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article imageTodai-ji — The monumental Buddhist temple of Nara, Japan Special

By Igor I. Solar     Mar 20, 2013 in Travel
Nara - The Todai-ji Buddhist complex of Nara, Japan, consists of several buildings of which the largest one, an enormous wooden structure known as Great Buddha Hall houses the seated 15-metre high statue of Vairocana, the largest bronze Buddha image in Japan.
The Todai-ji Buddhist temple is one of the three major religious complexes located in Nara Park, in the city of Nara, Japan. The other two are Kofuku-ji, also belonging to the Buddhist religion, and the Kasuga Taisha Shinto Shrine. All these temples are included in the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites under the designation “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara”.
Ancient Nara
Large Stone in front of the Access to Todai-ji commemorating the designation of Todai-ji  part of th...
Large Stone in front of the Access to Todai-ji commemorating the designation of Todai-ji, part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara, as a World Heritage Site.
The people living in Seventh and Eighth centuries Japan had much to learn from China and Korea. They not only adopted elements of the political system and artistic expressions of those countries, but also enthusiastically embraced other cultural aspects including the Buddhist and Shinto religious beliefs. The state favored Buddhism and supported the construction of many temples. The city of Nara, then the capital of Japan (710-784), became a place of great religious and political influence.
The Todai-ji temple complex
Todai-ji was founded in the year 728, but its development and construction, including the creation of a giant statue of the Buddha Vairocana, was not completed until 749. In 752, the great temple, known as Daibutsu-den, was dedicated to the Big Buddha, known to the Japanese as Todai-ji Daibutsu, or Great Buddha statue. The temple and other smaller related buildings were mainly devoted to the training of scholar monks studying the Buddhist doctrine while the great image of Vairocana was the center of rituals and prayers for the peace of the nation, protection against epidemics, crops’ improvement and bringing prosperity to the people.
The Todai-ji complex consists of several structures of which the most important is the Great Buddha Hall. Inside this building is the seated image of the Buddha Vairocana. Another important structure is the Great South Gate dating from the late 12th century where there are two giant wood statues (8.4 meters) called Nio, Kongo-Rikishi or Guardians of the Buddha, which were carved in the early 13th century.
Approaching the Great South Gate  the Great Buddha Hall can be seen in the background. Several deer ...
Approaching the Great South Gate, the Great Buddha Hall can be seen in the background. Several deer, considered sacred animals, can be seen in front of the building.
Great South Gate of Todai-ji temple.
Great South Gate of Todai-ji temple.
The Great South Gate is a monumental structure. Detail of the woodwork in the roof of the building.
The Great South Gate is a monumental structure. Detail of the woodwork in the roof of the building.
One of the two 8.4-metre high wooden statues of the Guardians of the Buddha. The statues are housed ...
One of the two 8.4-metre high wooden statues of the Guardians of the Buddha. The statues are housed in compartments at each side of the Great South Gate. This statue has the mouth open and represents “birth”, or “the beginning”.
The second wooden statue of the Guardians of the Buddha. According to records  the statues were carv...
The second wooden statue of the Guardians of the Buddha. According to records, the statues were carved concurrently in about 69 days in 1203. This statue has the mouth closed and represents “death”, or “the end”.
The Great Buddha Hall
The Great Buddha Hall, Daibutsu-den, is a gigantic building. The structure was built in the 8th century and was destroyed by fire caused by wars on two occasions (1180 and 1567). The present building was rebuilt in 1709 following the same features of the original, except that due to budget constraints it is a third smaller.
The building has a height of 49 meters on two levels. It consists of seven sections and is 57 meters wide and 50.5 meters deep. Despite being smaller than the original, the building is still the largest wooden structure in the world.
One of the pillars holding the temple has a hole in its base the same size as the nostrils of the Buddha (0.5 m). Visitors can attempt going through the hole with the promise that those succeeding are considered clean and may be blessed by the deity. Normally only children have no problem passing (see video above).
The Great Buddha Hall is a huge building in the Todai-ji Buddhist complex of Nara  Japan.
The Great Buddha Hall is a huge building in the Todai-ji Buddhist complex of Nara, Japan.
Inside of the Great South Gate of Todai-ji Buddhist temple in Nara  Japan.
Inside of the Great South Gate of Todai-ji Buddhist temple in Nara, Japan.
The Great Buddha
The statue of the Great Buddha is monumental. The bronze figure was modeled in eight stages, and its construction took three years. The statue is 15 meters high and weighs 500 tons. The Buddha is seated with the palm of his right hand extended forward. This is one of the main five gestures of the hands in Buddha statues and means "fear not" and “conversion of jealousy and envy into all-accomplishing wisdom”.
The Nara Daibutsu or Big Buddha of Nara measures about 15 meters high and it was completed in 752 AD...
The Nara Daibutsu or Big Buddha of Nara measures about 15 meters high and it was completed in 752 AD. The original statue was covered in gold-leaf. Over the years, earthquakes and fires have damaged the statue, but it has always been restored.
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Todai-ji Festivals
Several events are held annually in Todai-ji. Among the most interesting are Omizu-tori, also known as the “Water-drawing Ceremony” or “Fire Festival”. This event is held in the first half of March in Nigatsu-do Hall, one of the buildings in the complex. Great torches are lit each night during the festival. They are held up and waved so that embers rain down. The tradition is that those receiving cinders on their head, obtain luck and many blessings (video above).
Another important event is O-minugui or “Spring Cleaning of the Buddha”. In early August, dozens of young monks neatly dressed in white climb on the Buddha or hang from ropes tied to the ceiling to dust and wipe the huge statue using colourful dusters (see video below).
Todai-ji is open all year (from 7:30 to 17:30 hrs. during spring and summer). Cost of admission: 500 yen (approx. USD 5.3).
Related articles on religious facilities in Nara Park:
Photo Essay: Architecture and Buddhist deities of Kofuku Temple
Photo Essay: Kasuga Shrine — Three thousand lanterns of faith
Photo Essay: The 'sacred' deer of Nara Park
More about Nara Japan, Todaiji, Buddhist Temple, Buddhism, Religious architecture
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