Todai-ji temple that saved Japan in the Nara era

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One of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan is Todai-ji, in the city of Nare. First of all this temple is known as the largest wooden structure in the world . Also within the walls of the temple is a huge bronze statue of Buddha, which was smelted more than a thousand years ago! Construction of the temple began in the middle of the 8th century. It was at this time in the Land of the Rising Sun that Buddhism became widespread. The new religion had a strong influence on the art and architecture of the country.

The Todaiji temple was built in the mid-eighth century, when Buddhism, which had penetrated into Japan two centuries earlier, had already become the state religion and exerted a significant influence on the art and architecture of Japan. At that time, Nara was the capital of the Japanese state. Today Nara is one of the most revered holy places in the Land of the Rising Sun, where about 3 million pilgrims visit annually. Here, on an area of about 525 hectares, there are several Buddhist and Shinto temples and shrines with a long history.

Todaiji Shrine occupies a central place among the shrines of Nara. For a long time it was the main state shrine of the country, and the very name “Todaiji” literally means “Great Oriental Temple”. Todaiji Temple is widely known for its bronze sculpture of Buddha Dainichi (Daibutsu), the largest Buddha statue in Japan and one of the largest in the world. It was sculpted in 749 by a Korean sculptor whom the Japanese call Kimimaro. It took 437 tons of bronze, 150 kilograms of gold, 7 tons of wax, 70 kilograms of mercury and several thousand tons of charcoal to make the giant statue.

Legend has it that all of Japan’s bronze reserves were used up to cast the statue. The process lasted for two years and was extremely complicated technologically. Not only the process of casting, but also mounting and assembling of the statue on the pedestal (taking into account the level of engineering at that time!) was very difficult. After all, this phenomenal ancient structure weighs twice as much as the Statue of Liberty in New York, which was made eleven centuries later. How did the craftsman manage to overcome all the technical obstacles? It remains a mystery, and the secret of making this unique monument of ancient foundry art has not yet been revealed.

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It is known from ancient Japanese sources that the work of casting the statue of the Great Buddha was completed only after seven unsuccessful attempts. The head and neck of the Buddha were cast in the same opoka, while the torso and the lotus throne were made in separate molds and then fused together and gilded. The statue of the Great Buddha at Todaiji represents “blessing, omnipotence, and omnipresence. The Buddha is seated with his legs tucked under him in a tranquil pose on a throne in the form of a colossal lotus flower with 56 petals. The lotus is seen here as a symbol of spiritual chastity, purity and purity required for immersion in nirvana and the attainment of bliss achieved by overcoming “passion and lust for life”. The right hand of the Buddha with an open palm is extended forward in a gesture of blessing. The hair of the Buddha is of blue color, symbolizing his residence in the heavenly world above. The hair is divided into 966 curls. On the forehead is a cone-shaped protuberance: a symbol of greatness and inaccessibility.

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The Great Buddha is among the most famous landmarks in Japan. The statue with its pedestal is 22 meters high. The sitting Buddha figure itself is 16 m tall. The face is 5 meters long and 3 meters wide. A person can freely fit through the eye sockets – they are 1 m long. The diameter of the lotus throne is more than 20 meters, the height of each petal is 3 meters. The huge statue inside is hollow. In its depths is an intricate system of wooden structures that support the entire figure. Once a year the Great Buddha is cleaned, and several buckets of dust are removed from it.

The entire surface of the lotus throne is covered with countless images of religious and mythological character and thousands of hieroglyphic inscriptions. Behind the giant statue is a gilded wooden halo, on which are placed another 16 Buddha figures about the size of a man, depicting his previous incarnations. Next to the statue are two sculpted figures of bodhisattva saints. Japanese tradition identifies them with the thousand-armed goddess of mercy Kannon and the goddess of happiness. They are half the size of the statue of the Great Buddha. To the right behind the Buddha figure is a wooden column with a small hole. There is a belief that the person who manages to get through it is forgiven all sins. Todaiji – a functioning temple, and in front of the statue of the Great Buddha daily service, lighting a fire and smoking incense, monks and pilgrims read the Buddhist prayers – sutras.

