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tempyo

Tōdai-ji

, is a Buddhist temple complex located in the city of Nara, Japan. Its Great Buddha Hall (大仏殿 Daibutsuden), reputedly the largest wooden building in the world, houses a colossal bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana, known in Japanese simply as the Daibutsu (大仏) The temple also serves as the Japanese headquarters of the Kegon school of Buddhism. The temple is a listed UNESCO World Heritage site as "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara," together with seven other sites including temples, shrines and places in the city of Nara. Sika deer, regarded as messengers of the gods in the Shinto religion, roam the grounds freely.

History

Roots

The beginning of building a temple where the huge Tōdai-ji complex sits today can be dated to 743, when Emperor Shōmu established Kinshōsen-ji (金鐘山寺) as an appeasement for Prince Motoi, his first son with his Fujiwara clan consort Kōmyōshi. Prince Motoi died a year after his birth.

During the Tempyō era, Japan suffered from a series of disasters and epidemics. It was after experiencing these problems that Emperor Shōmu issued an edict in 741 to promote the construction of Provincial temples throughout the nation. Tōdai-ji (still Kinshōsen-ji at the time) was appointed as the Provincial temple of Yamato Province and the head of all the Provincial temples. With the alleged coup d'état by Nagaya in 729, an outbreak of smallpox around 735 - 737, worsened by consecutive years of poor crops, then followed by a rebellion led by Fujiwara no Hirotsugu in 740, the country was in a chaotic position. Emperor Shōmu had been forced to move the capital four times, indicating the level of instability during this period.

Initial Construction

In 743, Emperor Shōmu issued a law in which he stated that the people should become directly involved with the establishment of new Buddha temples throughout Japan. His personal belief was that such piety would inspire Buddha to protect his country from further disaster. Gyōki, with his pupils, travelled the provinces asking for donations. According to records kept by Tōdai-ji, more than 2,600,000 people in total helped construct the Great Buddha and its Hall. The 16 m (52 ft) high statue was built through eight castings over three years, the head and neck being cast together as a separate element. The making of the statue has started first in Shigaraki. After enduring multiple fires and earthquakes, the construction was eventually resumed in Nara in 745, and the Buddha was finally completed in 751. A year later, in 752, the eye-opening ceremony was held with an attendance of 10,000 people to celebrate the completion of the Buddha. The Indian priest Bodhisena performed the eye-opening for Emperor Shōmu. In 754, ordination was given by Ganjin, who arrived in Japan after overcoming hardships over 12 years and six attempts of crossing the sea from China, to Empress Kōken, former Emperor Shōmu and others.

The project nearly bankrupted Japan's economy, consuming most of the available bronze of the time.

Dimensions of the Daibutsu

The temple gives the following dimensions for the statue in meters:

  • Height

14.98

  • Face

5.33

  • Eyes

1.02

  • Nose

0.5

  • Ears

2.54

The statue weighs 500 metric tonnes.

Reconstructions post-Nara Period

The central statue has been recast several times since for various reasons, including earthquake damage, and the Daibutsuden has been rebuilt twice after fire. The current hands of the statue were made in the Momoyama Period (1568-1615), and the head was made in the Edo Period (1615-1867).

The current building was finished in 1709, although immense, is actually 30% smaller than its predecessor. The original complex also contained two 100 m pagodas, perhaps second only to the pyramids of Egypt in height at the time. These were destroyed by earthquake. The Shōsōin was its storehouse, and now contains many artifacts from the Tempyo period of Japanese history.

The dancing figures of the Nio, the two 28-foot-tall guardians at the temple entrance, were closely evaluated and extensively restored by a team of art conservators in 1991. The Nio are known as Ungyo, which by tradition has a closed mouth, and Agyo, which has an open mouth. At that time, these twelfth-century sculptures had never before been moved from the niches in which they were originally installed. This complex preservation project, costing $4.7 million, involved a restoration team of 15 experts from the National Treasure Repairing Institute in Kyoto.

Temple precincts and gardens

Various buildings of the Todai-ji have been incorporated within the overall aesthetic intention of the gardens' design. Adjacent villas are today considered part of Tōdai-ji.

Some of these structures are now open to the public. The time spent visiting one or more of these less well-known buildings can only enhance an appreciation of the temple complex itself.

Over the centuries, the buildings and gardens have evolved together as to become an integral part of a unique, organic and living temple community.

Tōdai-ji includes architectural master-works which are today classified as National Treasures:

National Treasures
Romaji Kanji
Kon-dō (Daibutsuden) 金堂 (大仏殿)
Nandaimon 南大門
Kaizan-dō 開山堂
Shōrō 鐘楼
Hokke-dō (Sangatsu-dō) 法華堂 (三月堂)
Nigatsu-dō 二月堂
Tegaimon 転害門

Major events

  • 728: Kinshōsen-ji, the forerunner of Tōdai-ji is established as a gesture of appeasement for the for the troubled spirit of Prince Motoi
  • 741: Emperor Shōmu calls for nationwide establishment of provincial temples; and Kinshōsen-ji appointed as the head provincial temple of Yamato.
  • 743: The Emperor commands that a very large image Buddhist statue shall be built -- the Daibutsu or Great Buddha; and initial work is begun at Shigaraki-no miya.
  • 745: The capital returns to Heijō-kyō, construction of the Great Buddha resumes in Nara. Usage of the name Tōdai-ji appears on record.
  • 752: The Eye-opening Ceremony celebrating the completion of the Great Buddha held.
  • 855: The head of the great statute of Buddha suddenly fell to the ground; and gifts from the pious from throughout the empire were collected to create another, more well-seated head for the restored Daibutsu.

UNESCO-sponsored music festival

On May 20, 1994, the international music festival The Great Music Experience was held at Tōdai-ji, supported by the UNESCO.

Amongst other artists participating in this concert were the Tokyo New Philharmonic Orchestra, X Japan, INXS, Bon Jovi, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Tomoyasu Hotei, Roger Taylor, classic Japanese drummers, and a Buddhist monk choir.

This unprecedented event brought the world to Todai-ji, or perhaps it's more accurate to say that Todai-ji was brought to the world. In 55 countries, the musical performances were simultaneously broadcast on May 22 and May 23, 1994.

Trivia

  • One of the supporting posts in the Great Buddha Hall has a hole that has been bored through the base (see photo below in "Additional Images" Section). Visitors try to pass through the hole which is said to be the same size as one of the Daibutsu's nostrils. Legend has it that those who pass through it will be blessed with enlightenment in their next life. Children usually have no trouble getting through but adults sometimes get stuck and need to be pulled out.
  • The Gifu Great Buddha in Gifu's Shōhō-ji was modeled after the Great Buddha at Tōdai-ji.

Additional Images

See also

Notes

External links

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