We decided to do something different this new year eve. We walked down to Todaiji at midnight to usher in the new year with the blessings of the great Daibutsu. Todai-ji is the largest of the Seven Great Temples of Nara and one of the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara“.
The roads were lit and the streets were empty. Nothing new for someone who has lived in Nara even for a short amount of time. Once we reached the Nara Park area, we could see some families walking towards the temple. A group of deer were gathered under the street lights.
The narrow road comes directly up to the temple from behind. As we reached the Todaiji grounds, the crowd became denser. The regular gate that is used for entry for tourists was closed. The caretakers were preparing to open the imposing main gate. Generally the main gate remains closed and visitors have to use the two smaller side gates on each side. A huge queue had formed in front of the main gate. It looked like all of Nara had descended to the temple. It was still not midnight. We went towards the back of the queue and took our positions. We waited patiently for the clock to strike, midnight. The gate was opened to the public exactly at midnight and they started letting people in to the courtyard.
New Years Eve in Nara
Once we went through the gate, the horned roof of the Daibutsuden is the first thing that comes into view. People gradually made their way to the Daibutsu Hall. Todaiji houses the Nara Daibutsu, a gigantic bronze statue completed around 757. It took 9 years and an enormous manpower of 2 million workers working together to complete this magnificent statue. In the dark my Nikon D7100 was struggling to take photos. Mani was having better luck with her Sony Alpha 6000. It does offer better results in low light.
Over the years, the main wooden building and the statue have been damaged by fire and natural calamities several times. Each time it was repaired keeping the authenticity of the place intact. As we got closer, we could see the Buddha face clearly from the windows on the upper floor. It is one of the motivations for the huge crowd. The upper floor windows are opened rarely and on very important occasions. People come from afar just to see Buddha’s face from these windows.
I fished out my zoom lens and took a closer shot of the face. This was taken handheld as tripods are not allowed to be set up inside the premises.
On both sides of the wide path, there were several bonfires in tub like apparatus. It was cold and we waited near one of the bonfires for the initial crowd to disperse.
Once the crowd was sparse, we went towards the Daibutsuden Hall. It has begun to drizzle. Rain had been forecast and so we had brought along our waterproof jackets. From the hall, I noticed two huge lights lighting the main entrance gate.
I have been inside the Daibutsuden before but on entering the dimly lit main hall, one can’t, but be overwhelmed over and over again by the 15 meter high, gilt bronze statue sitting on sacred lotus leaves. The blackened statue depicts Rushana, also known as Dainichi Nyorai or the Cosmic Buddha.
After paying respects, we walked out. At the main gate, the queue was no more, but there was still a steady stream of enthusiasts who wanted so see the face of the Buddha through the upper doors. I set up my tripod and took some pictures of the entrance gate.
We walked down towards the Nandaimon gates. It is the only piece of architecture surviving from the 8th century. The Nio guardians looked even fiercer in the night. One says “ah” and another says “un”, in Hiragana, “ah” is the first sound and “un” is the last sound. The open mouth guardian welcomes the good souls inside the temple and the closed moth one wards off the bad spirits. I have written a small article on Nio Guardians if it is something that interests you.
Near the Nandaimon gate there is a small pond and Todaiji looked amazing from there.
Everything about Todaiji is huge. It has a long history and many stories attached to it. Every time I come and see the huge Daibutsuden Hall, I feel really small. We were supposed to leave for Hiroshima at dawn, so we left early for home. Nara Park with its herds of deer and the Todaiji make for an amazing night. If you are around Kyoto or Osaka, do take out a day to visit this lovely place.
Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked my post. I also visited Todaiji during the day time some time back. You may find useful information if you are planning a visit.