Temple, Nara - Japan
A group performing the tea ceremony

The ceremony started on a sweet note... with a sweet followed by the tea. After gorging on the little sweet thing, I was left craving for more. The tea came in soon after. Before I could get down to drinking it, I was directed to rotate the bowl 3 times in the anticlockwise direction and the action was to be repeated after finishing the tea. I learnt that this action signified respect for the host.

Tea ceremony at the Jikoin Zen Temple, Nara - Japan

Fosco Maraini, in Meeting with Japan described the Tea Ceremony as -
"a ritualized sequence of movements, a formal dance of significant gestures, designed to purge the mind of irrelevancies, of petty or personal things."

Staring through the window of nature, I started sipping my tea slowly. The realization that the tea tasted a lot bitter than I’d imagined it to be, sunk in much later. Its bitterness had been amply compensated by a lot of beautiful things it had bought along with it. The view of the distant hills, the rolling meadows, the green grass and the quiet silence had all worked in unison to transform the room into an ideal setting for a ceremony, a prayer.

One thing that I like about these ceremonies is – One time, one meeting.
You are meeting someone today, at this moment...
soak in those moments and live them such…
as if it were only this time and only this meeting ~ Cosmos

Who could have ever thought that a simple cup of tea could give you not only a sense of fulfillment for your tummy but also for life? This was a ceremony where tea was the prayer, those silent moments our meditation. To delve within, to reflect, to connect... then, became easy.

I was the first one to gulp it down completely and proclaim it tastes so much like bittergourd juice, thus breaking the silence for a few sweet smiles.

The Temple Garden

After having tea, I hopped out onto the neatly manicured garden, full of green shrubs and pretty flowers.

The garden of the Jikoin Zen Temple, Nara - Japan

The tidy trails going through them were inviting,

Beautiful garden at the Jikoin Zen Temple, Nara - Japan

the small temples and shrines here and there,

A small temple at the Jikoin Zen Temple, Nara in Japan

... surrounded by the pretty flowery shrubs,

Pretty flowers at the Jikoin Zen Temple, Nara - Japan

further enhanced the spirit of fulfillment, both outside and within.

The Main temple

On a richly colored altar in the main temple room, sat figures (from left to right) of the founder – Sekishu Katagiri, a feudal lord of the area who had founded the temple in 1663, the Buddha and the priest who had been the inspiration behind the building of the temple.

Main temple room of the Jikoin Zen Temple, Nara - Japan
Images enshrined in the main temple hall

The highlight of the temple, however, was the ceiling above which had a speaking dragon.

The ceiling dragon at the main temple room of the Jikoin Zen Temple, Nara - Japan
The speaking dragon at the temple ceiling

You clap once and the dragon echoes and the louder it does so,
the more fortunate you are. 

My first clap didn’t enliven him much, so I kept on going till I was assured by everyone there that I had gotten the best out of him!

With the dragon’s voice still throbbing in my ears, we came out of the temple and prepared to leave. As I put my pair of slippers back, I realized... I was feeling a lot lighter than before and a bit fuller too... both at the same time.

Getting there, Timings, etc.

How to reach: 15 minutes walk from JR Yamato Koizumi station.
Timings: 9 am to 5 pm.
Fees: 1000 yen per person.
Founding Year: 1663.



Thursday, December 6, 2012

Horyu-ji Temple in Nara, Japan

Day 4: Shinkansen Bullet train ride - Hello Nara - Nara: An Introduction - HORYUJI TEMPLE - Jikoin zen temple

Horyu-ji Temple, Nara

Our Nara trip commenced by a visit to the Horyu-ji temple, acclaimed to be the very first national heritage of Japan. And the moment we stepped in, we could see exactly why!

Situated in Ikaruga, Nara Prefecture of Japan and spread in an area of 187,000 sq mtr of land, Horyu-ji temple (Temple of the Flourishing Law of Buddhism) is huge and dedicated to a statue of Buddha literally meaning ‘Arrival as a healer’. Besides being a place of prayer, the temple today is globally renowned for housing the world’s oldest surviving wooden structures which shed ample of light on a few significant pages from a rich book of Japanese history.

The Chūmon (Inner Gate) Horyu-ji Temple in Nara
Chu-mon middle gate, built in 607

As we passed through the middle temple gate, all my eyes could see were old wooded historical buildings and structures strewn all around, all of them promising enough to take me back to an era gone by. As someone who loves delving into myths, legends and stories, it was easy for me to fall in love with this place and the wonderful guiding company in Sarah, cosmos and a local guide only made it so much more easier.