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The hall of the Todaiji temple, where the sculpture of the Buddha is located, is called Daibutsuden – the Great Buddha Hall. Todaiji was once the main temple of the Buddhist sect Kegon, whose teachings penetrated into Japan from China in the 8th century. The construction of the Todaiji temple began at the turn of the 20th-30th years of the 8th century and lasted twenty years. It was declared a national affair that required the mobilization of all of the country’s resources. The temple was consecrated in 752 in the presence of the emperor and empress, the court, clergymen and representatives of all provinces of Japan, as well as embassies from China and Korea. In the 12th century, during the civil war, the huge temple burned down. During the fire the head of the Buddha was damaged and had to be replaced by a new one. Today you can notice that the head of the Buddha is darker in color than the torso. According to other reports, the entire sculpture of the Buddha was badly damaged by the fire and in the eighteenth century it underwent the replacement of many elements, so it cannot be considered entirely authentic.

In 1567 the temple burned down again, and the Great Buddha stood under the open sky for more than a hundred years. It was only in 1699 that restoration work began, but three years later, having built the temple only halfway, construction was abandoned again. It stood like that for about two hundred years and as a result it fell apart completely. Construction was not resumed until 1903 and lasted ten years. By 1913 the temple was restored to its original form. It is 50 meters high, about 57 meters long and more than 50 meters wide. It is the largest wooden building in the world, and for its time it was simply a miracle of construction art. The walled temple is entered through the Great South Gate – Nandaimon, with a two-tiered roof and five spans, which was rebuilt in 1199 and supported by eighteen wooden columns.

The columns are made of the trunks of gigantic trees 21 meters high. On either side of the gate stand colossal statues of fantastic Nyo monster-guards. The massive entrance doors of the Todaiji Temple are designed in the ancient manner of Japanese temple architecture. The monumental arch above the entrance under the tent roof with typical Japanese architecture curves gives the construction solemnity and majesty. Temple’s walls are decorated with magnificent carved wooden reliefs, varnished paintings, enamel, executed with truly Japanese taste and perfection of form.

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The temple treasury contains many ancient objects: ancient Buddhist and traditional Japanese garments, sacred vessels, jewelry, jewels, objects of traditional Japanese art made of paper and silk. By studying the writings on the ancient scrolls, researchers were able to learn that the casting of the Buddha statue was completed only after seven unsuccessful attempts. The huge figure of the deity consisted of several parts, each cast in a separate mold. Later they were all soldered together and gilded. The height of the assembled figure with a pedestal was 22 meters, and 16 meters without the pedestal. The face of the Buddha is five meters long and three meters wide. An adult can easily fit through the eye sockets of the Buddha, as they are about one meter long. The figure of the deity is actually hollow inside, and once a year the Buddha is cleaned by removing several buckets of dust from it!

Todaiji (743-752, 12th, 17th and 18th centuries;

a complex of wooden buildings, had a symmetrical layout modelled on Chinese monasteries of the Tang dynasty), Hokkedo (founded about 746-748, worship hall 1190) Todai-ji temple can be entered through the Great South Gate with a two-tiered roof and five spans. The entire structure is supported by 18 wooden columns, and on either side of the gate are huge statues of the guards.

The main building of the temple is considered to be the largest wooden structure in the world! Its length is 57 meters, and height and width are 50 meters! This is a true miracle of construction art! On the territory of the temple in addition to the main building there are several other unique pagodas and temples of smaller size. The territory of the temple itself is a deer park. There are a lot of deer wandering around, which tourists are happy to feed.

For those interested in Japan, check out Matsumoto Castle

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Todai-ji temple that saved Japan in the Nara era

Japan is a country that combines the technology of the future with the traditions of the past. Many temples from different periods and eras are still sacred places for millions of people. This article describes the Todai-ji temple and its significance in the history and culture of the country.

Todai-ji Temple that saved Japan in the Nara Period - Photo 2

Todai-ji temple that saved Japan during the Nara period

History of the construction of the temple

No other period in Japanese history equals the number of calamities Japan suffered in the mid-eighth century. The country was plagued at one time by inter-clan wars, samurai seeking to take as much power as possible, and epidemics of various diseases. These disasters took many lives. All of these problems were to be solved by the current ruler. Emperor Shomu asked the people to erect a temple, which he believed would end the suffering of the people. In particular, a statue of Buddha, later installed in the temple, was to help the country.

Todai-ji Temple that saved Japan in the Nara Period - Photo 3

Todai-ji temple that saved Japan during the Nara period

The people supported their ruler and his idea. In 743, after the decree was issued, construction began, with some 2 million people taking part. The temple was completed in record time: only 2 years. In another 6 years, in 751, the statue of Buddha was also ready. The name of the architect who designed the whole project and supervised the process was Kuninaka-no-Muradzi Kimimaro. Todai-ji was built in the city of Nara, which at that time was the capital of Japan. It is now considered a sacred place for the whole country: there are about 525 sacred places in its vicinity.

The main attraction of the temple

Todai-ji Temple is the largest structure in the world made entirely of wood. Therefore, it is not surprising that it is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. However, the presence of a huge Buddha in the temple makes its uniqueness that much more significant. Great attention to detail was paid in casting the statue. The Buddha sits on a throne, which symbolizes a blooming lotus. There are exactly 56 petals on it, which means tranquility, spiritual purity of the deity. The prayers of the Japanese people are written on these petals. The Buddha sits with his arm outstretched forward to bless the whole country. 10,000 tons of charcoal for the furnaces; 440 tons of bronze; 150 kg of gold; 70 kg of mercury; 7.5 tons of beeswax were used in casting the deity

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Todai-ji Temple that saved Nara period Japan - Photo 4

Todai-ji temple that saved Japan during the Nara period

Dimensions of the statue:

Height with throne: about 22 m height without throne: 15 m weight: 500 tons width of face: 3 m length of face: 5 m diameter of pedestal: about 20 m length of each petal: 3 m

Todai-ji Temple that saved Japan during the Nara Period - Photo 5

Todai-ji temple that saved Japan in the Nara era

The erection of such a huge statue seems something incredible, especially in those ancient times when people didn’t have any modern technology. The entire Buddha was cast in parts: the head and neck separately, the throne and torso separately. And, of course, its installation was not something easy. According to Japanese chronicles, the Buddha was installed in the temple only on the eighth attempt. At that time, the Japanese people performed a real feat: all the efforts were put into creating the temple and the huge statue, many gave their lives during the construction, almost all of the country’s bronze reserves were used. All this was done in the name of prosperity and well-being of the empire.

Todai-ji Temple today

Since the structure is made entirely of wood, it has not managed to reach our days in its original form. Many times the temple burned to the ground, but it was successfully reconstructed:

Todai-ji Temple that saved Japan during the Nara Period - Photo 6

Todai-ji temple that saved Japan during the Nara period

In the twelfth century, due to civil war, the temple burned down, but was rebuilt in 1567 again there was a fire, but everything was rebuilt again in 1709 there was another disaster, after which the shrine took on a look similar to the modern one. However, the last reconstruction took place in 1913.

Todai-ji Temple that saved Japan during the Nara Period - Photo 7

Todai-ji temple that saved Japan in the Nara era

The city of Nara, where Todai-ji is located, is quite small in area, with a population of less than 400,000. Nevertheless, millions of people from all over the world come here to see the “Great Temple of the East. But despite such tourist activity, the temple still remains active, with rituals and ceremonies held there. Every year about 100 monks conduct a cleaning of the great Buddha, which results in the removal of large amounts of dirt and dust. Todai-ji Temple is considered one of the most sacred places for all Japanese. And any tourist can see with his own eyes its greatness, visiting the city of Naru.

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