Old wooden columns of the Horyu-ji Temple in Nara
Old wooden columns in the temple

The entire temple precinct is divided into two parts - the Sai-in in the west and the To-in in the east, each containing notable places like the Kondo hall, the temple's five-story pagoda, the octagonal remarkable Yumedono Hall, etc. Together, we did a lot of hopping, around the premises trying to make the best of the temple precincts in the time available to us.

Kondo (Main Hall), Western part

This is the main hall in the temple that gives you a glimpse into the temple's history. The Horyu-ji temple and a Buddhist statue was originally a wish of Emperor Yomei as a prayer for his recovery from an illness. Sadly enough, that desire was never to be fulfilled and he died soon after. However, his son - Emperor Shotuku kept his father's wish alive by building a temple and a statue of Buddha, the same one that we see enshrined in the Kondo hall today.

Kondo or the Main Hall of the Horyu-ji Temple in Nara
The Kondo hall

The Kondo hall was dark and when a few rays slid in to light up the various enshrined images, the best-known is the Shaka triad,
the splendor was magnificent!

Goju-no-to (Five Storey Pagoda), Western part

Just besides the Kondo hall is the five storey pagoda celebrated as the oldest surviving structure in the world.

The Sai-in western part of the Horyu-ji Temple, Nara - Japan
The Kondo hall (left) and the five storey pagoda (right)

As I stood underneath this massive structure, Goju-no-tu, 32.45 mtrs tall,
I felt torn so as to what of it to admire –
The intricate beauty of tall structure or the fact that it such an antique.
The structure was equally impressive and daunting, both at the same time!

Yumedono Hall or The Hall of Visions, Eastern part

Yumedono, a hall associated with Prince Shōtoku
Yumedano Hall

Located at the heart of the temple complex, the hall of visions houses beautiful life size statue of Prince Shotuku dating back to the eight century, believed to be a manifestation of Kuse Kannon. People pray for the peace of his soul here.

Other Places to see inside the temple -

1. Shoryo-in, Hall of Prince Shotoku’s soul

Shoryoin hall of Prince Shotoku’s soul, Horyu-ji Temple in Nara
Hall of Prince Shotoku's soul

Built in the in the 13th century, this place houses the statues of Prince Shotoku along with a few more people associated with him. We did not go inside but just ringing the bell hanging outside gave a unique sense of peace.

2. Daiko-do great lecture hall, Western Part

Daikodo great lecture hall, Horyu-ji Temple in Nara
Daiko-do hall

Daiko-do hall was originally built in 925 as a place for monks to practice their Buddhist studies and a place where memorial services could be conducted. Unfortunately, it was burnt down when lightening struck and had to be reconstructed in 990.

3. Gallery of Temple Treasures

Just moments after walking in here, I realized the place indeed stays true to its name. The gallery is a vast treasure house of valuable and ancient Japanese culture, arts and crafts very carefully preserved within its walls. Spanning an impressive journey through the long history of Horyuji, the items on display include miniature pagodas, various murals and other historical treasures. Photography is not allowed inside.

-- Kudara Kannon do (The Kudara Kannon Hall), Eastern part

Located inside the gallery, was an image that was so mystical and impactful that it has stuck in my mind till date.

The Kudara Kannon Hall (in the gallery of temple treasures) houses a slender and elegantly graceful Buddhist statue of the Kudara Kannon. He holds a healing potion in his right hand and a blessing in his left, which says - Come to me, I will heal you. As I stared into his deeply compassionate eyes, I could feel a strange aura envelop my body. And I could feel a surcharge of positivism flow in my heart... as if, it were pouring straight out of the healing pot right into my soul.

We spent a few quiet minutes in the hall simply staring at the powerful image. This undoubtedly, for me, formed the highlight of the Horyu-ji temple. However, sadly, photography was prohibited inside the hall.

Besides all of the above, Horyu-ji temple had a lot in it's complex grounds still to be seen and savored.

A stone slab in the Horyu-ji Temple in Nara
A stone slab in the temple premises

But, after a lot of walking and good exploring around for around 3 hrs, we decided to move on to our next place in the itinerary.

Tips for Travellers:

1. The place is vast, both geographically and historically, so take care not to cram too much into your itinerary lest you exhaust time for the other spots in the city.

2. You need a lot of time and energy if you wish to go for the entire temple tour but the place is so deeply soaked in history that a small tour is also enough to get a gist of the place.

How to reach:

Horyu-ji is located about 12 km outside of central Nara. One can catch a train from JR Nara Station and take the frequently departing Yamatoji Line to Horyuji Station. From there, it is a 20 minute walk or 5 minute bus ride to the temple.

Temple Timings: 8:00 to 17:00 (until 16:30 from early November to late February)

Fees: 1000 Yen.



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